Monday, December 31, 2012

This is what's getting me through Anderson and Kathy

NYE cocktail:

2 parts blended scotch
1/2 part bourbon
1 part tonic
1/2 part simple syrup
1/2 part lemon juice
Dash Angostura bitters

Shake together. Serve over ice with a slice of lime.

Naming suggestions welcome.

Directed by Guillermo del Toro, starring Glenn Hubbard

Back in 2008, a friend of mine used to scare undecided voters off the fence by making spooky noises and then saying, instead of "boo!", "President Palin". (This guy moved in, among other things, Serious Burkean Centrist circles, where people were sensitive to thatkind of entreaty. Plenty of people on my Facebook feed thought she was the second coming of Reagan.)

This year, there wasn't really any boogeyman in clown paint that you could do this with, but Taibbi ain't alone in wondering whether "Treasury Secretary Glenn Hubbard" wouldn't have made a fine horror movie if the 47% had been on the other foot.

Rolling Stone Mobile - Politics - Politics: Glenn Hubbard, Leading Academic and Mitt Romney Advisor, Took $1200 an Hour to Be Countrywide's Expert Witness

Also, too: IANAL, but when your deposee doesn't answer the fucking question, why on earth wouldn't you just ask him again until he either gives you a yes or no answer or you have grounds for the judge to give him a night down at County for contempt?

Saturday, December 29, 2012

This is not the Nuclear Option

Good christ, people, do your homework before filing a story: The Hill:
Changing rules with a simple majority vote is considered so controversial it is sometimes called the nuclear option. Democrats backing the maneuver have described it as the “Constitutional option.” 
And TPM:
Changing the rules of the Senate ordinarily requires 67 votes. But the majority also has the option of approving rules changes with 51 votes at the beginning of a new Congress — what reformers call the “constitutional option” and opponents dub the “nuclear option.”
Neither of these is correct. The Constitutional/Nuclear Option is a risky in-session parliamentary maneuver primarily anticipated in the event of a filibustered nominee (somebody the President and majority party want to make a hill to die on). The maneuver involves appealing to the Parliamentarian for a ruling on the constitutionality of the filibuster rule (the argument being that the ability of the minority to filibuster a nominee is incompatible with the "advise and consent" clause). Upon a negative ruling, the rule is voided and a new rule is put in place without the offending provision, which most expect to only need a simple majority to pass.

What is being proposed now, by contrast is a perfectly usual first-day-of-session change in a rule, which never requires a two-thirds majority. The operative principle is that an earlier Congress cannot bind later Congresses to any course of action: the original adoption of rules was by simple majority, so changes of rules "in the normal order of business" (interpreted to mean "at the beginning of a session") cannot require a greater majority than the original adoption.

This is complicated by the fact that, while the House gets refreshed every two years, the Senate thinks of itself as a continuing body, and senators who oppose any particular rule change are fond of arguing that there is no true opening day on  which to change rules. Which, if you look at the history of this argument, is always deployed in the most rankly opportunistic fashion.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Horde of nieces and nephews...

... has descended!

and the whole gang:

Bitching about UAcalc

To Ralph Freese and the others responsible for UAcalc:

If your XML-based file format for finite algebras involves each row of each operation table to be labeled by the elements comprising the row, then why on earth doesn't the calculator use that information? If I have a three element operation \(m(x,y,z)\) and the first row given in the XML has label r = "[1,2]" (meaning \(m(1,2,x)\), with \(x\) ranging across the algebra), why does UAcalc think that this is the row \(m(0,0,x)\)?

Latte-sipping Beltway consensus

You know what would be really helpful, Howard Schultz?
Starbucks is getting into the debate over the looming “fiscal cliff.” CEO Howard Schultz has posted a letter online explaining that for the rest of the week, employees in the megachain’s Washington, D.C., stores will write “Come Together” on customers’ coffee cups.
1. Not confusing the Fiscal Slightly-Downward-Angling-Slope with a debt crisis:
In the spirit of the Holiday season and the Starbucks tradition of bringing people together, we have a unique opportunity to unite and take action on an incredibly important topic. As many of you know, our elected officials in Washington D.C. have been unable to come together and compromise to solve the tremendously important, time-sensitive issue to fix the national debt. You can learn more about this impending crisis at
2. Not propagating the false narrative that old people with an entitlement complex, rather than two off-balance-sheet wars, double-digit unemployment, and a medical cost system which Obamacare is only praying to bring under control, is driving our current unsustainable economic/fiscal course.

3. Prioritizing good policy over Beltway split-the-difference pseudo-moderation by having what your employees write on cups be good policy, like, say, protecting Social Security (which is not relevant to the Fiscal Slightly-Downward-Angling-Slope and does not contribute to the deficit in any way), instead of useless platitudes like "Come Together".

The problem here isn't that politicians are unwilling and unable to come together. The problem is that what the GOP is willing to offer (to the extent that we can tell any specifics of what the GOP is offering) is well across the Democrats' red line, and that the Democrats' red line is well past what their constituents -- hell, well across what the GOP's constituents -- want.

Look, Howard, let's everyone admit it: the Republican Party is bad for business. If we had a sane opposition party, a bipartisan plan investing in the country's infrastructure and getting Americans back to work would have sailed through both houses, financed by money borrowed at negative interest rates. Instead, you're trying to sell coffee to people who are struggling to make ends meet because it takes more than four months to find a job.

So if you're going to make a gesture, don't make one which pushes for what's worse for your employees -- and for yourself.

White Boxing Day?

I'll allow it.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Irish Redshirt Freshman

Bottled the small batch of what I've decided to call Irish Redshirt Freshman. Got about 1.5 gallons total (down from an original boil volume of 2 gal), which is a little less than I'd wanted, but that's life. Primed with dry table sugar again this time instead of mixing in sugar syrup; no sense in playing the national championship game flat due to a coaching error.

Now this little recruit has two weeks to get ready to play for all the marbles. Ironically, it's staying right here, while I'll be flying off to South Florida.

I'm drinking the sample I pulled off for gravity measurement (FG 1.010 against an OG of 1.050, thank you very much), and it's already quite tasty (though definitely young and raw -- again, like the Redshirt Freshman it is). A little sweet up front, with bitter underneath; a little puckery in the mouth.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Drumstick au vin

You're gonna be out in a tuxedo until 11. And no cocktail weenies either. What do you do?
Well, if you're me today, you find a ziploc of chicken drumsticks in the freezer and make chicken au vin:
2 lb bone-in chicken
1 cup chicken stock or bouillon
1/2 cup red wine
2 healthy squeezes ketchup
Spices and seasonings to taste: whole peppercorns, ground black pepper, thyme, rosemary, garlic.
Mix stock, wine, and spices in a bowl. Place chicken in crock pot. Pour liquid mix over chicken. Cook in crock pot on low for 6-8 hours.
Serve over noodles. Beverage pairing: dark beer, such as brown ale or rye porter.
Idea for next time: use those gigantic turkey drumsticks I see at Kroger.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Bottle conditioning blues

So, the last couple batches of beer I've brewed have had problems carbonating. I suffered through two weeks' worth of pumpkin spice beer which was both bad (the yeast never really were happy) and flat, and also subjected a couple of coworkers to it; but I put my foot down when my IPA came out flat too, cause that beer is damn tasty.

One of the MCB guys suggested reagitating the bottles every couple of days, and that worked ok. Oddly, the 12-oz bottles have showed a different carbonation level than the larger ones, which tells me that my sugar solution didn't mix evenly in the bottling bucket.

So anyway, last night I opened one of the big 22-oz bottles of pumpkin stashed at the back of my aging cabinet. I'd agitated them too, and wonder of wonders, it had a puny little head when I poured it! And that made it a lot more drinkable, naturally.

Moral of the story: if you're wondering whether a bottle has carbonated, check if there's yeast residue settled out at the bottom. If there's not enough, turn the bottle upside down a few times to get everything agitated and leave for a week.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Epic win at Brad Delong's blog

Cosma Shalizi, in comments: "More elaborately: our gracious host would really like to be just a little bit to the left of a technocratic center, and to debate those just a little bit to his right about optimal policies within a shared objective function, and pretending that it is a technical and not a political discussion. But because shit is fucked up and bullshit, and because everyone at all on the right has spent forty years (at least) doing their damndest to make sure shit is is fucked up and bullshit, even the smallest gesture in that direction is not so much reconciliation as collaboration. And so our host has sads. (So, for that matter, did Uncle Paul, before he learned to relish their hatred.) The realization that this applies to economists --- that much of the discipline is not a branch of science or even of dialectic, but merely of rhetoric (and not in an inspirational, D. McCloskey way either) --- cannot come too soon. Whether someone who still assigns Free to Choose to callow freshmen, in 2012, is really in a position to complain about the absurdities of Casey Mulligan is a nice question; but recognizing that half your erstwhile colleagues were always mere ideologists is a step in the right direction."

Brad DeLong : DeLong Smackdown Watch: Cosma Shalizi

Friday, December 14, 2012

Crafty, crafty brews

Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout at M.L. Rose West. Lovely subtle flavors, great malts.
Ms. Heel-Filcher is meanwhile enjoying a Left Hand Milk Stout. I do believe I've never had that beer with N2 instead of CO2.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Dual Mandate ahoy!

The Federal Reserve announces that it's going to do its damn job!

"This is a big deal. The Federal Open Market Committee has abandoned its practice of talking about its future policy in terms of the calendar, such as pledging low rates until 2014, and instead making clearer 1) That the path of monetary policy will depend on the economy, not some arbitrary date, and 2) What exact economic conditions it would need to see to change course.

Perhaps more notable, the Fed is explicitly stating that it can envision letting inflation float above—but only a bit above—its 2 percent target as a price for getting the job market back on track."

From Wonk Blog: Huge news out of the Federal Reserve

Ezra reminds us why it's a damn shame ...

a) for John Boehner that POTUS has learned how to negotiate
b) that Ms Heel-filcher has never seen Die Hard.

"Whatever House Republicans might think, the White House is all steel when it comes to the debt ceiling. Their position is simple, and it’s typically delivered in the tone of voice that Bruce Willis reserves for talking to terrorists"

Washington Post - The GOP’s dangerous debt-ceiling gamble

I can't help Boehner with his problems, but part b) is on the menu for tonight ;)

...but the government never does it cheaper, or so I've been told

"Here's a rule of thumb to consider for when government should take a role in providing a service: When it's cheaper. That doesn't mean cheaper merely in a narrow sense, such as cheaper at the cash register, or for some people rather than others. Government can always achieve that end simply by subsidizing things by fiat.... Rather, it means cheaper for the economy or society at large."

Of course, you'll hear a certain brand of "conservative" insist that the government can never do anything more efficiently than the private market. As always, when you hear this, you fix them with a cold stare and ask them how efficiently the private market electrified the rural U.S. Or, if they live in the DC area, you can ask them how efficiently the private market built the Greenway extension to the Dulles Toll Road.

"And that points us to the idiocy of an unaccountably popular proposal aired in connection with Washington's "fiscal cliff" cabaret: raising the eligibility age for Medicare.

There seems to be a consensus developing that raising this age to 66 or 67, from today's 65, would be a fairly painless way of demonstrating our commitment to fiscal responsibility. You're all living longer, so what's the big deal? — you'll have plenty of time to enjoy the fruits of Medicare, if you're a little more patient.

Best of all, the change would save the federal budget $5.7 billion in 2014 alone.

Calculations such as these typically are made to look good by considering only one side of the ledger, the side showing the cost to government accounts (often only the short-term cost). This is a handy trick that can be applied to almost any situation, the way the ShamWow can mop up any spill.

What's on the other side of the Medicare-age ledger? Plenty... Put it all together, as health economist Austin Frakt did, and you find that saving that $5.7 billion on the federal books would cost society as a whole $11.4 billion. To paraphrase Jerry Seinfeld, this is how you save money in the Bizarro world."

When government does things better than private enterprise -

in which Jon Chait does his best Juan Manuel Marquez impression

When Jon Chait is on, folks, do not put your guard down until the final bell. I have no idea what I mean by this metaphor, except that the two Tiger-Beaters-On-The-Potomac in question are lying in a bloody mess on the edge of the mat.

"Politico editors Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen today have published what may be the most revealing piece I have ever read about the Washington power elite. The value of the piece is almost entirely anthropological. That is to say, read at face value, it tells the reader almost nothing new. But examined as a cultural specimen, it offers profound insight. The piece reads as if it were written by Upton Sinclair, if he were taken prisoner and trying to smuggle messages out to the world past a particularly literal-minded group of censors."

Politico Accidentally Exposes Beltway Elite -- Daily Intelligencer

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

In our hearts they burn

Many thanks to my buddy Bill, who recommended American Gods right before a three-week period featuring two road trips from Nashville to South Bend. And many thanks to the leisure reading collection at the Vandy library, who had a pristine copy on CD. I think it was getting dark around Kokomo when we reached the interlude "Coming to America: 14,000 BC". In that section, an old matriarch, Atsula, has led her people across the land-bridge to Alaska, escaping a natural disaster foretold by a god. And while she certainly believes in the god of her people (because in the world of American Gods, gods actually and empirically exist), she is still skeptical of their true power. Atsula is the first humanist, and tells her people that "Gods are great... but the heart is greater. For it is from our hearts they come, and to our hearts they shall return."

And then I got a hankering for some Insomnium. Totally unconnected events, of course.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Oh say can you see, in \(\omega\)'s early light...

This may have been the line that convinced me to write the previous post, but I couldn't actually find a way to work it in:
Some materialists, however, seek to evade this difficulty by suggesting that there is some sort of logical connection between physical states and mental states. It is a logically necessary truth, they say, that when a given physical state occurs, a certain mental state also occurs. If this is true, then the existence of the mental is certainly probable, given our physical world; indeed, its existence is necessary. Nagel himself suggests that there are such necessary connections. So wouldn’t that be enough to make intelligible the occurrence of the mental in our physical world?
I suspect that his answer would be no. Perhaps the reason would be that we cannot just see these alleged necessities, in the way we can just see that 2+1=3.
Does Alvin Plantinga think that he can "just see" the truth of the arithmetic equality he states? If so, could he please enlighten the rest of us as to just what kind of sense-objects the numbers 1, 2, and 3 are? If a number is a class of all objects which are in bijection with one another, as Frege proposed, what is +? If a number is a hereditary set -- an "object" of pure imagination, how can Plantinga see or sense any such relationship?

It is disappointing when a scholar gives such free and open rein to his biases and preconceptions, without even a token nod at the methodological difficulties which others have made entire careers of.

Alvin Plantinga's students need to teach him about the argument from personal incredulity

An old friend of mine, a fellow of the cloth[1], shared this piece on his facebook wall the other day. He's of a decidedly conservative bent, and his share-comment was something along the lines of "even the liberal New Republic!"

Of course, it's irresistible troll-bait when even the liberal New Republic front-pages something entitled "Why Darwinist Materialism is Wrong"; but it feels less fun when I click over and see that the byline is Alvin Plantinga. Or that the piece is a four-page-long review of the new book Mind and Cosmos by Thomas Nagel that the usual suspects are a-twitter about. It feels less fun, because one of the secret thrills of reading pieces with titles asserting that Darwinist whateveritmaybe is wrong is the white-hatted hope that maybe the author will put forward some argument that I've never heard before -- and the black-hatted hope that maybe the author will commit some howler of a logical error and embarrass themself in a new and spectacular fashion, thereby torpedoing their own credibility for the future. (As Greta Christina says, maybe this time will be the time that a serious defender of religion makes an interesting case that I haven't heard before.) But one hardly dares hope for any new errors that someone like Plantinga will make -- he's quite set in his old ones, thank you very much.

TL/DR for what follows: Alvin Plantinga desperately needs to learn that personal incredulity is not a valid argument. He also needs to read some science fiction already. Start with Larry Niven. Then move to Iain Banks.

I'm not quite sure what the intellectual background is that has Plantinga frequently being brought up in reviews of MaC, even before this particular piece by Plantinga came out (maybe they had preprints?), but there is certainly a sense among the reviewers that Nagel's project is not so far off from Plantinga's.

If that sentence were to be written of me, I would immediately phone up at least one of these reviewers, and ask how on earth what I had written could be misconstrued in so ghastly a fashion. But I am of course not Thomas Nagel. I have, in fact, not read any of Nagel's books, including this latest -- I am not sure whether I read his influential article "What is it like to be a bat" sometime in undergrad, but I've read things arguing similar positions. In any case, this post is not to critique Nagel's work, but Plantinga's thoughts upon reading Nagel. (E.g., I will assume that Plantinga fairly represents Nagel's ideas throughout.) What Nagel seems to be arguing against is the materialist consensus of contemporary physics and metaphysics; but also, his book is "a far-reaching broadside against Darwin" according to the Weisberg/Leiter review linked above, which does not provide much hope for anything interesting to be said in it.

Weisberg and Leiter go on to say that it is not evolution itself that Nagel attacks, but rather a sort of reductionism -- reducing living things to their nonliving components, reducing minds to brains, reducing life to chemistry to nuclear physics to quantum physics to who-knows-what-further-smaller-scale-physics. This discussion is hardly new, of course, and hardier souls than myself have waded into Nagel's own arguments and found them wanting. But let's review, just in case, the old argument that "evolution isn't improbable, it's practically inevitable":
Premise 1: there is already life, instances of which reproduce and whose offspring are sometimes different from them (and from each other).
Premise 2: these differences can be relevant to the survival of these offspring, depending on the environments they find themselves in.
Conclusion: the aggregate phenotype of the next generation will be tilted towards those traits which favor survival in the current environment. If the environment changes, the advantageous traits will probably also change. If a population splits and the split pieces find themselves in different environments, it is likely that (given a bit of time) the two populations will end up radically different from each other.


Plantinga wants to bolster Nagel's attacks. He builds his essay around an explication and exegesis of Nagel's phrase "materialist naturalism", by which he intends the orthodox position in the academy from physicians to physicists to metaphysicists, that
there is no such person as God or any other supernatural being. Life on our planet arose by way of ill-understood but completely naturalistic processes involving only the working of natural law. Given life, natural selection has taken over, and produced all the enormous variety that we find in the living world. Human beings, like the rest of the world, are material objects through and through; they have no soul or ego or self of any immaterial sort. At bottom, what there is in our world are the elementary particles described in physics, together with things composed of these particles.
There is, of course, at least one critical undefined term in this definition: "natural". Plantinga does not explicitly define it; suppose for a first attempt we say that a process is natural if it follows a rule which is either deterministic or statistically deterministic[2]; neither such proposition can be experimentally verified, of course, but a deterministic rule can be absolutely falsified and a statistical rule can be shown by experiment to be very likely false (in a precise sense).

I suppose the above definition isn't perfectly satisfactory; for one thing, it introduces an undefined term of its own: "universe". Plantinga is a dualist: he believes that the material world is not all that is; indeed, not only is there an immaterial deity, but that life is different from non-life by virtue of the presence of something immaterial. (Yes, I know that it's not at all clear that the preceding sentence is meaningful.) It is a bit of a dilemma for the dualist-theist whether the immaterial stuff should be taken as part of the state of the universe; if no, then every action by a living being is supernatural, which is a bit of a profusion; if yes, then why should the immaterial stuff making up the deity be arbitrarily written off as outside the universe, when all the other immaterial stuff is also universe-stuff?

No matter. The exact definition of what is "natural", when in dialogue with Plantinga, must certainly exclude his deity, and must exclude whatever it is that produced life in the beginning, and that which produces and sustains consciousness:
So far Nagel seems to me to be right on target. The probability, with respect to our current evidence, that life has somehow come to be from non-life just by the working of the laws of physics and chemistry is vanishingly small. And given the existence of a primitive life form, the probability that all the current variety of life should have come to be by unguided evolution, while perhaps not quite as small, is nevertheless minuscule. These two conceptions of materialist naturalism are very likely false.
Plantinga here, as well as Nagel if his positions are represented fairly, is talking nonsense. He's out of his depth on the math, and making bald assertions about what is likely or not. While it's probably not going to be possible to historically reverse-engineer the exact chemical pathway which first self-replicated in the primordial environment, such chemicals are not really sparsely distributed among molecules once you reach a certain size; in other words, given an environment with a decent amount of energy and chemically disruptive events like occasional gamma showers or other cosmic rays, an array of elements to work with (a bit of hydgrogen, some larger multivalent elements like carbon or nitrogen or what have you) and a few eons of time, the possibility of self-replicating chemicals getting synthesized and then continuing to synthesize themselves isn't a priori unlikely at all.

(Side note to Hollywood: the likelihood of those chemicals being DNA/RNA, on the other hand, is vanishingly small. Aliens will not have DNA. Aliens will have their own replicating data storage/transmission molecules.)

This is familiar ground for anyone who has spent time arguing on the internet about evolution. We have observed speciation events taking place quite rapidly, geologically speaking; even the pace of our own forking from the chimpanzees, say three million years before present, would allow for twenty-two such forkings between the time of the dinosaurs (say 65 MYBP) and today, meaning \(2^{22} \approx 4 \text{ million} \) species descendents of a single species of that time; in reality, since humans and chimps have a relatively slow reproductive cycle, 65 million years represents a lot more generations of a typical species, meaning a lot more potential forkings.
NAGEL GOES ON: he thinks it is especially improbable that consciousness and reason should come to be if materialist naturalism is true. “Consciousness is the most conspicuous obstacle to a comprehensive naturalism that relies only on the resources of physical science.” Why so? Nagel’s point seems to be that the physical sciences—physics, chemistry, biology, neurology—cannot explain or account for the fact that we human beings and presumably some other animals are conscious...
Nagel next turns his attention to belief and cognition: “the problem that I want to take up now concerns mental functions such as thought, reasoning, and evaluation that are limited to humans, though their beginnings may be found in a few other species.” We human beings and perhaps some other animals are not merely conscious, we also hold beliefs, many of which are in fact true. It is one thing to feel pain; it is quite another to believe, say, that pain can be a useful signal of dysfunction. According to Nagel, materialist naturalism has great difficulty with consciousness, but it has even greater difficulty with cognition. He thinks it monumentally unlikely that unguided natural selection should have “generated creatures with the capacity to discover by reason the truth about a reality that extends vastly beyond the initial appearances.” He is thinking in particular of science itself.
Hi, Professors Nagel and Plantinga, I'd like to introduce you to my friends, Professors Dennett, Hofstadter, and Gödel. Specifically, let's think for a moment about the tremendous leap that just happened here. I notice, for example, that Plantinga does not find it at all implausible that, given the existence of complex multicellular life, that such life would evolve or develop some kind of system for coordinating sensory inputs with actions -- a kind of "central nervous system", if you will. And any such system will need routines for filtering the raw datastream provided by the senses down to usable chunks, which might go by a name like "concepts". "Consciousness", then is nothing other than the biological individual having a concept for itself -- an almost inevitable outgrowth (given enough time and computational substrate) of the process of turning a patch of brown in the visual stream into a tree, that is, a unified concept allowing details judged to be irrelevant to be ignored.

Let's think about Nagel's original, famous question from back in the day: what is it like to be a bat? Specifically, Nagel posed the following question: suppose we knew the entire physical state of the brain (or even the whole organism, for that matter) of a bat. Nagel contends, and I agree, that even with all that information, there is no way that a human could have the experience of being a bat. (A human could presumably have all the sensory experiences of a bat, but would, I think, not experience them as a bat would.) However, this is not the end of the story. Suppose, say, we could construct or virtualize a computer network of circuits or connections perfectly isomorphic to the network of neurons in a bat's brain; and that we keep the computer in our office while we let the bat fly, but with a device attached to the bat's neural system which instructs every circuit in the computer to open or close precisely as the bat's does. Then, I contend, that computer will experience what is like to be a bat. Given what we know about bats, it is likely that neither the bat nor the computer will have any experience of "self"; but they will have concepts organizing their sensory experiences and experience of responding to sensory data. These experiences of the bat, and likewise those of a person, up to and including my experience of my own self, are high-level emergent concepts produced by "chunking" raw data into concepts and concepts into higher-level concepts.

The preceding paragaph is a just-so story, not a robust scientific theory. However, it shows how false it is to claim that a scientific paradigm that is even methodologically materialistic (as opposed to the metaphysical materialism that Plantinga so opposes) has no account of selfhood, of consciousness, and of cognition. And it exposes as rank nonsense Plantinga's next claim:
Natural selection is interested in behavior, not in the truth of belief, except as that latter is related to behavior. So concede for the moment that natural selection might perhaps be expected to produce creatures with cognitive faculties that are reliable when it comes to beliefs about the physical environment: beliefs, for example, about the presence of predators, or food, or potential mates. But what about beliefs that go far beyond anything with survival value? What about physics, or neurology, or molecular biology, or evolutionary theory? What is the probability, given materialist naturalism, that our cognitive faculties should be reliable in such areas? It is very small indeed. It follows—in a wonderful irony—that a materialistic naturalist should be skeptical about science, or at any rate about those parts of it far removed from everyday life.
Do you see the straw man? The argument of the naturalist is that if it is possible for a species to evolve the ability to apprehend or generate concepts, and if those concepts correspond in some reliable way to the world, then it is likely that such ability will be evolved. The argument is not that brains will evolve the ability to only conceptualize true concepts, or concepts corresponding to real things in the world. And indeed, this is the dangerous thing about evolution (and the reason why Michael Behe's argument by "irreducible complexity" fails so miserably): an ability or trait, once evolved, will turn out to be useful in completely different circumstances than those which provided the original environmental pressures it evolved in response to. A mind which can make concepts of trees -- and which can treat "concept" as a concept -- can create concepts of basically anything, regardless of whether those concepts correspond to anything in the world, and regardless of whether creating those concepts has survival value.

And it's not saying much to say that, if at the time the human brain evolved the ability to nest concepts to arbitrary depth and abstraction, every such brain decided that it would be more fun to spend all its time concept-building and philosophizing rather than ensuring basic survival, then all those brains would indeed have perished. But since that just-so-story empirically did not happen, it is not advisable to pretend that such is the only possible outcome of brains hitting on the neat trick of arbitrary-depth conceptualization.

Instead, Professor Plantinga, please go read a little bit of recursion theory. Hell, you could even play some Magic, The Gathering and be better off. Your incredulity is not interesting.


[1] Does that phrase imply that the laity are all naked?

[2] A process is deterministic if the outcome of the process is a function of the state of the universe at the time of the process. Typically the state of the whole universe is not needed, just the state of the billiard table on which the process occurs. A process is statistically deterministic (my phrase) if there is a function which takes as input the state of the universe, and outputs a distribution, and the outcome of the process is distributed according to that distribution.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Vacation is...

Lying in bed cleaning out one's RSS reader and occasionally checking to see if one's favored football team is still the first in the land.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

"Has the package installed correctly?"

This post will either be a staid and serious discussion of what is probably a completely n00b-tastic issue I'm having with Python, or more likely devolve into a rant. Important note: nothing in this post should be regarded as factual without further checking. If you find that I have made a factual mistake, please let me know in comments.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Turning coffee into...

In the mug: Clover-brewed Hawaiian Ka'U. Tasty, tasty.
In the earhole: Blut Aus Nord, 777. (The whole thing, all three volumes.)
On the pad: seminar talk about TCT.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Grepped from Facebook

On my Facebook wall (in response to a post about the Republican record on job creation):
Joe: Just tired of Democrats taking credit for everything good that has ever happened since the beginning of recorded history and blaming everything bad on those rascally republicans.

Me: As I've said many times before, one-party rule is no democracy's friend; the role of the loyal opposition is critical in modulating the ability of a power-bloc or party to implement its will. (Checks and balances don't spring into action on their own: they are the result of someone in power standing athwart and shouting "stop!".)

Of course, since I am of a progressive bent, I favor the political ascendency of party/ies close to my own vision of how to solve the country's problems; and will start from a skeptically pessimistic position about the outlook of a proposed solution beginning from premises as different as those held by many conservatives... but there are plenty of instances of "conservative" proposals which end up improving on whatever the status quo was, or even solving the problem entirely. Alternatively, there are plenty of examples of places where conservatives negotiated a provision into a solution, which may have weakened the solution slightly but enabled the solution to move forward under the endorsement of all the major powerholders -- thus making it much less likely for the program to come under partisan fire in the near future.

[Note that the inverse is also true: bad solutions with strong bipartisan support, such as a lot of the privacy violations of the War On Terror, are almost impossible to dislodge.]

So let's think historically for a moment. From the New Deal realignment of the parties until Gingrich, the Republican party was constructive when in the minority and, when in power, allowed the Democrats room for constructive contribution. Consequently, shit got done. The shit that got done under Republican majorities tended, in my view, not to work as well, but it was not nothing.

Then Gingrich happened, and by "Gingrich" I refer to a wholesale revision of the Republican party's strategy for participation in government: when in the minority, use every procedural method available to block all progress; when in the majority, deny the minority any say in the construction of solutions.

And for that alone -- even leaving aside the dehumanization of their opponents, their embrace of white male Christian supremacism, their reckless fiscal irresponsibility, and their rejection of fact-based inquiry -- I say, for just the offense of undermining the concept of "loyal opposition" in American public life, the Republican party must be stopped, and until such time as the party is willing to return to the table willing to cooperate with the rest of the country, no American has any business voting for them.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Exploding the public safety net

Just to reiterate: the U.S. doesn't have an "entitlements" problem. It is simply not the case that our safety net programs as a block are exploding and going to bankrupt us all.

What we have is a healthcare cost problem, and one that the rest of the civilized world has figured out how to solve in ways that don't throw poor people into the gutter or into bankruptcy.

Off the Charts Blog | Center on Budget and Policy Priorities | The Myth of the Exploding Safety Net

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Upgrades are strictly optional

Can I just say that it annoys the living fuck out of me that, after having basically made the mental switch to Python 3, it turns out that a lot of the powerful non-commercial packages for doing math and science haven't been ported/translated and are only compatible up to Python 2.x!!!

Specifically, dealing with mathematical graphics: the standard sharp object appears to be matplotlib; the examples show some very nice graphics, but it won't talk to Python 3. It's been like two years, people! I understand that some projects aren't actively maintained, but if you do, and there's a new version of the scripting language out, don't ignore that fact!

Bah. Anyway, the main point of this post is to record for myself and my alteri nos that IDLE doesn't deal with matplotlib/pylab in interactive mode. So don't try, just use the basic shell (or, apparently, switch IDEs to something called ipython) if you need interactive. Which kinda sucks, since the whole reason I'm going down this particular yellow brick road is to try to program a very basic visualization tool for finite posets, something similar in feel to the congruence lattice/subalgebra lattice tool in Ralph Freese's universal algebra calculator.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Pumpkin Pancakes

Got a half a can of store brand pumpkin in the mix, and also someone (cough cough Ms Heelfilcher) came up with the idea of moistening the batter with cider.


Friday, October 12, 2012

Statistics from the weatherman

I wish I could screengrab from apps on my phone. The weather channel app is reporting an overall chance of rain today... but then when I click over to the hourlies, it's never above 20%.

Not mathematically impossible, but not at all how the weather report usually looks.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Nashville's vote is apparently false, or at least off-kilter

Via Rachel Maddow, it seems that someone in the Davidson County Election Commission has decided that Nashville is insufficiently Republican:
A leader of Tennessee True the Vote attended poll official training with the Davidson County Election Commission by invitation of the Republican administrator of elections. Along with fielding 1 million poll watchers, this group is clearly laying the groundwork to field poll officials. When you go vote in November, the person checking your ID and looking you up in a poll book or instructing you on the use of the voting machines may be affiliated with voter suppression.
Just a reminder, everyone: True The Vote is a "nonpartisan" outfit which oh-so-coincidentally wants to challenge the right to vote of lots of people, all of whom coincidentally come from demographics which lean Democrat.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Catching labels with vinegar. Haven't tried honey.

One of the annoying facets of homebrewing has been securing adequate bottling supplies. I've got a small stable of Grolsch-style swing top (EZ-cap) bottles, which are my favorites, but not enough for all the beer I expect I'll soon have ready. Hence, I've taken to collecting reusable (i.e. non screw-top) beer bottles and have invested in a capper.[1]

Now, I probably could just throw the beer into bottles that still say "New Belgium Trippel" or "Singletrack Copper Ale" (which we definitely didn't kill a whole sixer of last night. No sir). But being the anal-retentive type that I am, I'd rather not mislead myself and/or my drinking buddies that way, so I needed a way to remove the commercial labels. (I also need a way to make my own labels, and possibly a design team to help out, but that's a problem for another day.) One approach that was suggested was to heat the bottles in the oven to 400°F-450°F to melt the glue; then peel off the label whole. This worked for Sam Adams bottles, but not for others.

That method was chiefly favored for those collecting beer (and wine etc.) labels. If it had worked, I'd have not cared whether the label came off in one piece or many, but since it didn't (some of the glues just absolutely refused to melt), we decided to go the chemical route.

I tried a test run last week, with several bottles (mostly Mission Street and New Belgium) in my chemical bucket in undiluted vinegar. Left them all night, came back in the morning, took a razor blade to the labels and they came right off. Well, they still needed some coaxing, and they definitely left in pieces.

Doing the real run now; probably have thirty bottles to de-label, including a whole box that JJ's Market was kind enough to let me haul off. Assorted doesn't even begin to cover it. Anyway, the vinegar (5% white vinegar, initially undiluted) seems to be taking a lot less than all night to do its work, so I'm moving on through them pretty well.

Some observations and ideas for next time:
1) Start with your shortest bottles. Fill them with water (to keep them from floating), put them in the bucket, fill around them with vinegar up to the neck.
2) Don't use a metal razor to scrape off the labels if you can avoid it. The vinegar acid will react with the metal to discolor or corrode it. Doubly true if you're thinking of using a knife or metal kitchen utensil that you don't want to replace. I'm using a hard plastic spatula and it's going great.

[1] The Red Baron Capper, if you're interested.

In which Jonah Goldberg makes a funny

...and I can't quite tell if it's not aimed both at Pat "Bay" Buchanan (damn you autocorrect!) and Dancin' Dave...

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Taking the piss

Dear Chris Hayes:

I realize that it is both commercially and intellectually in your show's interests to seat conservatives on the panel, to provide a foil or counterweight to the host's and other guests' main discursive habits. I realize, too, that it is difficult to find intellectually honest conservatives to fill that role.

But please, for the love of Eris, don't give Kevin Williamson that chair for two whole hours. It's unbecoming of civilized conversation to invite a fellow into all of our living rooms come-a Saturday morning, when that fellow's primary objective is to piss on my head and tell me it's raining.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to filch one of those delicious scones off your table.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

On becoming the monster

So the 'verse is all a'twitter because Mitt Romney was caught on a hot mike saying this when he thought only friends were in the room:
There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what…These are people who pay no income tax.
Now, for sure, part of this is rock-solid political truth: each of the two major parties has a core of base support that the other campaign isn't even shooting to win over. The exact numbers ebb and flow -- I haven't heard anything remotely close to 47% for the Democrats from a source I trust with numbers -- but the principle is sound.

What's outrageous here is the conflation of a few demographics here:
(1) the Democratic Party's base;
(2) the fraction of the adult U.S. population who paid no federal income tax last year; and
(3) the fraction who are "dependent" on the government for their livelihood (that is, those who benefit from social insurance and safety-net provisions, which the Right has successfully renamed "entitlements").

These three groups are very, very distinct, though certain sectors of the Right-Wing Sound and Fury Machine have been pushing the conflation for a while now. I think Brad Delong has a very important point here:
The most fascinating thing about Romney is that he has fallen for a fake statistic created by the Wall Street Journal editorial page as what they call "boob bait for the bubbas"--something that they hope low-information voters will hear, get outraged about, and vote Republican.
What's critical here isn't merely that the statistic Romney's using doesn't say what he thinks it says... that happens to everyone sometimes. It's that the Right-Wing narrative frame was supposed to be about snookering the median voter into voting for the guy who values what they value and the party which takes away everything they value and replaces it with cheap Chinese crap.[1]

Look, there's the Religious Right wing of the GOP, and the leaders of that wing are mostly true believers, if sometimes also hypocrites who enjoy the company of rentboys. And then there's the "foreign policy" wing, which means followers of Leo Strauss, the purveyors of the Noble Lie in the service of getting all the rest of us in line. The basis of this foreign (and domestic) policy is, of course, the enrichment of the American or not-inarguably-foreign business classes at the expense of the 99% at home and of any vestige of self-determination abroad.

But the biggest story in the American political scene, the story of the current generation of big-C-Conservatives, is that they have forgotten that the Noble Lie is a lie. They have forgotten that while the dude on the street is supposed to think of the federal budged like a household budget, the ones who actually get power are supposed to know better. They have forgotten that while we're supposed to think Russia is the enemy and the Wolverines are the heroes, the guys and gals in power are supposed to be ruthlessly out for US interests, and that means putting pressure on our "friends" (read: clients) and not just on nations we don't even have formal diplomatic relations with. They've forgotten that while the kids in schools are supposed to be creationists and Exxon is supposed to be able to do whatever they want wherever they want, the halls of power need to be also preparing for the day when the atmospheric CO2 is 450ppm, the Maldives no longer exist, and the ocean's salinity has dropped far enough to disrupt the flow of tuna to the heartland.

And they're supposed to know that the WSJ's class internecine warfare is just divide-and-conquer rhetoric -- and have people on hand to talk a Presidential candidate out of the carefully crafted bullshit. Or, you know, only nominate people skilled enough in parsing media narratives to have read that play straight from the huddle.

Instead, we have Mitt Romney, and a Congress whose largest single bloc, regardless of which party has the majority of each house, will almost certainly be straight-up-consumers of narratives designed solely to obfuscate reality and ensure the impotence of American self-governance.

[1] This is not entirely fair. The Democrats are, in the main, also fans of economic policies that result in cheap Chinese crap. However, the Democrats have put some real policies in place in the last four years resulting in Americans being employed in the making of both cheap crap and durable worthwhile investments.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Subclassing immutable types in Python 3

I've been hacking around in Python 3 for a while now, writing (as I mentioned a while back) a package for implementing arbitrary finite first-order structures.

The natural way to build such a thing is to subclass sets in some way: the traditional way of describing a first-order structure is as a set with additional information attached. But Python has two native set types: set and frozenset, the former mutable and the later im-.

Ideally, we'd like to enforce that you can't add or subtract elements from a model -- mean, if you plan to iterate through a model M, it would be a poor choice to pop elements off one at a time and throw them away, so a good programmer should make that an action that a user can't do by accident. Hence, I'm going to subclass from frozenset instead of the mutable set class.

There's only one problem: initializing an immutable object, or a mutable object which inherits from an immutable class, requires doing things a little differently.

I won't go through the whole setup process for my Model class, since that would involve a lot of explaining, but I'll do a simplified example: a derived class from frozenset with an extra data attribute foo.

But first, where does the problem crop up anyway? Let's say that we didn't know about this whole business: how would we usually program a class inheritance?
class SetWithFoo(frozenset):
    def __init__(self,X,foo_in):
        frozenset.__init__(self,X) = foo_in
 But when you compile this code we might get something like
>>> S = SetWithFoo({1,2},"bar")
>>>1 in S
What's gone wrong? Well, remember how frozensets are immutable? And remember how __init__(self,...) isn't a constructor, because the object self already exists? What that means here is that self gets summoned into existence from the void with certain elements -- and those are the only elements which will ever belong to it. By the time __init__ sees the object, it can't change its members.

The method which does the summoning is where we need to work. That method is called __new__(...), and it's the only method in your class which doesn't take self as an argument -- because self doesn't exist yet! Instead, the first argument to __new__ is the class of the object it's creating. You the programmer don't have to worry about this at all -- just put cls as the first argname, and Python will take care of the rest:
def __new__(cls,X,foo_in):
Now, at this point there are two schools of thought on what to do next. One of these schools says that if you're going to bother overriding __new__, you should code the whole initialization in there and just leave __init__ alone (don't even explicitly override it). I'm more in the other side, which thinks that only that which has to be done in __new__ (that is, what has to be done before freezing the basic data of your object, in this case the immutable members of the set) should be done there; everything else can be handled profitably in __init__. The one caveat is that the arglists (including default arguments) of the two methods must be the same (except for cls and self, of course), or else Python will throw a fit when you call SetWithFoo(args)
Long story short, either of the two following code blocks will do just fine.
def __new__(cls,X,foo_in):
    s = frozenset.__new__(cls,X) = foo_in
def __new__(cls,X,foo_in):
    return frozenset.__new__(cls,X)

def __init__(self,X,foo_in) = foo_in
but obviously not both ;)

No to insult our to insult to terrorism

In the wake of the assault on the US Embassy in Libya and the murder of ambassador Christopher Stevens, some Libyans have taken to the streets to say "not in our name". I hope I speak for all Americans of good will when I express my gratitude to these people. The world is a messy place, and we don't fit into neat boxes, especially not the ones drawn in pretty colors on a map.

In the linked suite of photos, two of the protestors are holding printed signs with Arabic text above English:
The English reads "No to insult our to insult to terrorism". I think (hope?) I know what this means: something along the lines of "We disapprove just as strongly of terrorism as we do of denigration of Islam and the Prophet." But can someone who knows Arabic give a translation of that part of the sign? Does it say, more or less, what the English part does?

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Amenability of Thompson's Group F

Justin Moore at Cornell has just announced a proof that Thompson's group \(F\) is amenable. The paper is short; I read through it last night, admittedly not following all the details.

There are, as it happens, a lot of details.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Ecomomics go-to conversation resources

I posted this over at Atheism+, where I am intending to become an active member. Y'know, in all my free time. Maybe I'll post something soon about why I think that atheism+ is a great and positive thing that I hope grows and becomes a force to be reckoned with, but not today.

Anyway, here's a question I asked there, which might as well get cross-posted here:

No, I'm not looking for homework help ;)

I found myself in an unusual position yesterday while having a Facebook discussion with some politically conservative friends from high school; I tossed off what was meant to be a transitional comment that supply-side economics is completely empirically discredited, which was met with complete disagreement. Now, if this were a discussion of evolution/creationism, or of abortion, or many other topics that I find myself sparring with friends about, I have a go-to list of links to introduce people to the ideas, going from the friendly and accessible to the mathematically and statistically imposing.

But what I realized about economics (in which topic I am very much a layperson) is that the conversational/blog circles I move in treat supply-side economics as very much a settled deal, and if they pass on evidence (such as is done here) it's in the spirit of "let's add one mote to this mountain of empirical disproof of this theory". I don't know of a resource intended to gently (or not-so-gently) bring someone into that conversation.

Do y'all?
Update: A couple of good links to Jared Bernstein out of that discussion already: a qualitative intro to several of the theoretical problems with supply-side, with an internal link to empirical work by Saez and Piketty on the correlations, if any, between high-income taxation and economic activity/growth.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Old man yells at chair

If Clint Eastwood's RNC speech turns out to have been viral marketing...

... I will be simultaneously awed and lose all hope for the human race.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Mark Pilgrim vs the Android

Discovered completely by accident that the up-to-date version of the book I'm learning Python from is available, for free, from the Android appketplace.

Also, now that I have a handy reference for Python 3, I think it's time to upgrade my IDE too.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Lamb Of God: Resolution

Been listening to the new Lamb of God album "Resolution" this week. Not a record for the ages, and I don't have the time to give a detailed review in any case, but still two-and-a-half solid stars.

Punchline: forget the first single ("Ghost Walking"). Otherwise, the album begins strong with "Desolution", hits its groove hard in "Insurrection", and ends on an absolute high point with "King Me":

Look, LOG, as long as Randy ain't playing shows in Czecho, swing by Nashville and I'll be the first motherfucker in the pit. (Though after that last song, I have this odd urge to play checkers...)

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Turning coffee into...

In the mug: Starbucks Malawi coffee, brewed on the Clover.

In the earbuds: Nachtmystium, Black Meddle I.

On the page: slides for my qualifying talk (scheduled for Tuesday, 2 PM, SC 1206).

Student Paper showdown at the House of Dawg

The entire student editorial staff of the University of Georgia's student newspaper (which is independent of the university) has walked out. As a member in a past life of the editorial staff of a student newspaper, I applaud this move: the students cite massive interference in day-to-day operations by the paper's board of directors, hiring of ten(!) full-time staff (an impossible number to sustain for a paper which publishes in print only weekly) and demanding prior restraint on content. The excerpta from the draft memo to the student editors are both hilarious and chilling in their illiteracy.

However, to the journalists covering this story and the ed staff of the Red and Black, a word: your accounts so far are disjointed and not particularly coherent. As a reader, I need to know who the people are who are forcing these changes forward: the Poynter story linked above talks about the Board of Directors, but does not have any indication of who sits on that board, how they are appointed, or to whom they answer (except that they are not answerable to the University, at least nominally).

There is some kind of conflict of interests at play here, and as someone who values student journalism, I say we need to have it reported on.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Blogging learning Python: Equivalence Relations II

Part I

Last time we looked at the basic class methods of the eqrel class. Python knows these are class methods because their definition blocks are indented under the main class header. What this means in practice is that a method like union is called on an instance EQ of the equivalence relation class, modifies that instance, and doesn't return anything.

The methods we'll see this time are different: they don't belong to the class but to the overall module, and they return a new instance of the class.

As mentioned, the two main functions we want to be able to compute are the equivalence relation join and meet. Join doesn't require any new technology:

def eqjoin(EQa,EQb):
    """Returns an instance of eqrel coding the least equivalence relation
    containing both EQa and EQb.

    Both arguments must be of the same length."""
    if len(EQa) != len(EQb): raise IndexMismatchError()
    N = len(EQa)
    EQr = eqrel(N)

    for iter1 in range(N):
        for iter2 in [y for y in [EQa[iter1],EQb[iter1]] if y >= 0]:

    return EQr

I've included a custom error message in case __name__ passes stupid data to the method; I'm sure that there are other possible errors I could anticipate, but this is the only one I can remember accidentally tripping over in practice. Here's the custom exception definition:

class IndexMismatchError(Exception):
    def __init__(self):
        self.msg = "Index Mismatch!\n\nAll equivalence relations must have the same length!"

    def __str__(self):
        return repr(self.msg)

Notice that a Python exception is a class (which for obvious reasons inherits from Exception). Basically all I've written this one to do is print a message detailing why it got called; nothing fancy.

Now let's program equivalence relation meet. But to do this, we need a low-wattage implementation of breadth-first search. (Recall that we already have a class method EQ.alists(), shown in the last post, for creating an adjacency-list representation of the tree out of the original parent data.)

def bfs_component(alists,origin):
    """bfs_component(alists) returns a list, the connected component
    of the element origin in the graph coded by alists."""
    N = len(alists)
    is_searched = [False] * N
    queue = [origin]
    ret_component = []

    while len(queue) > 0:
        active_element = queue.pop()
        if is_searched[active_element]:
            is_searched[active_element] = True

            for iter1 in [x for x in alists[active_element] if not is_searched[x]]:

    return ret_component

All this implementation does is compute the connected component of whatever vertex number is passed as the origin argument. This will allow us to search downwards, where the array-of-parents data representation allows easy upward search but no downward search. (The tradeoff is that it is more difficult to tend a tree represented as adjacency lists, cut off and reattach elements, etc. Not an insurmountable problem, but annoying.)

Finally we can meet the meet:

def eqmeet(EQa,EQb):
    """eqmeet(EQa,EQb) returns an instance of eqrel coding the greatest
    equivalence relation contained in both EQa and EQb. Both arguments must
    have the same length."""
    if len(EQa) != len(EQb): raise IndexMismatchError()
    N = len(EQa)
    alistsa = EQa.alists()
    alistsb = EQb.alists()
    components_b = dict([[root,bfs_component(alistsb,root)] for root in range(N) if EQb[root] < 0])
    ## components_b is a dictionary with items root : root/EQb, where root
    ## takes on all root values in EQb and root/EQb is a list of the elements
    ## in root's tree.
    component_list_r = []
    is_handled = [False] * N

    ## Basic procedure: 1: pop an element from the main queue.
    ## 2: find its EQa component and its EQb component.
    ## 2a: the intersection of these two is a component of EQr.
    ## 3. exhaust the remaining elements of the EQa component,
    ## treating it as a queue.

    for x in range(N):
        if is_handled[x]:
            cmp_a = bfs_component(alistsa,x)

            while len(cmp_a) > 0:
                x1 = cmp_a[0]
                cmp_b = components_b[EQb.find(x1)]

                cmp_r = [y for y in cmp_a if y in cmp_b]
                ## cmp_r is the intersection of cmp_a and cmp_b
                for y in cmp_r:
                    is_handled[y] = True

                cmp_a = [y for y in cmp_a if y not in cmp_r]
                ## deletes all elements of cmp_r from cmp_a

    return eqrel(N,blocks = component_list_r)

Python's list comprehension scheme is right up my alley, as you've no doubt already seen. I do sometimes worry about construction like the assignment of cmp_r near the end; abstractly, that could be \( \mathcal{O}(n^2) \), but I think Python has ways of making comprehensions like that run faster than the naive algorithm. (If someone knows if that's true, I'd love to know details. Maybe use some kind of hash and only check clashing pairs?)

So that's it for the methods I planned to write when I sat down to program. But wandering around in the documentation, I found something really fun, which I couldn't resist including. But that's for next time.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

More Cain, Cain, and Abel

Not ready to jump into the more complicated scenarios (spoiler that everyone already guessed: they'll feature both Cains and Abel on the island simultaneously), but the discussion in comments has prompted me to add one hypothetical before we even get to that point.
Scenario 3: Imagine instead of an environmentally conscious vegetarian pair of Cains, the human population of the island is a pair, let's call them Mr and Mrs Raton, who are even more rapacious and consuming than Abel is. However, unlike Abel, they do plan to bear children and perpetuate their lineage. They are completely unconcerned for the sustainability of their lifestyle, and all the food sources they live off will be depleted before any of their children possibly reach adulthood.
(The pair's name is a nod to the way ships' rats, in the days of European sea exploration, would come ashore onto islands with populations evolved to meet local/specialized pressures and wipe them out completely. These populations of rats would grow exponentially as long as the prey was easy; but as it was soon obliterated, the rats themselves died off when what they could eat was no longer available.)

So we naturally ask ourselves, is this behavior by the Ratons moral? Do they have the right to pass on a blighted and arid landscape to their own offspring?

I contend that their behavior is immoral, and moreover that they do not have such a right. To have full responsibility for and (some measure of) full control over a person's life and well-being (as parents do over their children) includes the obligation to not willfully deprive that person of the means of life. Additionally, it makes no difference whether these children are only as-yet-hypothetical or whether already alive: I'm viewing their whole planned path as a unit, one where (in this case) the order certain pieces occur in is irrelevant to the general cruelty and depraved indifference of the whole.

Naturally, the difference between Scenarios 2 and 3 is not a binary, on-off matter. I've written Scenario 2 so that the Cains' offspring will enjoy all the resources they do, but I don't mean to argue that all usage of nonrenewable resources is immoral. Leaving the world to the next generation in as good condition as you found it is, of course, exemplary, but the welfare of the future generations is not the only criterion on which morality is to be judged. (That way lies infinite regress, as well as any number of paradoxes involving nonconvergent integrals.) However, ones own wanted and freely chosen children have a claim upon one's labor so long as they are too young to take care of themselves -- this is a principle I have never heard a libertarian argue against -- and as a corollary one wrongs one's children if one depletes the resources they will need to survive and thrive.

In the context of the actual modern world, this principle is what justifies removing children from abusive parents: saying that parents have no right to abuse their children is equivalent, under the definition I'm working under, to saying that it is not wrong for others (in this case, the state) to prevent a parent from abusing a child.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

You got your BBQ sauce in my store-brand cola

What in the Flying Spaghetti Monster's name?

Zombie Eyes

At time T = minus 12 hours, Mitt Romney's campaign announced that they would be unveiling their running mate ... at 9 AM eastern on a Saturday, a time when the ranks of the awake comprise only those too young to vote, those too old to not vote, those too amped to quit coding, and bus drivers.

At time T = minus 11 hours and 59 minutes, the lovely Ms Heel-Filcher and I wondered what on earth Mitt is thinking, playing his last high card while the Olympics are still on, when the Republican convention is still (a couple of) weeks away, and while most nice conservative families' kids still haven't gone back to school and given their parents a moment to breathe have sexytimes catch up with the news.

At time T = minus 11 hours, 57 minutes, 57 seconds, NBC announced on the basis of three corroborating but anonymous sources, that this pick will be Paul Ryan.

At time T = minus 11 hours, 57 minutes, and 56 seconds, we were wondering if Mitt has forgotten that the U.S. electorate features a large bloc of voters too old to not vote, or possibly forgotten that Paul Ryan has devoted the last couple years of his life to cutting "entitlements", meaning in plain English the Federal programs ensuring that those old folks get to indulge what Malcolm Reynolds refers to as the powerful need to eat sometime this month.

The Obama campaign doesn't need my assistance scripting great commercials, but here's one I'd love:


Paul Ryan has spent every minute of his Congressional career
working to destroy Medicare.


Mitt Romney wants Paul Ryan to be his Vice President.


What will happen to Medicare in a Mitt Romney presidency?
You do the math.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Brewer's night: UnPale Ale

Two beer-related items tonight. First, I brought a few bottles of Sweet English Bitter to choir rehearsal tonight for the after-singing snacks, and they were well-received. The only problem is that they're way too carbonated; I realized when I got home and reviewed the log, that I doubled the poor yeasties' priming sugar ration when I bottled.

Second: Fired up the new 5 gallon beer rig tonight for the first time. Decided to basically completely freestyle a recipe, possibly something in the porter family, but with aspects of pale ale too. Will update with observations and notes as they come in.

UnPale Ale

3.3 lb (1 can) Briess Traditional Dark LME
3 lb Briess Golden Light DME

This gives a calculated gravity of 1.050 in a 5-gallon brew, which is a nice middling; but also, it means that the boil gravity is really high. If I could have brought the boil volume up to 3.5 gallons, it would have meant a boil at 1.072 gravity intstead of the <2 .5=".5" and="and">1.100 that I actually had to work with; and apparently hops just don't want to give up the alpha when the sugar content is that high. (The limiting factor was the largest cookpot in the house... This strikes me as likely to be a recurring problem.)

This was also my first brew doing my own bittering (ie only using unhopped extract), so I secured

1 oz. Columbus (14% alpha), pellets
1 oz Liberty (4% alpha), pellets

I boiled the Columbus for 60 minutes, half the Liberty for 15 minutes, and the other half for 10 minutes. The boil wasn't all that vigorous; the burner was only just keeping up with the wort. (I wasn't using the biggest burner for most of the boil, because I had an early boilover and didn't want to cook very dark sugars onto Ms Heelfilcher's stovetop. Ugh. (See likelihood of recurring problem.)

After cooling the wort in the sink-turned-ice-bath, I poured it and pitched a tube of

White Labs Cry Havoc

which is supposed to be an odd little beast (it will ferment at both ale and lager temperatures) but is known for producing a clean flavor profile with a little fruity sweetness.

No gravity measurements, I don't currently bother with them (or even own a hydrometer).

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Ballad of Cain, Cain, and Abel, part I

So, this will be attempt 2 at a thought-experiment about rights.

The question, we recall, is to what extent we can think intelligently about rights by reducing to an extremal case, in this instance the case of there being only one person in the world. I argue that this last-person-on-earth scenario is missing crucial features of what makes rights, in the real world, problematic to decide. Joe, on the other hand, thinks that the last-person-on-earth scenario is paradigmatic for rights.

After thinking about this a bit more, I want to amend what I said in the last post. One can have a right to do a morally wrong thing, I realized, and the amendment is that "A has the right to do X" should mean that it is immoral for others to prevent A from doing X. There's already a problem on this horizon, in that there's a generally accepted distinction between random other people preventing you from doing something, and the state, or the church, or your employer, etc. doing so; but while that problem is interesting, I think it's not too relevant for this discussion, since the hypotheticals here have so few other people, no state, etc.

Anyway, all of what I'm about to say is toward an argument that rights are inseparable from their context. In particular, I'm not prepared to concede the validity of any argument of the form
(0) Imagine a hypothetical world where the effects of person X doing action A are very different from the effects of that action in the real world.
(1) In the hypothetical world, it is moral for X to do A, and/or immoral for anyone else to prevent X from doing A.
(2) Therefore, in the real world, it is moral for X to do A, and/or immoral for anyone else to prevent X from doing A.

This is at least partially due to my consequentialist leanings in moral philosophy, an early point of divergence between Ms Rand and myself. (More precisely, I think that any attempt at a moral philosophy which does not factor predictable, anticipable effects of actions into the calculation of their moral status automatically fails.) Two actions which look identical "up close", but which will have different effects, can have different moral status, so long as the agents can predict or anticipate those effects (or at least anticipate how probable various possible effects are).

TL/DR: Context and consequences have moral weight!

Anyway: we begin our parable on a small island. To keep this post a manageable length, I'll lay out the first three sets of circumstances today, in which the moral claims are (I think) pretty unproblematic -- but I'd love to see disagreement if my readers have any.
0th scenario: there are no people on the island. The island's soil and natural features could probably support a civilization of a few hundred people, if they had the right crops to plant and the right animal species to raise in captivity; but none of that goes on in this hypothetical. The island features (obviously undomesticated) edible plant species, herbivorous and carnivorous animals, and freshwater fish in the island's lake and streams. (These don't tend to be very large, since there's not a whole lot of room for them to bump up against each other.)
OK, so there's really nothing, at all, to be said about rights here, since no moral agents live in this hypothetical. (As usual, I assume that nonhuman animals on Earth are neither moral agents nor persons. Also, no aliens.) So let's move on to the
1st scenario:We introduce one human into the hypothetical, a guy we'll call Abel. The details of his background are, I think, irrelevant; let's just assume he shows up at some point on the island with no expectation of ever leaving. He has skills ample to the task of surviving; he can hunt, and can make tools. Not only that: Abel knows how to work metals, and has the skill to find the ores of useful metals and smelt and forge metal implements. (Useful metals, I said, not gold.)

Abel does no cultivation of plants or animals, but as said, he does hunt, for food (and I'm sure for enjoyment too). In fact, he hunts faster than his targets can replenish their numbers: several of the tastier species on the island will be extinct, at his current rate, in twenty years or less. At the same time, Abel's smithing is using up the trees on the island too, on about the same timescale. He also fishes, but not at such a high rate; the fish species are safe.

The question is, of course, is Abel doing anything wrong in this scenario? Does he have a right to do the things he does?

The most obvious candidate for a "no" answer would be his practice of hunting animals to extinction; but while there's definitely an argument to be made that it's always baseline immoral for a species of moral agents to drive another species extinct (i.e. yeah, there are self-defense situations and smallpox, that's not what we're talking about here), I think for this discussion I'll posit that Abel has the right to consume the island's resources for his own benefit under this scenario. Disagreement is welcome below. (In particular, since this hypothetical arose in discussion as the last-person-on-earth scenario, we can omit the argument from "science needs to categorize and know about these species!')

 OK, so far so good.
Scenario 2: Same island, same plants and animals, no Abel. Instead, a similarly immaculately arrived adult human couple, Mr. and Mrs. Cain. Their skills lie in the direction of agriculture; they are vegetarians (though like many, they inexplicably see no problem with eating fish... maybe they used to be Catholic?). Hence, they are not in the business of driving any species to extinction.

After spending time eating fish (and ok, maybe a little rabbit when they couldn't get hobbit fish), the Cains can determine some plant species they can live off. The staple of their diet soon becomes the products of a pair of vines which climb on and live symbiotically with the tall trees of the island. One produces squash, and the other beans, which together provide complete protein. The Cains have tried, but with only limited success, to transplant these vines to trellises: the vines grow, but the beans are all husk and the squash taste like vinegar. They speculate that this may be a matter of too much light and not enough shade, but probably also related to the symbiosis between vines and trees, some invisible nutrient being passed on that they haven't figured out how to substitute in their own gardens.

The Cains prioritize the sustainability of their lifestyle. They plant and tend the vines and other vegetable species they eat, monitor the soil for depletion, and rotate their cultivation accordingly. Their focus on sustainability is not merely feel-good: they are planning to raise a family and generate a lasting society on the island, so that while they may be the only people on Earth at the moment, they are determined not to be the last.
Once again, I submit that in this scenario it is hard to claim that anything the Cains are doing is wrong, is anything that they do not have a right to do. Of course, in on sense this is trivial: since there are no other people, there is no one who could prevent either Abel or the Cains from doing anything they liked; but regardless of that, what they're doing in the scenarios seems well within their rights, no matter how we define that term precisely. (There aren't even any borderline cases in the second scenario, unless you count the fact that their kids will have no choices for mates outside their own siblings; let's hope the Cains have strong genes.)

OK, so are we good with these initial scenarios? Are there any matters of rights that show up as problematic here, but that I've skipped or not noticed?

****ing Pandora

I haven't had this problem, but a friend is reporting that her Pandora is giving her bleeped songs. I thought I remembered Pandora having some kind of very strongly worded policy against bleeping back when I created my account, but I may be confusing them with someone else.

Does/did this policy exist? I've looked, but for me, the googles, they do nothing. Also, if there's any option to set which will prevent bleeped songs, that's something I'd want set.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Blogging learning Python: equivalence relations I

 (Continuation here)

So I've finally broken down and started climbing up the learning curve for Python, just like everyone has been telling me to do for a couple of years now. Last summer's debacles with Octave should have been the last straw, but it's amazing what one can't get oneself to do when one actually got the result (despite the algorithm's taking a week to finally fail to compute what I asked for) and can move over to writing a paper instead of laboriously constructing examples.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Consider the Gebra

Today's Times features an oped which is sure to excite a swarm of comment. The author, a retired political scientist at one of the senior CUNY schools named Andrew Hacker, asks "Is algebra necessary", in the sense of "is the sine qua non status of algebra in our elementary-to-collegiate education tracking justified". His response is decidedly negative.

Now, normally I'd sarcastically begin my response with "There's only one thing wrong with this..." and then proceed to let the author know why he should leave and go feed penguins or something. Normally, this kind of attack begins from some deeply flawed assumptions, and it just gets worse from there. This piece, though, isn't that. So instead of sarcastically pointing out the one little thing the author got wrong, I think it's useful to mention the only thing the author got right: there is a deep and low-level problem with how we teach and learn school mathematics, and in particular with what role we expect mathematics instruction to play in a student's larger academic trajectory.

Saturday, July 21, 2012


Biked across the Golden Gate today. Fuckin gorgeous weather.

It was interesting watching the bikes of those I was biking near. Plenty, of course, were riding their own bikes, but a good percentage were tourists riding rentals, which of course were branded with the logo of the rental shop. The preferred method is to hang a bag on the front to hold the lock and simultaneously announce another satisfied customer for Blazing Saddles.

What was interesting was twofold: that so many people were in the market for a $30 day rental bike to cross the Gate (I patted myself on the back for paying half that due to negotiated rate via the hostel) and that, despite seeing several shops across the city offering this service, the vast majority had in fact rented from the aforementioned Mel Brooks-themed vendor.

Whoever opened up that shop can take a bath in the cash s/he made today.