Friday, September 4, 2015

What about me, Donald Trump?

Long before he was a senator, Al Franken was a Saturday Night Live player whose special role was that of a cheerful clueless narcissist.  His sketches were monologues; he would be posed behind a desk like a serious pundit, addressing the serious issue of the day.  Then he would  pause, and say

"Now I know you're wondering what does this mean for me, Al Franken?"

That was the running joke, the monologue just kept coming back to "what does this mean for me, Al Franken?" - maybe you had to be there.

He sort of kept drawing on that basic character throughout his career as a comic, including his first book I'm Good Enough, I'm Smart Enough, and Doggone It, People Like Me!: Daily Affirmations ....

Then in 1999 he wrote Why Not Me? The Inside Story of the Making and Unmaking of the Franken Presidency.  It seems he had a political passion, and a way to express it, and the rest, we might say, is history.  He tried to influence opinion with the unsuccessful Air America radio network, then saw a chance to contest a GOP senate seat, and won it after a couple of months of vote recounts.

What About Me, Donald Trump?

Donald Trump's efforts at making a difference in the political world have consisted most notably of several considerations of becoming president or governor of New York, and as for policy, his very vocal accusations that Barrack Obama was born outside the U.S., and that Obama's Columbia grades (which neither Trump nor the public had seen) weren't good enough to get him into Harvard Law School.  He strongly backed Obama's 2009 rescue of the auto industry, and hinted that vaccines cause autism, and denigrated climate change concerns.

That seems kind of all over the place.   What about the key themes of his career thus far?  Perhaps I'm missing something, but they seems to be
  1. making money
  2. displaying his superiority to everyone else
  3. and playing a major role in a media circus.

As a candidate, his positions seem opportunistic. Is he really stupid enough to be a birther, or was that just a way of getting attention (see item 3 above)? Now, as a presidential candidate, he gets plenty of attention by saying one  inflammatory and extreme thing after another.  Then for variety, he sometimes sits down with a journalist and sounds candid, as if he's thinking things out. This too is probably a pose.

Why is he running?  Maybe he woke up thinking "Why not me?  I've done all these important powerful things, why not be president?"

What does he think he would do with the presidency? Something audacious, no doubt, and most likely reckless, because that's the kind of guy he is.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Whither Truth Project? A New Social Organon?

* "The task of science is to stake out the limits of the knowable, and to center
                                        consciousness within them
."     --Rudolph Virchow

  For years, I've been trying to answer the question how, especially for the purposes of democracy and peace, we can be better at knowing and understanding what we need to in order to competently manage our lives, those of our communities, towns and cities, states and nations, and the planet (for we do have great planet-wide problems).

  The deep lack of trust between holders of different ideologies particularly in the U.S. is perhaps as bad as it ever has been, at least since the years leading up to the civil war.  We might as well be speaking different languages, as in the Tower of Babel, except we tend to think we understand what one another are saying (though I'll warrant we mostly don't, really, because almost no one knows how to listen).  So, we get highly offended, sometimes to the point of violence.

  There is some good reason for lack of trust.  All sides use facts sloppily, and we lack institutions that would make facts more ready to hand than slogans, insults, and oft repeated and distorted vignettes and sound bites.

For years, I've kept a vision "Truth Project".  While I have not enrolled anyone, I've tried to do what I could - mostly taking on piecemeal bits of falsehood and propaganda (e.g., see "My Not-really-right-wing Mom and her adventures in Email-Land" , and, reading and reading and reading.   Awareness of how inadequate this project has been has driven to me read widely and feverishly across many disciplines some of which I never heard of before I started; even to applying text-to-speech translation to academic papers and books to cram more "reading" into the time I must spend doing tedious work.

  Is there any chance of a "movement of truth" that would make truth more ready to hand and remove the fantastically strong perfume that disguises the smell of the bullshit?   It may seem like things have always gone on in the same way, and always will,  but  the truth is our there have been some revolutions in  ways of thinking over the decades and centuries.

   Let me start with a couple of success stories of some person or group setting out to change dominant modes of though, and actually accomplishing that.

    The first is what we usually call the Scientific Revolution.  Most of the early foundation of modern science comes out of the works of the Royal Society of London.  I'm sure this claim is contested, but I will eventually spend some time trying to justify it, and the society is easily of immense importance, as it included Newton's theory and the experiments with the vacuum pump which lead to the first systematic chemistry and ultimately to the theory of the atom -- indispensable to  modern technology.  And those are  just a couple of the many directions in which it went.

    The Royal Society was in turn very largely inspired by the work of Francis Bacon, and in particular The New Organon.  This, at least, is the argument of Margery Purver's The Royal Society: Concept and Creation.

    My first clear view of the seminal importance of the Royal Society, and its publication, Transactions of the Royal Society, came from a popular book, Daniel J. Boorstin's The Discoverers.  I took away the distinct impression that the most important principle behind the Scientific Revolution, as exemplified by the Royal Society was "Focus on the knowable, and never mind the ridicule you will take for spending so much time with such trivial matters  (my formulation).  As a result, many, including Jonathan Swift, ridiculed the society for its interest in meticulous descriptions and drawings of lice and newly discovered microscopic organisms, observed under the recently invented microscope.

    For Boorstin, as for Francis Bacon, grand systems were suspect, and knowledge had been seriously retarded up to Bacon's time by premature systematizing, the natural result of our impatience to know important things, like general principles of how the body functions.  Because it is important, people are eager to know something about it.  And so an at the time plausible sounding theory of human bodily malfunctions due imbalance in the four primary bodily fluids, or "humours", became, for want of anything better, the cornerstone of medicine for many centuries - it was the justification for the infamous practice of "bleeding".

  The problem: there was simply no way to sound understanding of the body except by a convergence, over centuries, of minute observation on top of minute observation, and eventual systematization of layers upon layers of far simpler understandings than that of the body, such as general systematic understanding of the cells from which all higher living things are made, of blood, or blood circulation, of microscopic organisms, of aspects of chemistry, (which all gets us to a 19th century level of understanding), and dozens if not hundreds of whole disciplines of studying various specific organs, etc.

    Bacon could not have foreseen all of this, but he could see that the academic world of his time prattled on about things that were far from well understood, and might not exist, for that matter, and he had the insight that some much simpler things could be understood with enough work, and the understandings of simple things could form the foundation of understandings of more complex things.

    Bacon's New Organon, besides putting forth the key insights, provides a catalog of everything that leads the mind astray when looking for truth.  E.g. (somewhat paraphrased courtesy of Jonathan Bennett, a scholar of Bacon's time)

 "There are and can be only two ways of searching into and discovering truth.
  (1) One of them starts with the senses and particular events and swoops straight up from them to the most general axioms; on the basis of these, taken as unshakably true principles, it proceeds to judgment and to the discovery of intermediate axioms. This is the way that people follow now.
  (2) The other derives axioms from the senses and particular events in a gradual and unbroken ascent, · going through the intermediate axioms and · arriving finally at the most general axioms. This is the true way, but no-one has tried it"


  "For the mind loves to leap up to generalities and come to rest with them; so it doesn't take long for it to become sick of experiment. But this evil, though it is present both in natural science and in dialectics, is worse in dialectics because of the ordered solemnity of its disputations."

    To call it a catalog of hindrances to clear thinking is no exaggeration.  He anticipates many of the conclusions of modern cognitive psychologists like Kahneman and Tversky of "motivated reasoning", and the "availability fallacy", and others, lead us astray.  He looked deeply at how we think, clearly stating, among other things, the principal Isaiah Berlin popularized of "foxes" and "hedgehogs".

Bacon defines four classes of "idols" (suggestive of the "golden calf" and other illicit objects of worship from the Old Testament). There are the "idols of the tribe" (those inherent to being human), the "idols of the cave" (those of individuals distortions and prejudices), and the "idols of the marketplace" (largely semantic misunderstandings).  And finally, there are "idols of the theater, because I regard every one of the accepted systems as the staging and acting out of a fable, making a fictitious staged world of its own. ... The human intellect is inherently apt to suppose the existence of more order and regularity in the world than it finds there. Many things in nature are unique and not like anything else; but the intellect devises for them non-existent parallels..."

    He does not rest with such a general critique, but provides an extensive list of things and qualities to be examined in the search for natural laws.  E.g. heat - "If for example we are to investigate the form of heat, we need a table of instances of heat . This is my First Table:

  1. The rays of the sun, especially in summer and at noon.
  2. The sun's rays reflected and condensed. . . .especially
  in burning glasses and mirrors.
  3. Fiery meteors.
  4. Lightning.
  5. Eruptions of flame from the cavities of mountains.
  6. All flame.
  7. Burning solids.
  8. Natural warm baths.
  27. Even keen and intense cold produces a kind of
  sensation of burning.

    This is just an outline for 20 dense pages of recommendations, including some of his own experiments, for trying to get at the truth about heat.

    He enumerates 27 angles from which to approach an object of study, giving each one's advantages and peculiarities.

    His subtle analysis of heat from many perspectives even leads to something strikingly close to a correct theory -- i.e. that heat is some kind of vibration or agitation, whereas after Bacon's time it was misconstrued up until two centuries as a sort of "fluid" known as "caloric".

         [to be continued]

Friday, February 13, 2015

Why are conservatives so enamored of Thomas Sowell?

This is from what I wrote on Quora in response to the question.

I have only read his later, awful, writing, but my impression is that his first 1 or 2 books were intelligent, and his 1980 Knowledge and Decisions very likely did a good job of popularizing Hayek's The Use of Information... or Von Mises Problem of Calculation in [socialist systems], and got him a lifetime position at the Hoover Institute.  It must have been a relief.  He got his Ph.D. in 1968 from U. Chicago under George Stiglitz, then (see wikipedia)  he taught economics at Howard University, Rutgers, Cornell, Brandeis University, Amherst College.  That's 12 years as a conservative black economist in the worst possible time in history to have done that.

His book publishing history goes like 1968 - (year of Ph.d.) - 1971 no writing; probably having a terrible struggle.
1972 a technical economics book.  1975 Race and Economics, probably an intelligent moderately conservative analysis.  1980 Knowledge and Decisions, as I mentioned, which won him the extremely prestigious place at the Hoover Institute.  From then to 2002 a book or two a year, including A Conflict of Visions -- very popular on the right today, which gives a totally out of date portrait of liberal (dreamers of human perfection) and conservative (pragmatists who understand human fallibility)  philosophies because today the right is much more dominated by (their kind of) dogmatic utopians than the left (esp. look at Clinton and Obama - Clinton way too much blowing in the wind, and Obama pragmatic and intimidated by economists maybe up to now).
From 2002-present about 2 books a year and popular articles every week.  I am sure Sowell was treated abominably by liberals esp. prior to his ascention to the Hoover Inst.  But at some point I suspect somebody started throwing lots of money at him to write right-wing hack books.  Read David Brock's Blinded by the Right:  1994 do hatchet job on Anita Hill; 1996 - offered nice advance to do hatchet job on Hillary Clinton, but halfway through becomes disillusioned with his current friends and writes a more nuanced book that fiinished him as a right wing hack writer.

I have mostly sampled his post-2002 work except for the 1987 Conflict of Visions and the already fairly vile The Vision of the Anointed: Self-Congratulation As a Basis for Social Policy.  The late work as far as I can tell is pure pushing of right wing talking points from a bitter wounded liberal hater.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

What I get for being on National Review mailing list

Title=my guess as to why this came to my mailbox.  I subscribe to  keep up with their foolishness.  Not only would Edmund Burke turn over in his grave, even Buckley would, I think.

Subject: Federal Reserve insider warns of 70% stock market crash (shocking footage)

Dear Concerned American,

I develop systems for the CIA that detect imminent threats to our national security from terrorists, rival nations, and internal weaknesses lurking inside
our economy.

I'm stepping forward today because my team and I have uncovered a series of alarming signals that point to a fast-approaching, 70% stock market crash.

And we have begun to prepare for an unstoppable $100 trillion American meltdown that will be unleashed in its aftermath.

Unfortunately, our government has already enacted measures for this coming catastrophe as well. They call it "The Day After Plan."

Because our leaders have kept you in the dark about this dangerous situation, I'm going to release all of the evidence my team has gathered.

This way you can see it for yourself.

(Warning: This footage is shocking) -

I'm not asking you to believe me now. I realize what I'm talking about is very serious.

Which is why I strongly suggest you take a few moments to view this evidence.

And then ask yourself, "what if I'm right?"

Click here to see everything...

Stay Safe,

Jim Rickards
Financial Threat and Asymmetric Warfare Advisor

Remove yourself from ProjectProphets -

"The Paranoid Style in American Politics" never mentioned Lincoln, and Yet

A brief note:

From the "House Divided" speech

We can not absolutely know that all these exact adaptations are the result of preconcert. But when we see a lot of framed timbers, different portions of which we know have been gotten out at different times and places and by different workmen -- Stephen, Franklin, Roger, and James, for instance -- and when we see these timbers joined together, and see they exactly make the frame of a house or a mill, all the tenons and mortices exactly fitting, and all the lengths and proportions of the different pieces exactly adapted to their respective places, and not a piece too many or too few -- not omitting even scaffolding -- or, if a single piece be lacking, we can see the place in the frame exactly fitted and prepared to yet bring such piece in -- in such a case, we find it impossible not to believe that Stephen and Franklin and Roger and James all understood one another from the beginning, and all worked upon a common plan or draft drawn up before the first lick was struck.
 Stephen A. Douglas
 Franklin Pierce
 Roger Taine
 James Buchanan

Oh, the anti-Lincoln Mises Institute Anarcho-Capitalists could have some fun with this

Friday, January 9, 2015

Obama To Disband the Marine Corps

You didn't know this, did you?

On a flight home I sat in between two individuals,  a Marine and boxing promoter.  The boxing guy was an older gentleman, and told interesting stories, such as meeting Don King.  Both men were very pleasant and that helped make time pass on the flight.  We were all combat veterans and all Southerners, so we had a lot in common.  Then the discussion, inevitably, turned to politics.

The older guy turned to the Marine and said "You know Obama is getting rid of the Marine Corps, right?"

The Marine was puzzled.  He hadn't heard this news.  Neither had I.  "Yeah, Eric Holder just had a meeting with the Joint Chiefs.  Obama is going to disband them by Executive Order."

Hooooo boy.  We are going to do this now, are we?  Putting aside for the moment why the head of the DOJ would be involved with restructuring a military department in the DoD, I said: "I don't think any president can just disband a branch of service.

                  quoting "SemDem" (Seminole Democrat) at

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Ways of Thinking About History, Take 2 (part 1?)

History and Systematization

I will always be enticed by the dream, of a grand system for discovering, from history, how to make a better world.

At the same time, nearly all experience tells me this is a foolish, often dangerous, chimera.

To systematize, seems to be an irrepressible urge, evident in many people, and a part of the design of human beings. This urge has given rise to religions, cults, literary salons, 'think tanks', universities, philosophical societies and their journals, those arrogant 'master narratives', grand unified field theories, scientific and historical conferences, and paranoid fantasies.