Left, Right: Peas in a Pod

May 29, 2021

Legal penalties are, however, in the modern world, the least of the obstacles to freedom of thoughts. The two great obstacles are economic penalties and distortion of evidence. It is clear that thought is not free if the profession of certain opinions makes it impossible to earn a living. It is clear also that thought is not free if all the arguments on one side of a controversy are perpetually presented as attractively as possible, while the arguments on the other side can only be discovered by diligent search.

Betrand Russell (1922)

These four comments were made about Colin Kaepernick, James Damore (“the Google Memo Guy”), Juli Briskman (flipped off the President Trump), and Gina Carano. All were fired or faced career damage.

Can you tell which is which?

  • ….firing [someone] was never a free speech issue…[someone] was held accountable for words and actions — nothing more, nothing less. [source]
  • No one owes [someone] a job. That’s not a violation of freedom of speech; that’s business. [source]
  • But freedom of speech does not equal freedom from consequences — private, social, moral — for that speech. [source]
  • Freedom of speech is the right to freely express an opinion. It is most assuredly not the right to express an opinion with freedom from the consequences. [source]

Conservatives weren’t complaining about “cancel culture” when they tried to cancel Kaepernick. Liberals don’t care about oppressing speech when the speech is conservative. Free speech should be a value, and not just a right. It’s not like selfishness, which is a right we don’t want people to exercise. We should want people to say what they think.

When we’re not safe, we self-segregate and polarize. Liberals create and collect in liberal communities, since conservative communities aren’t safe. Conservatives do the same. Solidarity turns into alienation, an “us vs. them” mentality that begets even more “cancelling.”

Update: NPR story on just this. It’s really bad for society. We have to learn from each other:

Americans are fleeing to places where political views match their own

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The Happiness of Self-deceit

October 1, 2020

Maybe I’ll perform a science experiment on myself. On Mondays and Tuesdays, I’ll lie to myself whenever I feel like it. On Wednesdays and Thursdays, I’ll never lie to myself. Fridays and Saturdays, I just won’t talk to myself. Sundays, I rest.

At the end of each day, I’ll write a reflection in my journal and rate my daily happiness. My hypothesis is that I’ll be happiest on the days I lie to myself.

Let’s Monetize Justice

October 1, 2020

Somebody actually published one of my crazier ideas. It’s a libertarian site, so you might say crazy ideas are the only kind they publish. I think there’s actually a shift in libertarian circles to include younger generations, which means to incorporate environmental and social justice ideas while maintaining a libertarian core. For the last 50 years, libertarian thought (and especially the Libertarian Party) has been nearly equivalent to an anti-tax agenda. I wonder if “leadership” (whatever that may be) saw its audience aging, and is trying to adapt.

My article at Being Libertarian:

This essay examines the possibility for a crime-prevention program that is neither punitive nor a safety net. The proposal is that the state monetize justice by providing payments to communities based on a crime-prevention score. Such a program would not necessarily redistribute wealth, as a high-income community would receive the same payment as a low-income community with the same prevention score. It would be defined by rights, rather than needs, and therefore meet the requirements of procedural justice with an effect similar to redistributive programs.

The Real Problem with the Ending of Game of Thrones

July 20, 2020

It’s popular to hate the last season of Game of Thrones, but for all the wrong reasons. Most of them come down to fans spending eight years watching a show that spurns Hollywood endings, getting upset at the lack of a Hollywood ending. 

The real disappointment with the series finale is the likely violation of the law of conservation of energy in the torching of King’s Landing. It is nearly inconceivable that a dragon could exhale that much heat (dragon-fire is much hotter than your fireplace) on any kind of reasonable diet.

Approximately how many calories did the dragon burn (literally) while destroying King’s Landing? And how many goats is that?

Method. An average blast of dragon-fire is sufficient to melt one Iron Throne. The dragon, Drogon, demonstrates this when he destroys the throne room. The chemical properties of iron can then be used to calculate the amount of energy in an average dragon-fire blast.

The number of blasts depicted in the sack of the city, multiplied by the energy per average blast, will yield the total energy expended. Converting energy to calories, and multiplying by goats per calorie, will give an answer in terms of goats.

Formula:

Heat = mass of iron throne * specific heat of iron * melting temperature of iron

First, find the mass of the iron throne using mass = volume * density. Based on visual assessment of people sitting on the Iron Throne, it is 3x the volume of small person, such Geoffrey or Daenerys. That gives it a volume of 1.5 * 105 cm3. The density of iron is 8 g/cm3. So, the Iron Throne has a mass of 1.2 * 103 kg. That is roughly the mass of a small car, which seems right intuitively.

The specific heat of iron is 460 J/(kg*K) and the melting point of iron is 1770 K

Plugging the numbers into the formula, we get:

Heat = (1.2 * 103) * 460 * 1770 = 109 J of energy in an average Drogon fire blast.

There are 36 on-screen blasts of dragon-fire in the sack of the city, including the attack on Euron’s fleet. The total energy Drogon expended in burning King’s Landing is therefore 3.6 * 1010 joules.

Now, we need to convert joules to calories and multiply by goats/calorie to determine diet and whether, as I suspect, energy conservation was violated.

There are roughly 4000 food calories in a joule, so Drogon burned 1.4 * 1011 calories in the sack of King’s Landing.

There are roughly 13,000 calories in a goat, or 8 * 10-5 goats/calorie. 

Calories * Goats/Calorie = 107 goats. That means Drogon had to eat 10 million goats in order burn the city as depicted, which is completely unrealistic.

This is the real way the writers ruined the whole show.

Simplifying assumptions.

  1. Drogon’s energy expenditure in melting the Iron Throne is the average for one of his dragon-fire blasts.
  2. The temperature of the Iron Throne prior to being melted is low enough to be ignored
  3. The number of Drogon’s blasts shown on screen is a fair approximation of the total.
  4. Energy requirements of metabolism and flight were ignored.

References

  1. Dragon Diet
  2. Calories in Whole Animals (I equated a roe deer with a goat)
  3. Burning the City
  4. Discussion at Physics Forums

Why I Like James Baldwin

May 31, 2020

The best philosophy builds a model of how the world works. It’s a web of belief. Reading it gives you a sense of how the thinker sees the world.

Mundane philosophy (most of mine, I’m afraid), is more in the point-counterpoint vein. What’s a valid argument for this or that claim? “Prove it!” Even if the philosopher does, in fact, “prove it,” the philosophy falls short of the best. It has to tie its truths together to create a larger picture.

The philosophy of someone I may disagree with, but who ties his beliefs together into a coherent belief system, is the best challenge. I learn more from it than isolated logical arguments that are merely correct.

Esquire has republished an interview with Baldwin from 1968 with many of these features. It shows a mind running questions through a model of how race in America works, and the model is built from experience very different from my own. Some parts are also historically valuable, such as his interest in segregation and skepticism of unions.

What causes the eruptions, the riots, the revolts- whatever you want to call them- is the despair of being in a static position, absolutely static, of watching your father, your brother, your uncle, or your cousin- no matter how old the black cat is or how young- who has no future. And when the summer comes, both fathers and sons are in the streets- they can’t stay in the houses. I was born in those houses and I know. And it’s not their fault.

https://www.esquire.com/news-politics/a23960/james-baldwin-cool-it/

 

And a video…

 

 

 

 

 

Sonny Rollins

May 16, 2020

Damn, there’s a lot of great and historic music on the Internet nowadays.

 

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, by Carson McCullers

May 16, 2020

Writing in the voice of the character is good. Over-educated narrative for the doctor, adolescent narrative for the adolescent, angry but sophisticated vocabulary for the itinerant Marxist. It makes it easier to see and feel as the character does. This story does that very well. The effect is especially pronounced, and the contrast the starkest, for Dr. Copeland and Mick.

The ensemble of characters is nicely diverse. An adolescent girl, an African-American grandfather, and a deaf mute in the same cast, with an aim to understand each in the light of the other. It allows multiple views of each character in a natural way: in their own words, and from the point-of-view of others.

Singer is a bit too symbolic. I don’t like overt symbolism.

They are all experiencing hardship: poverty, death, racism, adolescence, illness. Despite this commonality, they have different worldviews that are often clashing worldviews. They tend to see their differences more than their common bond, and often dislike each other. The universally liked one is the deaf mute, the most easily projected upon like a blank screen, most misunderstood, and symbolically suicidal.

Each has a pivotal life-experience in the story, although that experience never directly involves the other main characters.

It captures a time and place in American culture very well, and a time and place in its characters lives. It’s a bit slow, in the way that character-driven stories always are, but very thoughtful. It’s really hard to believe she wrote it when she was 23. It seems too full of insight and wisdom.

Privacy in a Shared World: Vacillating on Vaccines

August 25, 2019

I have an article over at Notes on Liberty: Privacy in a Shared World: Vacillating on Vaccines.

The topic is a fascinating bit of political philosophy, pitting fundamental notions of rights against fundamental notions of collective good. Nothing is more individualistic than bodily autonomy and medical privacy, but an individual’s immune system can pose a substantial threat to others.

The article rambles a bit. As craft, the writing probably loses focus when it delves into the legitimacy of alternative medicine generally. And, it’s kinda snarky. Snark is like potato chips: salty, empty calories impossible to resist.


Updates

Vaccines may harm mental health, or interfere with the immune system.

Air pollution makes COVID-19 more lethal. “The evidence we have is pretty clear that people who have been living in places that are more polluted over time, that they are more likely to die from coronavirus,”

Air pollution study from spring 2020:

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/03/200305135048.htm

SUV Supremacy must be stopped:
https://www.axios.com/suv-carbon-emissions-rise-covid-pandemic-f843db50-da01-4ded-a3e5-36ad5c30c685.html

“Not​ all deaths are created equal. In February 2020, the world began to panic about the novel coronavirus, which killed 2714 people that month. This made the news. In the same month, around 800,000 people died from the effects of air pollution.”

https://lrb.co.uk/the-paper/v43/n23/david-wallace-wells/ten-million-a-year

The physics of large SUVs mean they are a greater risk to pedestrians and cyclists. (slate.com): https://slate.com/business/2022/11/suv-size-truck-bloat-pedestrian-deaths.html

Is Your Child a Pot Roast?

April 24, 2018

Do you want more choice in where you get your baby potatoes or your baby’s education?

I have a brilliant idea! We should create a system of government-run grocery stores. The government will run them according to majority-approved philosophies of food. Everyone will have to accept what is ruled best practice in food, because that’s how democracy works. We’ll subsidize these government-run grocery stores in order to provide free public nutrition.

Private grocery stores mostly won’t be able to compete with subsidized ones, but there are always niches. Health-food co-ops and splashy gourmet destinations could cater to hippy weirdos or the wealthy.

However, no government “vouchers” should be usable at private grocery stores. That would steal dollars from public nutrition.

Oh wait, my brilliant idea is really dumb.

Yet, the description does apply to a real case of how our society meets a fundamental need. Substitute “schools” and “education” in the proper spots above, and you have our system of public education.

Choice matters when many possibilities exist and your destiny is at stake. The connection between education and destiny requires no explanation. Here’s a sampling of the many possibilities:

• Benchmark-free education
• Assessment-heavy vs. assessment-light
• Lots of student choice vs. highly structured
• Lots of group-work and cooperative learning
• Lots of individual work (hey, there are no group transcripts)
• More philosophy, less literature and social studies (a study by the British Education Endowment Foundation found that teaching philosophy in elementary school improves language and math scores).
• Subjects emphasized according to economic importance, i.e. math, science, reading
• Less emphasis on subjects: described variously as phenomenon-based, interdisciplinary and holistic; aimed at understanding events and phenomena. (Finland has done this for years, and regularly tops international test scores while providing more vacation, more play, and less testing.)
• Subject specialization: arts, performing arts, science, engineering, language-immersion, etc.
Project-based learning
• More–much more–music and language in early childhood, because children learn those subjects best. (The German Socio-Economic Panel finds: “Music improves cognitive and non-cognitive skills more than twice as much as sports, theater or dance….[kids who learn an instrument]…have better cognitive skills and school grades and are more conscientious, open and ambitious.”)
• Hands-on vs. abstract
• Skills vs. creativity
• Responsible for the whole child vs. responsible for academics
• Lots of recess and play (recent Harvard study officially discovered the obvious: “Play is one of the most important ways in which children learn.”)
• Single-sex (some studies report substantial benefits, and others don’t)
• Multi-age classrooms
• Traditional humanities (emphasizes history of ideas, but also political power and heroes — “dead white males” — and most people find it boring).
• So-called “socialist” humanities (lives of women, marginalized groups, and the working class; might use A People’s History of the United States or Lies My Teacher Told Me as a textbook.)
• Direct instruction vs. inquiry-based or constructivist instruction

Some specific implementations include: Montessori, Playworks, Waldorf, Kipp, and other cultures with different philosophies of education and a well-educated public.

Finally, there are different beliefs about the relationship between individual and society, and accordingly different beliefs about the role of the school. In one view, the purpose of education is to preserve a culture:

….to teach our children the values and the virtues handed down to us by our families, to have the courage to defend those values and the willingness to sacrifice for them.

— Ronald Reagan

But, in another view, the purpose of education is to challenge a culture:

…. to create in a person the ability to look at the world for himself, to make his own decisions, to say to himself this is black or this is white, to decide for himself whether there is a God in heaven or not…..to examine society and try to change it and to fight it.”

— James Baldwin

There’s no reason to financially penalize families for choosing any of these educational philosophies. Any reasonable approach to education should be allowed to compete for students as an equal (to suggest otherwise is a wee bit totalitarian). Government should not be picking winners and losers among philosophies of education.

Objections to school choice are rhetorical and narrow.

Standard union propaganda is that vouchers and charter schools “steal” money from public education. That falsely equates public education with government-run schools. The common-sense meaning of “public education” is just the education of the public. A child doesn’t cease to count as a member of the public because she goes to a private school. Public funding is not reduced or “stolen” because it is paid to a private, rather than government, school.

It is true that a voucher system, with no increase in public funding to back it, would decrease the total amount of money spent on education, because it would reduce the amount of private money spent on tuition. Currently, families of private schools pay for public education twice: once in taxes to fund government-run schools, and a second time in tuition for the school they actually want. A voucher system lets them only pay once, thus reducing total spending on education. But, it is merely rhetoric to say that’s stealing. It would make more sense to say that the current system of public education “steals” from families of kids who attend private schools, by taxing them for schools that don’t meet their needs.

Another common criticism is of particular cases, rather than the underlying idea. It may be true that many implementations of school choice are corrupted by politics. But, that’s like arguing all socialist ideas have been refuted, because, you know… Stalin and stuff. Showing that Betsy DeVos is wrong is not the same as showing that school choice is wrong (not that I’m comparing the Trump administration to Stalin, or anything).

School choice is not inherently conservative. Much government-run education in America features portraits of establishment heroes, a flag in every classroom, and regular recital of the Pledge of Allegiance. It’s meager fare for families wanting a school on the James Baldwin model. Since governments represents majorities, reducing government control empowers the margins, source of society’s most interesting thinking. Less government control means more intellectual diversity, which is inherently more educational.

Suppose all so-called “public schools” are abolished. Public education is provided by the free-market and publicly funded. In other words, everybody gets “education stamps”, i.e. vouchers. In Medicaid, families with more expensive needs get more assistance. The same would be true of education, in the case of learning disabilities.

Such a scenario does not reduce government spending on public education, i.e., the education of the public. It’s merely a different model.

How would it be better? A reasonable libertarian position places the burden of proof on authority. Advocates of government monopoly, not their opponents, should have to go first and prove their case. Nonetheless, here are some good reasons to consider a subsidized, free-market approach to public education.

Less government means less politics.

Education is traditionally very political, and that harms it. The aforementioned propaganda is a typical example, and it’s trivial to imagine other ways damage is done when education is politicized.

Suppose you and other families want a type of education not offered by your district, say, more music in early childhood. How would that work traditionally? First, you would take your idea for a music-immersion school to the proper government agency. You would meet with an “education administrator”, an evolutionary descendant of politicians, who would nod politely and understand your feelings.

Since having your feelings understood was not your goal, your fellow parents and you are outraged. Since you are outraged, you make a lot of snarky Facebook posts and gain an audience with the superintendent who nods politely and understands your feelings.

You might try partnering with the teachers’ unions. Good luck! They see school choice as a threat to “public education” (by which they mean, unionized education). You could probably wrangle a meeting with a labor leader who would nod politely and understand your feelings.

Eventually, a reporter nibbles at the cheese of many angry parents, and your issue assumes its place in the natural order as a source of ad revenue for Google.

That’s the traditional account of public education in America. The stereotype always oversimplifies. Often as a result of grassroots activism by parents, school districts nowadays often offer a variety of approaches to education, such as publicly funded Montessori, magnet, and immersion schools. These options are often implemented as charter schools, precisely because parents’ power to choose has forced the institution of public education to adapt in order to stay relevant.

In general, more choice means less bickering about everything. It’s harder to blame the government for the lack of a music-immersion school, if the public can enroll in such a school without financial penalty yet nobody takes the initiative to start one. It’s also harder to complain if somebody does start a music-immersion school, and it can’t maintain sustainable enrollment. That’s true logically, but more importantly (since people hate logic), it is true psychologically. A society that expects the government to solve every problem will tend to have a blaming culture.

We keep hearing that education in America is broken, and international test scores prove it, and the reason it is broken is that it cares too much about test scores. Rather than engage in these illogical and endless arguments over whether “schools” (what schools? some schools? all? most?) emphasize testing too much, too little, or just the right amount, we should simply let parents choose whether they want a test-oriented school, or not.

Of course, maximizing school choice doesn’t mean lowering standards. The food supply is regulated and subject to standards, yet allows a free-market level of choice. You have to spend food stamps on real food, and you should have to spend vouchers on real education. Schools should not be allowed to deny global warming, promote religion, or teach respect for President Trump. The pursuit of truth has a few bare minimums.

More choice means better data for research.

We have farmer’s markets, food co-ops, Walmart, and Whole Foods, as well as organic, conventional, local, and free-range because people have both a) different philosophies about food, and b) the power to choose. Choice is what creates opportunities that the free-market fills, and the opportunities provide information about what people value and what works.

Equal funding for all legitimate philosophies of education means more kinds of schools. It means more tests of hypotheses about education, and that advances the science of education.

Maybe, by offering more choices, we meet more needs, and graduate more students. Maybe maximizing kinds of education maximizes human potential.

The bottom line is that educating is an art, just like raising a child is an art, and there are infinite ways to paint, sculpt or play music.

Monet serves one purpose, and Pollock another. They may serve the same purpose for different people, different purposes for the same person, or the same purpose for the same person at different times, and all the possible combinations in-between.

Usually I shop at my locally owned health-food store. Sometimes I want Safeway. Costco is just Walmart for liberals, and Whole Foods is so pretentious. Nonetheless, they all serve a purpose or they wouldn’t survive, and having a choice of whatever flourishes when everyone has choice is good.

A true free-market in education, actually identical to how we obtain groceries, may prove unworkable. Math is not a banana. (For one thing, kids like bananas.) The thought-experiment aims to sharpen thinking about schools and freedom, and especially to increase awareness of stereotypes and propaganda. Charter and private schools do not “steal” from public education: they educate the public, they are public education. School choice is not religious in principle. It is anti-dogma in principle, valuing the fit between school and student, asserting the validity of many paths. More school choice means less politics: more tests of hypotheses about schools, more science in the exploration of education, and more honesty.

Choice in education is morally equivalent to choice in how to live your life. If your life begins as a blank canvas, then your brushes and box of paints are your education, and everybody deserves a free choice of tools as they paint their masterpiece.

 

Updates

Music is good for your brain.

https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/your-brain-will-thank-you-for-being-a-musician/

Jazz History, Race History

June 30, 2016

A lot of old jazz videos have entered the public domain, and can be seen on YouTube. This one is a fascinating study in so many ways:

 

Louis Armstrong nearly single-handedly invented the improvised solo, and thus what we now think of as jazz, with implications for rock as well (so-called “guitar gods” like Hendrix, Clapton, etc….). So, this is American history and music history in the making.

It also reminds me of a Miles Davis comment on Armstrong, acknowledging Armstrong’s legacy, yet adding something to the effect of “But I couldn’t stand all the smiling he did.” There’s some clowning in this video, presumably to please a white audience, seemingly a perfect fit for another Miles Davis observation on race:

White people have certain things they expect from Negro musicians — just like they’ve got labels for the whole Negro race. It goes clear back to the slavery days. That was when Uncle Tomming got started because white people demanded it. Every little black child grew up seeing that getting along with white people meant grinning and acting clowns. It helped white people to feel easy about what they had done, and were doing, to Negroes, and that’s carried right on over to now. You bring it down to musicians, they want you to not only play your instrument, but to entertain them, too, with grinning and dancing. –Miles Davis, 1962

Needless to say, a Miles Davis video roughly 30 years later, shows a very different demeanor:

In high school I was best in music class on the trumpet, but the prizes went to the boys with blue eyes. I made up my mind to outdo anybody white on my horn….

I don’t dig people in clubs who don’t pay the musicians respect. You ever see anybody bugging the classical musicians when they are on the job and trying to work?

Of course, there is nature as well as nurture. Armstrong was, by all accounts, a playful extrovert by nature, and that very playfulness probably led him down the path of increasingly improvised music. Davis was, by all accounts, a surly introvert, smiling so rarely he named one of his albums “Miles Smiles” in reference to his reputation (it’s one of my favorite Miles Davis albums, I might add).