Saturday, 2 December 2006

A weekend ramble

Another weekly ramble through the clippings from the Not PC off-cut desk
  • Cox and Forkum summarises what's fast becomin an obvious conclusion about Russia's ruler:

  • The stadium sage continues. And as it rumbles along, I was amused to note this comment at Philosophically Made/Red Bears, self-described as a blog by "NZ based bloggers of a leftwing persuasion": "Even though I hate to agree with ACT and the Libertarianz," said blogger STC, "at this point Carlaw Park looks like a pretty terrific option." I should point out that Libertarianz per se really have no view on Carlaw Park -- I do however, and I still affirm that Carlaw Park is a terrific option, particularly for what a stadium there could do for the city, but that's a personal view (I confess, I do like a good stadium), and I've been beaten about the head by my Libz colleagues for daring to say so. The Waterfront - Philosophically Made

  • Joel Schwartz has a whole host of climate science resources at his website, including his latest, a slideshow conference presentation [pdf]. Climate Change: Science, Policy, Politics - Joel Schwartz [PDF]

  • The War On Drugs debate continued here the other day with the discussion over Milton Friedmans' Iron Law on Prohibition, stated by Richard Cowan in this way, "The more intense the law enforcement, the more potent the prohibited substance becomes" -- or as I put it in the post under debate, 'More Prohibition, Worse Drugs.'
    Commenters argued that unlike us "pie in the sky" legalisers they lived in "the real world," and as good prohibitionists they were still keen to make laws for other people. It's worth having a look at how alcohol prohibition worked to see how prohibition does actually work in the real world instead of in the fetid fantasies of prohibitionists. How did alcohol prohibition work in the real world? A: Bloody poorly. And the Iron Law of Prohibition was clearly in effect; see the graph below for example which shows how consumption of toxic bathtub liquors -- the more potent alcohol -- flourished, exactly as you'd expect.
  • Total Expenditure on Distilled Spirits as a Percentage of Total Alcohol Sales (1890-1960)
    If you didn't already know the years in which the fooolishness of alcohol prohibition was in effect, then you can seeit clearly enough from the graph. Unsurprisingly, since the onset of prohibition did more than anything ever before to give piles of cash to violent criminals, these were also years in which murder experiences enormous growth. Pictured below is the US homicide rate from 1910-1944:
    If you really do want to be informed about the disaster of prohibition rather than being guilty of interviewing the inside of your own skull, then just below are some good links to check out. And if you don't wish to be informed, then butt the hell out of the argument, and leave other people the hell alone:
    - Alcohol Prohibition was a Failure - Prof. Mark Thornton, Cato Institute
    - The Re-legalization of Drugs - Tibor Machan & Mark Thornton, FEE
    - How Prohibition Makes Any Drug More Dangerous - Drug Policy Forum of Texas
    - Lessons of History. Lesson 8: Crack - Efficacy Online
    The more intense the law enforcement, the more potent the drugs. If a dealer can smuggle only one suitcase full of drugs ... which would he be carrying - marijuana, coca leaves, cocaine, or crack? He gets more dollars for the bulk if he carries more potent drugs...
    - How the Narcs Created Crack - Richard Cowan, National Review
    Be good to conclude here with a line from the conclusion of Penn & Tellers's 'Bullshit' episode on the War on Drugs: "I don't do drugs, but it's your right to do so if you wish. Just stay the fuck away from my house."

  • Physics and induction -- the science and the method of science that go together like coffee and eggs. Induction itself is the science that provides the foundation for all genuine universal knowledge, yet is still the subject of much misunderstanding: Just how do we form general, universal conclusions from particular observations? What methods must we follow to be confident our conclusions are sound?
    Lisa Van Damme from the Van Damme Academy explains first how physics can be (and is) taught in an inductive fashion at her Academy.
    "My students, she says, "have the extreme good fortune of being taught physics by David Harriman, a scholar of physics who is currently writing a book on the influence of philosophy on the history of physics. With his vast knowledge of physics and pedagogy, Mr. Harriman designed a new, and very effective method of teaching physics."
    You can read about it in her article at CapMag: Physics by Induction: The Genius of Learning Science the Proper Way. And on the Objectivist front, work continues by physicist David Harriman and philosopher Leonard Peikoff on their much-awaited book, Induction in Physics and Philosophy. Meanwhile, however, you can listen to a three-minute sample of a 2003 lecture series by Leonard Peikoff: Induction in Physics and Philosophy available at the Ayn Rand Bookstore and, if you're keen, buy the lectures, a fourteen-CD set [and if you do, I'd love to borrow it :-) ].
    These historic lectures present, for the first time, the solution to the problem of induction—and thereby complete, in every essential respect, the validation of reason.

    Peikoff begins by identifying the axioms of induction and the method of establishing their objectivity, including the role of measurement-omission. This enables him to make clear the parallels between concept-formation and generalization-formation, and leads him to discover the real distinction between induction and deduction.

    Peikoff goes on to discuss the methods used in science to prove non-axiomatic generalizations and advanced theories. He stresses, with many examples (from Galileo, Newton, Faraday, Maxwell and others), the roles of experimentation and of mathematics.

    Diana Hsieh at Noodle Food has a summary of the course (albeit brief, and albeit at third-hand) and the subsequent discussion proved fruitful. And Objectivist Ron Pisaturo takes issue with some of Peikoff's views in his own take on induction: Ron Pisaturo: A Theory of Knowledge.

  • "Public misunderstanding of basic economic principles leaves us easy prey to political quacks, charlatans and assorted hustlers," explains Walter Williams in What Everyone Should Know About Wealth and Prosperity.
  • And finally (well, nearly), Walter Williams takes a brief look at the nonsense of so-called "racial diversity," which he argues flourishes at the expense of genuine intellectual diversity.

    There are some ideas so ludicrous and mischievous that only an academic would take them seriously. One of them is diversity. Think about it. Are you for or against diversity? When's the last time you said to yourself, "I'd better have a little more diversity in my life"? ...When academics call for diversity, they're really talking about racial preferences for particular groups of people, mainly blacks.
    The price, he argues, is steep. Racial Diversity at the Expense of Intellectual Diversity - Walter Williams, Capitalism Magazine.

  • And on the subject of focussing too much on race and so-called "cultural identity," I can't go past an observation made by philosopher Tibor Machan, himself an immigrant from Hungary to the US.
    When, more recently, it began to be fashionable to stress one’s ethnic or cultural or racial identity, I was puzzled. To start with, what kind of identity is it that one acquires by accident? So, I was born in Budapest and heard a lot of gypsy music, ate paprika csirke and palacsinta. And, yes, I liked these things and still do. But how significant a part of me is there in that? My idea from early on was that what’s important about one’s identity is what one contributes to it oneself.
    Who one is shouldn’t be a matter of happenstance but of purposive action. I liked to read and think about philosophy and religion, so if someone wanted to know who I was, I’d tell them about that. Or, in a less serious vein, about things I liked to do such as traveling and playing tennis.Some collage of these aspects of my life, of the things over which I have had some say, some choice, seems to me to make me who I am— not so much how tall I am or where I was born.
    As I got to hear more and more about ethnic and racial pride, I was even more puzzled. How can someone be proud of being, say, Caucasian or black or gay or Asian? What had
    one to do with such things? Perhaps one might be glad of being tall or of having lived among other members of one’s ethnic group if, indeed, this had amounted to a good experience.
    And one could certainly refuse to be ashamed of being black or white or whatever one could not help being.
    Even more, one might feel some affinity with others who were being picked on for attributes one shared with them and be willing, even, to unite with them to resist such treatment.
    But proud? Doesn’t pride require some worthy achievement from oneself?
    In my neighborhood newspaper, there is someone who writes mainly about Hispanics, and in nearly every column Hispanics are urged to feel special for being Hispanic. Why so? What is special about that? Doesn’t feeling special for being Hispanic or Hungarian American or black or tall suggest that others aren’t as special and worthy of feeling similarly about themselves? I have never liked the idea of a chosen people because it suggests that the universe or God picks some to be inherently, undeservedly superior to others.
    When I am told, “Hey there are some other people from Hungary you must meet,” I respond, “Why exactly? Do they play tennis, love philosophy, or like the blues?” The idea of ethnic or cultural pride, it seems to me, suggests something close to an insidious form of prejudice.
    Without having done anything worthwhile whatsoever one gets to be satisfied for belonging to a group. Just whom is one kidding anyway?
    Beautifully put, which is the reason I post it here at such length. It's been nagging me for some time to put it out for you lot to consider. You can read the whole column in PDF form at the link below, where it appears as part of an online copy of Tibor's recent book of his columns, Neither Left nor Right that the Hoover Institute has made available online (which is rather annoying since I paid good money for my copy). The column quoted above, 'Never Mind One's Cultural "Identity",' appears on page 23 of the section 'Sex and Politics in America.' [PDF]


RELATED: Stadium, Global Warming, Science, Objectivism, Philosophy, Victimless Crimes, Law, Racism, Books, Economics


  1. Peikoff discusses...
    [... methods used in science to prove non-axiomatic generalizations and advanced theories.]

    This looks like a good series on Epistemology. I am keen to see the application of 'non-axiomatic generalizations' argument of how to refute the existence "Multiple Universe Interpretation".

  2. That was a really interesting piece from Tibor Manchan. Thanks.

  3. Some good stuff there PC. But I disagree about induction.

    Science is about problem-solving. Seeking explanations. But you can't inductively extrapolate from observations unless you already have an explanatory framework for those observations. There are an infinite number of theories corresponding to a set of observations and induction cannot help us choose one of those theories.

    Explanations are developed from the problem context: What are the weaknesses in existing theories? What predictions do they make? What are the controversies? Experimental testing is a method of criticism that we apply to our theories.

  4. Some very interesting reads there, PC. Thanks a lot.


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