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“If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin with doubts, he shall end in certainties”*…

 

referee

 

The motivation for using video review in sports is obvious: to get more calls right. This seems like an easy enough mission to fulfill, but anyone who has spent even a little time watching sports on TV can attest to the fact that the application of video review is not so simple. In most sports where it is applied, video review has actually created more confusion and less clarity. Why is this the case? Follow me into an examination of thousands of years of philosophical discourse, and we will find the answer together, my friends.

The root problem with video review is that it is so often used to make decisions based on rules that contain an inherent level of vagueness. For example, according to the NFL’s current catch rule (Rule 8, Section 1, Article 3a) an inbounds player must secure “control of the ball in his hands or arms prior to the ball touching the ground” in order to complete a catch. The term “control” in that rule is vague. There are borderline cases of controlling a football, which means boundaries for when the term “control” can and can’t be applied are fuzzy ones.

Philosophers have been dealing with the problems posed by vagueness since at least the 4th Century BC, because the problems that vagueness causes aren’t limited to the NFL’s struggle with the catch rule. Vagueness also has important implications for metaphysics, the philosophy of language, and our understanding of the nature of truth and the foundations of logic…

Into the rabbit hole of certainty at “A Philosopher’s Definitive (And Slightly Maddening) Case Against Replay Review.”

* Francis Bacon, The Oxford Francis Bacon IV: The Advancement of Learning

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As we correct our concept of correctness, we might send antiseptic birthday greetings to Earle Dickson; he was born on this date in 1892.  Dickson, concerned that his wife, Josephine Knight, often cut herself while doing housework and cooking, devised a way that she could easily apply her own dressings.  He prepared ready-made bandages by placing squares of cotton gauze at intervals along an adhesive strip and covering them with crinoline.  In the event, all his wife had to do was cut off a length of the strip and wrap it over her cut.  Dickson, who worked as a cotton buyer at Johnson & Johnson, took his idea to his employer… and the Band-Aid was born.

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Written by LW

October 10, 2019 at 1:01 am

“It has been said that arguing against globalization is like arguing against the laws of gravity”*…

 

globalization

 

The preponderance of evidence suggests that financial globalization – especially unrestricted hot money – aggravates macroeconomic instability, creates the conditions for financial crises, and dampens long-run growth by making the tradable sector less competitive. Few economists would list financial globalization as an essential prerequisite for sustained long-term development or macroeconomic stability. And arguments made in its favor presume that every country has already met highly demanding regulatory requirements. Most have not and probably cannot, except over the long run.

While the International Monetary Fund has begun to make some allowance for restrictions on capital flows, albeit only as a temporary last resort for weathering cyclical surges, the dogma of financial globalization remains intact. One reason, perhaps, is that development economics has not shed its resource/savings fundamentalism, which attributed underdevelopment to a lack of domestic savings. The implication was that developing and emerging economies should attract resources in the form of foreign aid or, after skepticism about aid became widespread, foreign private capital.

Alternatively, the orthodoxy may owe its resilience to the power of entrenched financial interests that have stood in the way of new controls on cross-border capital flows. Wealthy elites in several countries – especially in Latin America and South Africa – embraced financial globalization early on because they saw it as offering a useful escape route for their wealth. In these cases, policy inertia and possible reputational costs made it difficult suddenly to start advocating a reversal. Global financial elites had long relied on a narrative that equates capital controls with expropriation, and responsible policymakers did not want to be seen as violating property rights…

Although much of the intellectual consensus behind neoliberalism has collapsed, the idea that emerging markets should throw their borders open to foreign financial flows is still taken for granted in policymaking circles.  Until that changes, Arvind Subramanian and Dani Rodrik argue, the developing world will suffer from unnecessary volatility, periodic crises, and lost dynamism: “The Puzzling Lure of Financial Globalization.”

* Kofi Annan

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As we cache our cash, we might recall that this was a bad day for inclusiveness in Massachusetts in 1635: the General Court of the then-Colony banished Roger Williams for speaking out for the separation of church and state and against the right of civil authorities to punish religious dissension and to confiscate Indian land.  Williams moved out to edge of the Narragansett Bay, where with the assistance of the Narragansett tribe, he established a settlement at the junction of two rivers near Narragansett Bay, located in (what is now) Rhode Island. He declared the settlement open to all those seeking freedom of conscience and the removal of the church from civil matters– and many dissatisfied Puritans came. Taking the success of the venture as a sign from God, Williams named the community “Providence.”

Williams stayed close to the Narragansett Indians and continued to protect them from the land greed of European settlers. His respect for the Indians, his fair treatment of them, and his knowledge of their language enabled him to carry on peace negotiations between natives and Europeans, until the eventual outbreak of King Philip’s War in the 1670s.  And although Williams preached to the Narragansett, he practiced his principle of religious freedom by refraining from attempts to convert them.

Roger Williams statue, Roger Williams Park, Providence, R.I.

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“We don’t pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes.”*…

 

NYC_IRS_office_by_Matthew_Bisanz

 

Nine years ago, Republican lawmakers gutted the IRS’s budget, but didn’t relax its requirement to conduct random audits: in response, the IRS has shifted its focus from auditing rich people (who can afford fancy accountants to use dirty tricks to avoid paying taxes) to auditing poor people (who can’t afford professional help and might make minor mistakes filling in the highly technical and complex tax forms), until today, an IRS audit is just as likely to target low-income earner whose meager pay entitles them to a tax credit is as it is to target a filer from the top one percent of US earners.

Propublica pointed this out in an excellent tax-season report last April, and Senator Ron Wyden [D-OR] took up the issue with the IRS. Now, IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig has provided a report to Senator Wyden admitting that his agency targets poor people because they can’t afford to appeal the audits, making them cost-effective notches on the IRS’s bedpost.

Rettig’s report admits that auditing rich people would turn up more fraud and bring in more money for the US government, but says that he can’t afford to do so unless Congress restores the IRS’s funding. There’s bipartisan support for such a measure, but with Sen. Mitch McConnell blocking any Senate action, there may not be any more appropriations bills in 2019…

The sad story in full at “IRS admits it audits poor people because auditing rich people is too expensive.”

Pair with “The Rich Really Do Pay Lower Taxes Than You.”

* Leona Helmsley

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As we shake our heads, we might recall that it was on this date in 2011, a Saturday, that Weezer’s ex-bassist Mikey Welsh passed away.  Two weeks earlier, on September 26th, he had tweeted “Dreamt I died in Chicago next weekend (heart attack in my sleep). Need to write my will today,” followed by “Correction – the weekend after next”.  He died from a heart attack in his sleep.  In a hotel room.  In Chicago.

1234619-mikey-welsh-617-409 source

 

Written by LW

October 8, 2019 at 1:01 am

“Ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have”*…

 

Dunning-Kruger

 

The American author and aphorist William Feather once wrote that being educated means “being able to differentiate between what you know and what you don’t.” As it turns out, this simple ideal is extremely hard to achieve. Although what we know is often perceptible to us, even the broad outlines of what we don’t know are all too often completely invisible. To a great degree, we fail to recognize the frequency and scope of our ignorance.

In 1999, in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, my then graduate student Justin Kruger and I published a paper that documented how, in many areas of life, incompetent people do not recognize—scratch that, cannot recognize—just how incompetent they are, a phenomenon that has come to be known as the Dunning-Kruger effect. Logic itself almost demands this lack of self-insight: For poor performers to recognize their ineptitude would require them to possess the very expertise they lack. To know how skilled or unskilled you are at using the rules of grammar, for instance, you must have a good working knowledge of those rules, an impossibility among the incompetent. Poor performers—and we are all poor performers at some things—fail to see the flaws in their thinking or the answers they lack…

The trouble with ignorance is that it feels so much like expertise. A leading researcher on the psychology of human wrongness– David Dunning himself– explains the Dunning-Kruger effect: “We are all confident idiots.”

* James Baldwin

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As we reconsider our confidence, we might recall that it was on this date in 1996 that the cable channel Fox News debuted.

fox-news-logo source

 

Written by LW

October 7, 2019 at 1:01 am

“I never said, ‘I want to be alone.’ I only said ‘I want to be let alone!’ There is all the difference.”*…

 

moshed-1

 

Someone observing her could assemble in forensic detail her social and familial connections, her struggles and interests, and her beliefs and commitments. From Amazon purchases and Kindle highlights, from purchase records linked with her loyalty cards at the drugstore and the supermarket, from Gmail metadata and chat logs, from search history and checkout records from the public library, from Netflix-streamed movies, and from activity on Facebook and Twitter, dating sites, and other social networks, a very specific and personal narrative is clear.

If the apparatus of total surveillance that we have described here were deliberate, centralized, and explicit, a Big Brother machine toggling between cameras, it would demand revolt, and we could conceive of a life outside the totalitarian microscope. But if we are nearly as observed and documented as any person in history, our situation is a prison that, although it has no walls, bars, or wardens, is difficult to escape.

Which brings us back to the problem of “opting out.” For all the dramatic language about prisons and panopticons, the sorts of data collection we describe here are, in democratic countries, still theoretically voluntary. But the costs of refusal are high and getting higher: A life lived in social isolation means living far from centers of business and commerce, without access to many forms of credit, insurance, or other significant financial instruments, not to mention the minor inconveniences and disadvantages — long waits at road toll cash lines, higher prices at grocery stores, inferior seating on airline flights.

It isn’t possible for everyone to live on principle; as a practical matter, many of us must make compromises in asymmetrical relationships, without the control or consent for which we might wish. In those situations — everyday 21st-century life — there are still ways to carve out spaces of resistance, counterargument, and autonomy.

We are surrounded by examples of obfuscation that we do not yet think of under that name. Lawyers engage in overdisclosure, sending mountains of vaguely related client documents in hopes of burying a pertinent detail. Teenagers on social media — surveilled by their parents — will conceal a meaningful communication to a friend in a throwaway line or a song title surrounded by banal chatter. Literature and history provide many instances of “collective names,” where a population took a single identifier to make attributing any action or identity to a particular person impossible, from the fictional “I am Spartacus” to the real “Poor Conrad” and “Captain Swing” in prior centuries — and “Anonymous,” of course, in ours…

There is real utility in an obfuscation approach, whether that utility lies in bolstering an existing strong privacy system, in covering up some specific action, in making things marginally harder for an adversary, or even in the “mere gesture” of registering our discontent and refusal. After all, those who know about us have power over us. They can deny us employment, deprive us of credit, restrict our movements, refuse us shelter, membership, or education, manipulate our thinking, suppress our autonomy, and limit our access to the good life…

As Finn Brunton and Helen Nissenbaum argue in their new book Obfuscation: A User’s Guide for Privacy and Protest, those who know about us have power over us; obfuscation may be our best digital weapon: “The Fantasy of Opting Out.”

* Greta Garbo

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As we ponder privacy, we might recall that it was on this date in 1536 that William Tyndale was strangled then burned at the stake for heresy in Antwerp.  An English scholar and leading Protestant reformer, Tyndale effectively replaced Wycliffe’s Old English translation of the Bible with a vernacular version in what we now call Early Modern English (as also used, for instance, by Shakespeare). Tyndale’s translation was first English Bible to take advantage of the printing press, and first of the new English Bibles of the Reformation. Consequently, when it first went on sale in London, authorities gathered up all the copies they could find and burned them.  But after England went Protestant, it received official approval and ultimately became the basis of the King James Version.

Ironically, Tyndale incurred Henry VIII’s wrath after the King’s “conversion” to Protestantism, by writing a pamphlet decrying Henry’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon.  Tyndale moved to Europe, where he continued to advocate Protestant reform, ultimately running afoul of the Holy Roman Empire, which sentenced him to his death.

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Written by LW

October 6, 2019 at 1:01 am

“There is a city beneath the streets”*…

 

Avtovo

Avtovo station, St. Petersburg

 

Anyone who knows a bit about Soviet state socialism knows about the Moscow Metro and its system of underground palaces; these awesome, opulent spaces have been a fixture of travel guides since the 1930s, and now they’re equally prevalent on Instagram accounts. Much less known is that these marble-clad portals in the centre of the capital are just the most visible elements of a gigantic Metro-building project that would gradually expand into more than a dozen different systems across several Republics — Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan. After Moscow came St Petersburg, Kyiv, Tbilisi, Baku, Kharkiv, Tashkent, Yerevan, Minsk, Nizhny Novgorod, Samara, Novosibirsk, Yekaterinburg, Dnipro. “Metro-Trams” with palatial underground halls were built in Krivyi Rih and Volgograd; and a miniature “Cave Metro” was built for the tourist site of New Athos, Abkhazia.

Soviet experts were also responsible for engineering Metro systems outside the USSR — in Prague, Budapest, Warsaw, Sofia, Pyongyang, and Calcutta (as it then was), India’s first Metro system in the capital of Communist-governed West Bengal. Soviet Metro building was an enormous project, spanning two continents. An early slogan had it that “the whole country is building the Moscow Metro”, but between the 1960s and 80s this could have been rephrased as “the Moscow Metro is being built in the whole country”. Why, then, was this particular kind of Metro building so important?…

Decorated with chandeliers, mosaics, and Lenin busts, the Soviet Union produced the most decorative (and probably the most photographed) transport system in the world.  Find out why (and see more gorgeous photos) at “The heavens underground: the Soviet Union’s opulent metro stations, from Belarus to Uzbekistan.”

* Robert E. Sullivan Jr.

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As we go to ground, we might wish a Joyeux Anniversaire to Denis Diderot, contributor to and the chief editor of the Encyclopédie (“All things must be examined, debated, investigated without exception and without regard for anyone’s feelings.”)– and thus towering figure in the Enlightenment; he was born on this date in 1713.  Diderot was also a novelist (e.g., Jacques le fataliste et son maître [Jacques the Fatalist and his Master])…  and no mean epigramist:

From fanaticism to barbarism is only one step.

We swallow greedily any lie that flatters us, but we sip only little by little at a truth we find bitter.

Man will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.

A thing is not proved just because no one has ever questioned it.

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Written by LW

October 5, 2019 at 1:01 am

“There is a size at which dignity begins”*…

 

neutrino1-800x533

The spectrometer for the KATRIN experiment, as it works its way through the German town of Eggenstein-Leopoldshafen in 2006 en route to the nearby Karlsruhe Institute of Technology

 

Isaac Asimov dubbed neutrinos “ghost particles.” John Updike immortalized them in verse. They’ve been the subject of several Nobel Prize citations, because these weird tiny particles just keep surprising physicists. And now we have a much better idea of the upper limit of what their rest mass could be, thanks to the first results from the Karlsruhe Tritium Neutrino experiment (KATRIN) in Germany. Leaders from the experiment announced their results last week at a scientific conference in Japan and posted a preprint to the physics arXiv.

“Knowing the mass of the neutrino will allow scientists to answer fundamental questions in cosmology, astrophysics, and particle physics, such as how the universe evolved or what physics exists beyond the Standard Model,” said Hamish Robertson, a KATRIN scientist and professor emeritus of physics at the University of Washington…

Physicists get small: “Weighing in: Physicists cut upper limit on neutrino’s mass in half.”

* Thomas Hardy, “Two on a Tower”

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As we step onto the scales, we might spare a thought for Max Karl Ernst Ludwig Planck; he died on this date in 1947.  A theoretical physicist, he is best remembered as the originator of quantum theory.  It was his discovery of energy quanta that won him the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1918.

220px-Max_Planck_1933 source

 

Written by LW

October 4, 2019 at 1:01 am

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