Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Underfables: The Scribe Taken in Forgery

 The Scribe Taken in Forgery
            Once upon a time, a host of ghost scribes visited a Skeptic; and they 
bore with them the ghost of a scribe taken in forgery, in the very act. 
            The ghost scribes said, “He invented a fable, and he inserted it into 
a holy book, and now the people take the forgery as real. Shall we denounce 
him or not?”
            After much computation, the Skeptic replied, “May a scribe without 
lies cast the first curse!”
            Condemned by conscience, the ghosts departed, all but one. 
To that one the Skeptic said, “The verdict is: Not Proven. You didn’t do it, 
and don’t you dare do it again.”
            Moral:   Forgive this Fable!

               Commentary on the Underfable:
               The well-loved biblical tale which this Underfable plagiarizes is, alas, an "interpolation"; but I still like the story, as a story.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Underfables: The Judge’s Philosophy

The Judge’s Philosophy       

            Once upon a time, a judge said to two convicts, “You have been charged, tried, found guilty, and sentenced. Do you have any last words to the Court before the bailiff takes you away?”

          The first convict said, “By my philosophy, this is all unfair; for I am a victim of circumstance. My actions were pre‑determined by society, psychology, biology, and the laws of physics and mathematics. I am a material bio‑mechanism; I do what I must; why then do you punish me?”

          The judge replied, “If you are a material bio‑mechanism, controlled by deterministic laws, why then so am I; and those laws determine that I shall punish cowards like you. I do this under the illusion of my own free will; for I calculate that your example will cause others like you to reject a life of crime and instead obey the law.”

          The second convict said, “By my philosophy, this is all absurd; for I create my own reality, in which your rules do not apply. My will is free; I am beholden only to the mysterious promptings of my sovereign soul. I am a spiritual being; I do what I may; who then are you to judge me?”

          The judge replied, “If you are a free spirit, beholden only to your sovereign soul, why then so am I; and my own soul mysteriously prompts me to punish lunatics like you. I do this although I have little hope of reforming you, or even deterring others like you, for nonetheless I have the physical power to protect society by removing you from it.”

          The judge pounded his gavel, and the bailiff took the convicts away. The bailiff returned later, and asked the judge, “What is your philosophy?”

          The judge said, “Any stick will do to beat a dog.”

          Commentary on the Underfable:
          Another implicit moral, in the last line. 
          His Honor addresses the materialist as a fellow robot; but he discusses the authority of the law, which is a spiritual issue. He then addresses the spiritualist as a fellow spirit; but he discusses the safety of the people, which is a material issue. He then addresses the bailiff as a fellow pragmatist.
          This Underfable summarizes decades of philosophical discussion between me and my father. I sent this to him about a year before he died. He registered approval, possibly because the Judge, in the last line, delivered a verdict that Dad himself had often pronounced.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Underfables: The Nemesis Glass

    The Nemesis Glass

          Once upon a time, a seller of snake oil denounced the goddess Nemesis. He preached that Nemesis was an evil-doer, that she hated the city for its freedom, and that only he could protect the people.

          The people heard his words and they trembled. They gave up their money for his crown, and their liberty for his throne. They made him king, and he ruled with a whim of iron.

          Soon the news reached Nemesis herself. The goddess was enraged by the king’s lies, and annoyed by the people’s credulity; so she vowed to destroy the demagogue and teach the people a lesson.

          So Nemesis entered the city, wearing the shape of a citizen. The king punished that citizen, but then Nemesis took another person’s form; then another, and another, and another. The king pursued the goddess, punishing subject after subject until the whole city hated him, and the people rose up in revolt.

          The king hid within the palace, but a mob broke the gate and surged through, bearing torches, pitchforks and a noose. They found him trembling under his throne; they pulled him out, and he cried, “Who could have done this to me?”

          They dragged him past his favorite looking-glass; he took a look within, and there he saw Nemesis.

       Commentary on the Underfable:
       Another implicit moral. This Greek tragedy teaches us, among other things, that Nemesis fights dirty.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Underfables: How Eris Upstaged Pluto

     How Eris Upstaged Pluto

            Once upon a time, the gods and goddesses threw a party. Mercury was there, and Venus, Gaia, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune; and even tiny Pluto, spirit of the underworld.

          Suddenly Eris appeared. The troublemaking spirit of Strife demanded admission. Eris said, “If Pluto, that dwarf, is a god, then I am a goddess, for I am greater than he is!”

          The gods and goddesses got out scales and rulers and calipers, to measure Eris and Pluto. Lo and behold, Eris was right; the spirit of chaos and confusion was just a bit bigger, and just a bit heavier, than the spirit of money and death.

          Thus Eris upstaged Pluto; but instead of letting her into the pantheon, both she and Pluto were expelled!

          For the gods and goddesses said to each other, “Strife is greater than Money, and Strife is greater than Death; but Strife is not a goddess; therefore Money is not a god; nor is Death.”

         Commentary on the Underfable:
         Another Underfable with implicit moral; this one given by the gods. I was inspired to write this by the semantic dispute over Pluto's and Eris's planethood. Alas, now I learn that Eris is smaller than Pluto after all! - but brighter, so I stand by this Underfable.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Underfables: Martyr’s Redemption

Martyr’s Redemption

          Once upon a time the holy Martyr of the People’s Revolution chanced to glance down upon Earth. Heaven’s air was clear and his visions were true; so he saw, to his amazement, that his radical sacrifices did not, in fact, serve the Cause; nor did the Party that he founded.

          The holy Martyr of the People’s Revolution witnessed his Party’s rule. He saw how the poor, the weak, women and dissidents actually lived; and over and over he cried “No!”

          Meanwhile, down upon Earth, the poor, the weak, women and dissidents looked to each other, talked with each other, and made plans.

          The disillusioned Martyr wept; yet down upon Earth came the Second Revolution.

            Moral:  The truth will set you free, but first it’ll hurt.

         Commentary on the Underfable:
         Is this about religion or politics? Answer: yes.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Underfables: Null When Void

Null When Void

          Once upon a time the parishioners of the Church of Stirch, Hew-hay and Hollo met to discuss the nonexistence of their gods.
          The flock asked, "Why do we love our imaginary friends?"
          The High Priest said, "Because we made them in our image. They're fictions, but they're our fictions."
          The flock asked, "The Three are unreal, so to whom do we pray, and for what do we sacrifice?"
          The High Priest said, "What does it matter that the Three don't exist? Aren't unbelievers shunned and vilified? Don't we have most of the money? Haven't we control of City Hall? Stirch, Hew-hay and Hollo unify us, and in unity there is strength."
          The flock bowed down to the High Priest; then they prayed and sacrificed to golden Stirch, old Hew-hay and valiant Hollo.
          But their prayers were not answered, and their sacrifices were not rewarded.

            Moral:   Nonexistence has consequences.

       Commentary on the Underfable:
       Spell Hew-Hay backwards. Stirch is a similar anagram. So is Hollo, after you change the o's to another vowel.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Underfables: A Point of the Law

A Point of the Law

          Once upon a time, the Rabbi of Chelm stayed up late, studying the Law. His eyelids drooped, the candles guttered out, he laid his head upon a scroll, and he slept. He dreamed that his soul rose out of his body and flew straight up, higher and higher, faster and faster. Angels joined his flight, and they guided him into the presence of the Holy One.
          The Holy One said, “You are the Rabbi of Chelm.”
          The Rabbi said, “Yes.”
          The Holy One said, “You are a student of the Law.”
          The Rabbi said, “Yes.”
          The Holy One said, “Please expound upon a point of the Law.”
          First the Rabbi of Chelm said nothing at all. Then he muttered, “I know no point worth expounding upon...” Suddenly he smiled, and he continued, “ - but I’ll tell You what. You expound upon a point of the Law, and I’ll show You how to refute it.”

        Commentary on the Underfable:
        This is another cover, taken from Yiddish joke-lore. Its moral is implicit in the last line; something along the lines of; if life gives you lemons, then make lemonade.
        But I am skeptical. If every point of the Law is refutable, then is that not itself a point of the Law?

Monday, November 21, 2011

Underfables: God on Trial

God On Trial

          Once upon a time, Church, State and Market brought God to trial on the charge of creating the Universe.
          The Church, acting as prosecuting attorney, spoke at length of the terrors and tragedies of the Universe. Half of the Jury wept, the other half frowned. The Prosecution then said, “All of that suffering is the fault of the Universe’s creator, the Defendant.”
          The Market, acting as defense attorney, said, “Your Honor, my client has an alibi; innocent by virtue of unreality. My client is a myth, a legend, a fictional character. My client does not exist, and therefore was not present at the scene of the crime.”
          The Prosecution said, “Your Honor, I object! The Defendant does exist, and I shall prove it.” The Prosecution submitted evidence of God’s existence, the Defense proved that all of the Prosecution’s evidence was subject to reasonable doubt. The Prosecution then accused the Defendant of a cover-up; the Defense scoffed at this unfounded speculation.
          After long deliberation, the Jury settled upon the Scottish Verdict: “Not Proven”. The State, acting as Judge, then said to the Defendant, “You didn’t do it, and don’t  you dare do it again!”

          Moral:   Art is what you can get away with.

        Commentary on the Underfable:
        The Universe is a disturbance; therefore creating the Universe is creating a disturbance.
        Some might find it counterintuitive for the Church to be God's accuser; but consider what it says. "His ways are mysterious"; "he knows things that you don't", "they suffer for their own good", "it's their own fault". But surely no Jury would think such arguments favor the Defendant. For the Defense to make a case that weak would be legal malpractice. Instead the Market, with characteristic efficiency, offers the most airtight, yet also sleaziest possible, alibi; nonexistence.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Birthday Announcement and Modest Proposal: Zeros Taxation.

I interrupt this blogging of “Underfables” for an announcement and a modest proposal.

The announcement is:
Today, November 20, 2011, is my 54th birthday. 

That means that, as of today, I have survived:
54*365 days + 13 leap-days  =  19,723 days
which equals
19,723 * 24  =  473,352  hours
473,352 * 60  = 28,401,120 minutes
28,401,120 * 60 = 1,704,067,200 seconds.

One point seven zero gigaseconds old! Time sure flies.

I am having a minimalist birthday today. I figure that I don’t have to do anything to turn 54, other than survive the day, so I’m taking it easy. All I plan is to mail some letters and share a cake with wife and daughter. No big birthday party; I hate the stress. I’d rather treat a birthday as a milestone rather than as a deadline.

About those letters; they contain small presents for friends. I figure that I’m old enough, and internally rich enough, to give on my birthdays rather than get.  It’s a matter of self-expression. The presents in question are small enough to mail, but original enough that I am sure that my friends have never seen the like in their lives. They’ll get “tribands”, made by linking three hairbands in a Borromian link. A triband is a curious item; I’ve seen them as topological diagrams but never before as a physical object to play with. They are fun toys,  yet they also have unique practical uses. I’ll discuss them on this blog after finishing Underfables, once I figure out how to add pictures and video links.

As further self-expression, I here give you, dear reader, the following Modest Proposal: the Logarithmically Flat Tax, a.k.a. Zeros Taxation.


The distribution of incomes in America is a hybrid of Gaussian and power-law. For low to moderately-high incomes the distribution is  nearly Gaussian; so it is as if people were adding and losing sums of income, at random. But the far right tail of the distribution is “fat” - that is, extremely high values occur more often than you’d expect. For the right tail the distribution resembles a power law; that is, the  number of people with income X will be proportional to X^(-p), where p is the power. Here it is as if the extremely rich got that way by multiplying and dividing their income by factors, at random,  instead of adding and subtracting terms, at random. And this  makes sense, given that the upper end of the economy is dominated by finance, where compound interest rules. The 99% adds and subtracts their money; the 1% multiplies and divides their money.

I therefore propose the following hybrid tax code: for up to the 99th percentile the tax shall be flat proportional after deductions; for the top percentile the tax shall let the rich retain an after-tax income proportional to the 8/9th power of their pre-tax income.

Mathematically, the tax code is:
for X = income, and N = 99th percentile of income;
if X < N, then tax = k * (X - D),   where k is the flat proportional tax rate and D is deductions;
if X > N, then tax =  X  -  K * X^(8/9),  where K is calculated to match the tax curves where they meet, at N.

Therefore K equals  (1- k)*N^(1/9) - k*D*N^(-8/9) .  You can also say that tax =  X - ((1-k)N - kD)*(X/N)^(8/9)  ;  so that the 1% can in effect “multiplicatively deduct log(N) zeros”, and pay only one out of every nine zeros thereafter. It’s a logarithmically flat tax.

The dividing line between proportional and 8/9th power taxation is given by a percentile rather than a prestated amount, and hence is stable under inflation and other changes.

You can of course change 8/9ths for other powers.

Note that this leaves a taxpayer in the 99% an after-tax income of (1-k)*X + kD. For those with an income below D, this is a negative  income tax; an incentive-preserving substitute for welfare, recommended by Milton Friedman. But also note that it leaves a taxpayer in the 1% an after-tax income of K * X^(8/9); their income rises by the 8/9th power. Thus a billionaire will make “only” K hundred million dollars.

I therefore call this a “zeros tax”; the government takes one out of every nine zeros.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Underfables: An Understanding

An Understanding

        Once upon a time a man said to God, “I forgive you for not existing.”
        And God replied, “I forgive you for not believing.”
        “Between you and me,” the man confided, “I barely exist.”
        “Between you and me,” God confided, “I barely believe.”

            Moral:  Things are tough all over!

Commentary on the Underfable:
I wrote lines 1 and 3 of this Underfable after thought and effort; but lines 2 and 4 came to me suddenly, spontaneously, unbidden; like a rhyme, or an echo, or poetic inspiration, or kibitzing from someone else. Experience has taught me three rules for spooky intimate encounters like this. Rule One: don't panic. Rule Two: play along. Rule Three: take credit afterwards. Therefore, dear reader, it was I who wrote this.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Underfables: The Physics Genie

The Physics Genie

          Once upon a time the Physics Genie granted King Solomon not just three, but four wishes. King Solomon said, “My first three wishes are: to be a man more upright than all others; during an age more golden than all others; in a land more holy than all others.”

          The Physics Genie said, “But if, to physics, you are a man more upright than all others, then not all directions are physically equal; therefore spin is not conserved.” When the Genie spoke those words, the Earth stopped turning. The Genie continued, “And if, to physics, your age is more golden than all others, then not all times are physically equal; therefore energy is not conserved.” And with those words, the Sun went out. The Genie concluded, “And if, to physics, your land is more holy than all others, then not all positions are physically equal; therefore momentum is not conserved.” And with those words, the Moon fell from orbit, straight down towards where King Solomon stood.

          King Solomon hastened to say, “Then my fourth wish is, I take back my first three wishes! Instead conserve spin, energy and momentum!”

          The Physics Genie said, “So be it.” The Earth returned to turning, the Sun lit up, and the Moon resumed its orbit. The Genie then said, “But therefore, to physics, all men are equally upright, all ages are equally golden, and all lands are equally holy.”

            Moral:  Symmetry conserves.

Commentary on the Underfable:
The king is an exceptionalist; the genie is a universalist. The king wants the one and only; but the genie has only the all. 
This Underfable illustrates Emmy Noether's theorem; the conservation laws of physics derive from its symmetries. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Underfables: The Pious Bacteria

     The Pious Bacteria

            Once upon a time, two bacteria argued over who owned the corner of a grain of sand.

            One bacterium said, “God gave me this corner of this grain of sand.”

            The other bacterium said, “No. God gave me this corner of this grain of sand.”

            The first bacterium said, “May God regret your existence.”

            The second bacterium said, “No. May God regret your existence.”

            An angel flying by overheard this dispute.

            The angel said to God, “Who owns that corner of that grain of sand?”

            And God said, “Bacteria.”

            The angel said, “But they’re both bacteria.”

            And God said, “Good!”

            The angel said, “You approve of them, but they do not approve of each other.”

            And God said, “I am not them.”

            Moral:  Speak for yourself!

Commentary on the Underfable:
I, the ironic author of this fable, practice the same God-puppetry that I denounce.
I was inspired to write this fable by contemplating Middle Eastern politics.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Underfables: Three Great Truths

    Three Great Truths

          Once upon a time, Bear caught Bluebird, and was about to eat him, but Bluebird said, “If you let me go, then I will teach you three great truths.”
          Bear considered this offer. Just then his head was emptier than his stomach, so he said, “Sure, why not?” and he let Bluebird go.
          Bluebird flew to the top of a pine tree. He looked down at Bear and he said, “Beauty is rare and fleeting.”
          Bear said, “All right then, what’s the second great truth?”
          Bluebird said, “Prisoners will tell any lie in order to escape.”
          “O...kay,” Bear rumbled. “And the third great truth?”
          “Never regret what is lost forever.”
          Then Bluebird flew away.

Commentary on the Underfable:
This one is unusual in several ways. First, it does not have an explicit Undermoral, but it does have three implicit ones. Also it is a cover, straight from Aesop; but what was 'a hunter' and 'a bird' in Aesop is here 'Bear' and 'Bluebird', which I think gives it a more Native-American feel.