Friday, January 29, 2021

Plato, Meet Russell

           Plato, Meet Russell



Plato spoke of ideal Forms, of which the entities around us are imperfect examples. Thus there are frogs, and there is the Form of all frogs, and the Form of all frogs is not a frog.

But there is also the Form of all Forms, which is itself a Form. Therefore some Forms are examples of themselves, and some are not.


Now consider the Form of all Forms, and only those Forms, that are not examples of themselves. Call it Russell’s Form R:


For any form F,  

F is an example of R    =    F is not an example of F


What of R? Is it an example of itself? Substitution yields:


R is an example of R    =    R is not an example of R


A Russellian paradox!


So the world of Platonic Forms is paradoxical or incomplete.


Thursday, January 28, 2021

A Modest Impeachment Proposal

 A Modest Impeachment Proposal


I recommend that Schumer rule that the impeachment trial's evidence and testimony be public, but the balloting be in secret, to protect the jurors. That's how you try a crime lord.


One of my brothers has objected to this plan. He says that McConnell won't cooperate, and he questions the precedent that it sets. I say that McConnell will cooperate, because his caucus needs to purge Trump from the party, and all future politics, with plausible deniability. They don't want exposure to Trump's stochastic assassins. So McConnell needs a secret ballot as much as Schumer does. It's a classic DC convergence of interests.


As for the precedent: my brother's right, a secret ballot would be as shady as Hell. But that's appropriate! Impeachment is a sublimated assassination, just as a political campaign is a sublimated war, and an election is a sublimated revolution. All of the necessary upheaval, yet none of the blood; what a bargain! And any assassination, sublimated or not, must be as shady as Hell, to do what it must do.


I say that this country needs fewer assassinations, and more impeachments. There haven't been enough impeachments, and none of them successful, because impeachment isn't rotten enough. I propose this filthy reform to make impeachment fit for purpose.


I also recommend that any secret impeachment conviction be followed by a secret ballot on Amendment 14, Article 3, on barring the impeached President from ever again holding public office. When you symbolically shoot at a President, then you must symbolically kill him.


A secret ballot to convict Trump would be corrupt. It would be betrayal. It would be a backstabbing. It would be a gross revelation of foul maneuverings by hidden cabals conspiring in smoke-filled rooms. And that too is appropriate. It's what Trump richly deserves.


I am well aware that one day I will regret this modest proposal, for a President that I like will be impeached and secretly convicted. But I do not expect politics to be perfect. All I require is that it be for real.





Russell’s Two Legacies

Russell’s Two Legacies


Bertrand Russell has two legacies: his Paradox and his Principia. His Paradox is concisely stated, wittily illustrated with a quaint tale, and logically devastating. His Principia is an attempt to suppress his Paradox, and win the day for the logicist program. It is long, dense, unreadable by most, and its mission was defeated by Gödel’s Theorems - themselves proven by the existence of sentences similar to Russell’s Paradox: “the set of all sets that do not contain themselves” and “ ‘is not provable when applied to its own quotation’ is not provable when applied to its own quotation.” Russell tried to ban self-reference, but self-reference is inherent in arithmetic, given coding.

The Principia is long, heavy, obsolete, incomplete, incomprehensible, and failed. The Paradox is short, sweet, witty, and can be adapted to relevant topics. For instance: the watchmen watch all those, and only those, who do not watch themselves. Who watches the watchmen?

I think that Russell’s Paradox will long outlive his Principia, which will be remembered only for taking hundreds of pages to prove that 1+1=2. I see in this a lesson in pragmatic memetics. The rule is: Keep It Simple, Stupid.


Wednesday, January 27, 2021

On Zero-Force Arguments and circular hypnosis

 On Zero-Force Arguments and circular hypnosis


I define a "zero-force argument" as one that makes its point by means that, on closer inspection, supports neither its conclusion nor its opposite, at all. It only _sounds_ relevant.

Case in point: someone states that democracy is an invalid form of government because people have irrational motives and can be manipulated by clever liars.

One could retort that people also have rational motives, and can resist manipulation; but even discounting that, it is also true that any other form of government is run by people.

Monarchy? The king is a person, with irrational motives, and manipulable. Aristocracy? The aristocrats are people, so ditto. A constitutional republic such as our own, which is theoretically a combination of democracy, monarchy and aristocracy? Ditto. So the people-are-flawed argument applies to all forms of government equally. Therefore that argument has zero force.

There are theocrats, who claim that their system is ruled by God, who is not a human person. Even were that so, then who hears the word of God? Who interprets that Word? Who carries those interpretations out? People!

I predict that in the future there will be technocrats, who claim that their system is run by computers. But who programs those computers? Who reads the printouts? Who carries out the orders? People!

Of course one could quote Churchill that democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others.


 What’s more, clever manipulators of people are also people, and themselves manipulable. I recall a science-fiction story. (I forget by whom. Kuttner? Kornbluth?) It is a nightmare-jest about a society under perfect control. Its Emperor is under hypnotic control by the Prime Minister; who is under hypnotic control by his therapist; who is under hypnotic control by his wife; who is under hypnotic control by her beautician; and so on down to the lowliest peasant, who is under hypnotic control by the Emperor!

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

A mathematician and a philosopher

 A mathematician and a philosopher         



I was chatting with a colleague of mine, a philosophy instructor, and I was moved to state my credo. I said, "I believe that two plus two is four. Not five, not even if you bribe me; not three, not even if you threaten me. Two plus two is four, neither more nor less, anywhere,  everywhere, forever and ever, amen."

My philosopher friend said, "Very good! But does the number four exist?"


DSL (another philosopher friend of mine):

But is your credo nothing but a tautology? That is a far more interesting and significant question.




Very good question indeed!

Yes, my credo is a tautology, and a good one too. After all, tautologies are always true.

There comes a moment when my students realize that what I'm telling them is obvious, so they don't need to pay me any more. But until then they do pay me. Sweet!



Always true, but always vacuous.



Of course, but that's not a bug, or even a feature; it's the operating system. These tools _shouldn't_ bear a meaning of their own; that would be prejudicial. If you want information - by definition risky - then use observation and experiment; arithmetic will clarify and organize that data, and add no further uncertainty.

Arithmetic is like a caveman's stone knife; not edible itself, but useful to get and prepare food.


Monday, January 25, 2021

Does Intelligence Exist?

           Does Intelligence Exist?


Recently I was wondering about the existence of intelligent life in the universe, and my speculations took an unexpected turn. For it occurred to me that planet Earth exists in the universe, so the question of intelligent life in the Universe includes the question of intelligent life on planet Earth. Is there any? The question of course includes the human race, and you, and myself.

The poet Piet Hein wrote:


will find their true perfection

in knowing all the follies of mankind

by introspection.

Am I intelligent? Looking over my life, I find plenty of evidence to support that proposition; but also plenty of evidence against it. Also, I am not qualified to judge, being biased. So really the only intelligent answer to the question of my own intelligence is for me to doubt it.

          What of you and others? As near as I can tell, you are a being like me, with plenty of evidence in favor of your intelligence, and plenty of evidence against it. And again, we humans are not qualified to judge whether or not we humans are qualified to judge. So it would be intelligent for mankind to doubt the intelligence of mankind.

          What of other worlds? This brings us back to the question of intelligent life in the universe. First of all, there is the Great Silence; so we cannot tell if other life exists or not. Nor is it at all clear that intelligent life would send messages to the stars by radio signals. That might seem the intelligent way to do it, for us, but as noted above, it is not proven whether or not we are intelligent; therefore it is not proven that intelligent life, if it exists, would send radio signals. And were we to start receiving radio messages from the stars, I speculate that those signals would, like those emanating from Earth, obey Sturgeon's Law; 90% crud. It would be mostly their equivalent of boasts, threats, and lies, with only the occasional glint of sense. So they too would present evidence for their intelligence, and evidence against it; leaving the question indeterminate.

          Perhaps this is too materialistic. Perhaps there are higher dimensions of being, within which intelligence resides. But there too a Great Silence intervenes, leaving the very existence of those higher beings in doubt. Also, any such being intelligible to us would, to that extent at least, have intelligence on par with ours; but there is no proof that we are intelligent, so there would be no proof that they are either. And were we to seek evidence, well there are plenty of reports, but they conflict, which leaves the matter in doubt.

          Collectively those reports clash; individually they invariably display a strange confusion, euphemistically called mystical. If you inspect any particular scripture, in any particular way, for long enough, then it will offer plenty of evidence that its God is intelligent; but it will also offer plenty of evidence that its God is _not_ intelligent. So again the question remains indeterminate.

          So I look within for intelligence, but I end up unsure whether or not it's there. Then I look all over planet Earth for intelligence, with the same result. The aliens and the angels both score a tie for me; as does God. Given such uncertainty, doubt is the only logical conclusion.

          Therefore I deduce that the only _intelligent_ response to the question:

"Does intelligence exist?"


"I don't know!"

Saturday, January 23, 2021

A Modest Proposal – secret ballots for cloture reform

A Modest Proposal – secret ballots for cloture reform



The Democrats need to pass lots of laws; but McConnell has weaponized the filibuster for obstructionism. For the Democrats, the problem is: how to reform the filibuster? As is, it takes 60 senators to force cloture, that is, end a filibuster. How might Schumer persuade McConnell to cooperate with reducing that number?


Now McConnell wants to purge Trump from the Republican party. This can be done by enough of his caucus voting to convict Trump, then voting to forever bar him from public office, by Amendment 14, section 3. (Recent politics have given us all a lesson in constitutional law!) But that would be costly to his caucus; they might get targeted by Trump's diehard base. It would be best if they could cast their impeachment-conviction ballots in secret; likewise the Amendment 14.3 ballot.


I therefore propose that Schumer offer McConnell this deal:


1. Secret ballots. May Schumer rule that the trial's evidence and testimony be public, but the balloting whether to convict be secret. That will do open justice but also protect the jurors, which is how one tries a crime lord. And may the vote whether to bar him from office also be in secret.


Cooperating with this arrangement would serve McConnell's interests. But in return:


2. Cloture reform. May the number of Senators needed for cloture of filibuster be lowered from 60 to 50.


The likely outcome of this deal is that the conviction will be almost unanimous, likewise the barring. For instance, 93-7 to convict and to bar. That way any ever-Trumper could tell the base that they were one of the loyal 7, even if more than 7 make that claim.

Friday, January 22, 2021

Remember and be wary


Remember and be wary,
The Sixth of January,
The treason, sedition, and plot.
I know of no reason
Sedition and treason
Should ever be forgot.




Thursday, January 21, 2021

There Are No White People

           There Are No White People

          A Counter-Spell


          At First Sight

          This essay is an attempt to see with my own eyes, rather than with other people’s lies. Seeing as you are told to see is socially convenient, but it is illusion, which leads to suffering. Seeing with your own eyes will make you suffer right away, but only from mental exertion.

          Therefore this essay is idiotically literal-minded. In it, I pay close attention to a trivial visual detail. My aim is optical precision.

          I do so out of respect for reality.  The philosopher Voltaire said that those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. This essay is an attack on one of those absurdities.


          Fifty Shades Of Brown

The atrocious absurdity mocked here is belief in the existence of white people. For have you ever actually seen a white person?

Before you answer, please remember that this essay is idiotically literal-minded; so by “white”, I mean the same color as clouds, paper, snow, cotton, and milk. By ‘white’ I mean white.

By this optically-precise standard, I am confident that your skin is not white. If you put your hand on a sheet of blank white paper, then it will stand out, for your hand and the paper are not the same color.

I am also confident that if you investigate further, as I have, then you will see that there are no white people, anywhere. There are plenty of people called white, but that is a misnomer.

Viewed with scientific objectivity, people of European ancestry have a skin with a complex tint. It contains bright red from arterial blood, blue from veins, yellow from subcutaneous fat, and brown from melanin. The color is definitely not white; but what to name it?

This chromatic question so perplexed me that I sought help from an artist. So I visited Katherine McKay, several of whose luminously beautiful paintings I now have the honor to own. I pointed to the back of my left hand and asked, “What color is this?”

Her answer: “A light warm shade of brown.”

Brown! Just the right word. I have since seen, with my own eyes, that normal human skin varies from dark brown to light brown; teak to bamboo. If you wrote with ink the color of Louis Farrakhan on paper the color of Patrick Buchanan, then you’d have to squint to read what you wrote; for they’re both shades of the same color: brown.

It’s true that there is some variation away from normal brown. There are albinos, who are pink. Some people are blue, due to blood defects or overuse of silver-based medicines. There are even orange people, such as John Boehner and Donald Trump. But these exceptions are neither white, nor a ‘race’.

Not only is ‘race’ a genetic exaggeration, it isn’t even about skin color. It’s about skin tint.

And just how much respect does white racial supremacism deserve, if race is bogus, supremacy is lawless, and white people don’t even exist?


Politics Of Illusion

Maybe this essay’s literalism annoys you. So what if “white” people aren’t really white? Must we adopt some correct but clumsy term? “Caucasian”, perhaps? “European-American”? How inconvenient! “White” is such a short, simple word; it takes so little time and thought to say; so won’t it do?

No, it won’t. Consider this riddle, one told by Abraham Lincoln:

Suppose you call a tail a leg. How many legs does a dog have?

Answer: Four. Calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg.

Likewise, I say: calling people white doesn’t make them white.

Dear reader, I urge you to see with your own eyes, rather than with other people’s lies! For whiteness is a lie. It supports the pseudoscience of race and the tyranny of supremacism, and it is itself an illusion. Anyone who sees white people is literally hallucinating.

Racism requires such hallucinations, for race does not exist. Race is an exaggeration. It is a genetic tan. It’s skin-deep. It is no more than a tribal signifier; and tribalism fights for symbols, not realities.

Humankind’s skill at manipulating symbols leaves us vulnerable to being manipulated by our own symbols. It is a kind of magic spell that we can cast upon ourselves; hatred by hypnosis.

How to dispel such ensorcelment? This essay proposes an aesthetic antidote and a moral tactic. The aesthetic antidote is optical precision. Mark Twain defined the moral tactic with this aphorism:

          One horselaugh is worth a thousand syllogisms.


        The Milk Test

        If, despite your eyes, you still believe that there are white people, then consider this scenario:

          David Duke, former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, is told that there are two glasses in the room next door; that he may drink what he wishes, but he is warned that one of those glasses is full of milk, and the other is full of paint.

          In the next room there are indeed two glasses with two liquids. In one glass, the liquid is the same color as snow. In the other glass, the liquid is the same color as David Duke.

From which glass would David Duke drink?

The snow-white glass, of course; that’s the one full of milk. The Duke-colored glass must be full of paint, not milk; and that’s because milk is white, and David Duke is not white.

What’s more, he knows that he isn’t white.

          There are other versions of the milk test. For instance, if a cloud floated overhead, and it were the same color as you, and it dropped snow the same color as you, then would you go out and play in that you-colored snow? And maybe taste some of it? Or would you instead hide indoors, and call the EPA to report an environmental disaster?



White People That I Have Seen

          I myself have seen white people; but they were always fictional.

          Consider Boris Badenov and his sidekick Natasha Fatale. They’re white! Look at Caspar the Friendly Ghost; he’s white all over! But they don’t count because they’re animated cartoons.

The Sta-Puft Marshmallow Man starred, alongside Bill Murray, in a blockbuster movie. He’s white! But he’s a special effect.

Take Nosferatu. He’s white. Or the Borg. They’re white. But really they’re all actors wearing white grease-paint. Mimes don’t count as real white people, for the same reason.

One Halloween, I saw a man dressed as the Pillsbury Doughboy. He was wearing white shoes, white pants, a white shirt, and a white chef’s hat; and he had white grease-paint on his hands and face. Even his lips were white. A truly spooky Halloween fake!

How about Frosty the Snowman? Here’s a song, sing along:

Frosty the Snowman was a frozen golem freak;

He was so uncanny-valley that he made the children shriek.


Frosty the Snowman, he would joke and jump and dance

And do other undead antics that made children wet their pants.


Frosty the Snowman would affright you at first sight

For like Boris, Caspar and the Borg, he was snowy, creepy white.


Frosty the Snowman had a tint so twee you’d wince

He’s the one white man I’d ever seen, and I haven’t seen one since!



 One morning, when Richard Spencer awoke from troubled dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a white man.

          The back of his hands were white. White, as in cloud-white, paper-white, snow-white, cotton-white, milk-white. White white. So were the palms of his hands. So were his arms, his chest, his stomach, his thighs, his shins and his feet.

“What has happened to me?” he thought. It was no dream. He bolted out of bed and ran to a mirror. In it he saw that his face was white and his hair was white. So were his eyebrows, his irises, his lips and his tongue.

          He pulled out his waistband, and looked down, and yes, even little Richard was as white as a sheet of paper.

          He called for an ambulance. It took ten minutes to arrive, which seemed like forever. The driver took one look at him and ordered him into the wagon. The ambulance hurtled to the hospital, sirens screaming, blowing past stop signs and red lights. It screeched to a halt at the entrance to the Emergency Room.

          The nurse in attendance took one look at Richard Spencer and waved him in, past all the other patients. While filling out the form she said, “Whoo-ee! Ain’t ever seen a white man before!”

          The nurses led him to a bed and attached sensors to him. They took a blood sample, a urine sample, and a stool sample. All three were white.

          As nurses and interns crowded around Richard Spencer, three of the doctors walked over to a corner to quietly confer.

          Rex Morgan, MD, said, “I have never seen a case like this.”

          Dr. Kildare said, “Nor have I.”

          Dr. House said, “Idiopathic symptomology. Diagnosis?”

          Rex Morgan said, “He’s... white?”

          Dr. House said, “Cause?”

          Dr. Kildare said, “Unknown.”

          Dr. House said, “Treatment?”

          Rex Morgan said, “Unknown.”

          Dr. House said, “Prognosis?”

          Dr. Kildare and Rex Morgan looked at each other. Rex Morgan shrugged. Dr. Kildare slowly shook his head.