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Showing posts from July, 2014

I'm safe: I'm on a mission from God

P(H/D) = [P(D/H) x P(H)] ÷ P(D).

That is one common formulation of Bayes' theorem, and at the heart of the view of statistics associated with a mid-18th century Englishman, Thomas Bayes.

I blogged about this in January. If you don't understand the notation above, and would like a primer, go here.

I bring it up again because Bayesianism has attracted new attention in the blogosphere.

Sometimes the above is called "Bayes' rule," because it suggests a rule for constantly updating your views of the likelihood of events. Your hypothesis of probability of H on Tuesday (the prior) is to be updated according to what happens or doesn't happen Wednesday, thereby yielding the posterior probability.

Econoblogger Noah Smith wrote a post he calls "Bayesian Superman." He combines a (male) teenager's sense of invincibility with something like Pascal's wager, and proposes the following thought experiment:

Suppose that you believe that there is a nonzero…

The History of Philosophy: A Discovery

I mentioned last month that I was reading Simon Schama's new book, THE STORY OF THE JEWS.

I should say now that I did make a discovery in there I consider valuable. This was the first time I have ever come across the name Yehudah Halevi. That isn't because he is obscure, only a reflection on my ignorance.

Schama gives him a lengthy passage (given the presumptions and format of the book) from p. 278 to 291.

Halevi was born in Spain, possibly in Toledo, in the late 11th century. He lived much of his life passing back and forth between Moorish-held and Christian-held areas of that peninsula, what Schama calls a perilous shuttling between rival sets of persecutors of Jews, seeking at any moment the more bearable life in the one zone or the other.

He died in 1141, either on the way to Palestine or soon after having arrived.

His philosophical significance is as one of several philosophers within the three great monotheisms (the three "peoples of the book" if you prefer…

Kant on Plato

"The light dove, cleaving the air in her free flight, and feeling its resistance, might imagine that its flight would be still easier in empty space. It was thus that Plato left the world of the senses, as setting too narrow limits to the understanding, and ventured out beyond it on the wings of the ideas, in the empty space of the pure understanding. He did not observe that with all his efforts he made no advance...."

I don't know German, so of course I have no idea what the original passage as Kant composed it would sound or feel like to someone who does. But Kant's prose has a reputation for, um, Teutonic heaviness. Yet unless his translators have given him a huge gift, this passage shows that he had a light poetic side.
It seems to me to speak with great concision to the similarity/difference of Kant and Plato. They are both philosophers who distinguish between the apparently (or provisionally) real world on the one hand and the really real world on the other.…

Thoughts about Bonds and Transparency

Debt is traded very differently from most corporate equity. The secondary market for bonds gets along without the big listed exchanges that provide a central narrative in the world of corporate stock. Indeed, for a long time trades were negotiated and agreed upon through telephone calls. In the 1990s, it occurred to various pioneers that “we could use the internet for this” and they tried to create an exchange-like model, an anonymous central limit order book (CLOB). A company called Trading Edge created BondLink for this purpose.
Perhaps a related development: in 1998, the chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission at the time, Arthur Levitt, said in a speech at the Media Studies Center in New York, “Investors have a right to know the prices at which bonds are being bought and sold. Transparency will help investors make better decisions, and it will increase confidence in the fairness of the markets.”
Well, more transparency is always greater than less if the difference is co…

What Hath Man Wrought

Keeping track of the news has become an increasingly dispiriting activity.

The events of Thursday, July 17th are themselves sufficient to illustrate this.

Malaysian Airlines 17, a commercial flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, crashed in the Ukraine that day.

Also, Israel began its ground offensive in Gaza.

Meanwhile, the twittersphere was full of speculations about a giant hole in Siberia, something that looks much more ominous than the garden variety sinkhole encountered in places with variable water tables. The hole on the Yamal Peninsula looks positively apocalyptic, and has inspired tralk of everything from global warming, to alien attacks.

U.S. business news made its contribution to the distressing tone of the day, as Microsoft announced tens of thousands of layoffs.  Microsoft! Fourteen percent of its workforce.

How can we wrap our heads around such news? The first was almost certainly a deliberate act of war, the second was quite certainly an escalation of war, the thi…

Raphael Golb's Sentence, Part II

Raphael Golb, pictured here, son of Normal Golb (see yesterday's discussion of who he is) is expected to surrender to authorities on Tuesday, July 22 to begin serving his sentence.

This is despite a victory at the Court of Appeals, which discarded the felony charge against him, identity theft, and declared unconstitutional the New York statute on "aggravated harassment." I'm glad of his victories, by the way. When such offenses are on the books they render possible the criminalization of vigorous and free-wheeling debate on the sort of issues that the first amendment was, precisely, designed to protect.

That left misdemeanor charges of forgery and impersonation still standing.

Golb took part in internet debates about the Dead Sea Scrolls, one of the issues on which his father has made a reputation. Not surprisingly, Norman Golb's thesis on this point has been hotly contested, by (among others) Lawrence Schiffman, of New York University.

In the wake of the vic…

Raphael Golb's Sentence, Part I

The case is bizarre, on a number of grounds.

A New York court has sentenced the man pictured here, Raphael Golb, on misdemeanor criminal impersonation and forgery charges.

If this were just another petty crook, it wouldn't be worth our notice at Jamesian Philosophy Refreshed. But this is the son of an important scholar, and the crimes were committed on behalf of the proper interpretation of certain ancient texts, the lifework of that paternal inspiration.

Raphael's father, Norman Golb, is known as an advocate of the view that the Essenes had no especially close association with the Dead Sea Scrolls.  \

Why is that important? The Essenes, an ascetic sect of Judaism that disagreed firmly with both the Sadducees and the Pharisees, are mentioned by several ancient authors (Philo, Josephus, Pliny) and are widely thought to have withdrawn from the wicked world into the purer environment of Ein Gedi, near the shore of the Dead Sea.

As ancient scrolls were discovered near Ein Gedi …

Cher: the social philosopher

On a certain Facebook page, there is a debate underway over the ethics of shunning, that is, social ostracism independent of legal sanctions.

The debate reminded me of a Cher song title, "Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves."

Shunning, after all, has at least three sorts of target: ethnic/racial minorities, those people who make despised lifestyle choices, and those who engage in genuinely anti-social behavior.

Any society will have to find some means of deterrence of the third, called by our philosopher "thieves" for short. Shunning seems the most fittingly anarchistic way of dealing with such anti-social behavior.

Applied to "gypsies" or "tramps," and the sort of target I take each term to represent, the practice is morally dubious at best.

Modes of Belief in God

I was thinking recently about the different ways that different theists complete the phrase "I believe in God because...."  Thinking here of the reflective believers, those who are interested in answering the question, not those who, say, simply adopted the beliefs passed on to them as children and have never questioned them.

Adopting the pronoun "Him" from convention and for convenience.

1. Mystics: "I believe in God because I am personally in touch with Him."

2.  Mysticists: "I believe in God because the last guy who spoke is credible, and until I have my own such experience I rely upon his."

3. Rationalists: "I believe in God because logically sound proofs, from plausible premises, lead to the inference that He exists."

4. Fideists: "I choose to believe in God despite the fact that there is no very powerful because."

The fideists can presumably be subdivided further. Even if there is no overpowering "because"…

I-91 Viaduct

Just my stream of consciousness today.

Back in May of this year I wrote a piece for the Agawam paper with the headline "Planned repairs of I-91 Viaduct Move Forward."

I must confess that, yes, the Agawam paper does allow the reporters to propose their own headlines and, no, I couldn't come up with a better one than that. Plans move forward? Wow.

They found space for it on the front page, though on the bottom right hand corner of the front page. As spacing goes, I actually prefer the top of page 3 to the bottom right of page one. In a tabloid-style paper, people often scan the top of page one quickly and then open that page -- the next thing they see, thus, is the top of page 3.

Anyway, I-91 (the red line on the map you see before you) is a vital transportation corridor for my neck of the woods. Part of Ike's old system, it moves diagonally across the State of Connecticut in its southernmost stretch, from New Haven into the Connecticut River Valley. It gets into the …

Quotation about John Updike

The following comes from the recent biography of the great novelist, John Updike, written by Adam Begley:

Among the other twentieth-century American writers who made a splash before their thirtieth birthday (the list includes Upton Sinclair, Ernest Hemingway, John O'Hara, William Saroyan, Norman Mailer, Flannery O'Connor, William Styron, Gore Vidal, Harold Brodkey, Philip Roth and Thomas Pynchon), none piled up accomplishments in as orderly a fashion as Updike, or with as little fuss....He wasn't despairing or thwarted or resentful; he wasn't alienated or conflicted or drunk; he quarreled with no one. In short, he cultivated none of the professional deformations that habitually plague American writers. even his neuroses were tame.

First Sunday after Independence Day

This, the Sunday described in the headline, is a good time, if I judge rightly, to contemplate the grave danger in confusing religious piety with political/patriotic feelings. I'm not making a constitutional point -- let's not argue about what the phrase "establishment of religion" meant to Madison, Mason, and that old powdered-wig-wearing crowd. (If I die a martyr to the US, will I be greeted in paradise by a crowd of Virginians?)

My point, rather, is theological. I believe whole-heartedly that the universe isn't just a bunch of material/mechanical coming and going. Life is more than matter and mind is more than life and the whole of the cosmos is more than its parts -- that More is what we revere as God. Precisely because I believe this, I find it baffling and disheartening when people try to hijack spirituality for nationalism.

On this first Sunday after Independence Day, let us recall the first book of Samuel, chapter 8, with its stern warning a…

Completing a Discussion of the Supreme Court's Term

Susan B. Anthony List is an organization opposed both to abortion and to the Obamacare Act.
During the congressional campaigns on 2010, the SBA List bought a billboard ad in the 1st Congressional District of Ohio (which includes most of the city of Cincinnati, and which was represented at the time in the US Congress by Steven Driehaus). The ad would have consisted of a photo of Driehaus and the words, "Shame on Steven Driehaus! Driehaus voted FOR taxpayer-funded abortion!"

I say it "would have" consisted of this, because the billboard was never actually erected. Driehaus' campaign, with the help of the Ohio Elections Commission, was able to persuade the billboard company to refrain from running it on the ground that it stated a plain falsehood. 

The question of the accuracy of that ad seemed a fairly straightforward one. Driehaus had voted for Obamacare. SBA doesn't seem to have had any other vote that he might have cast in mind, other than that one. So:…

Continuing a Discussion of the Supreme Court Term

Halliburton v. Erica P. John Fund-- discontented stockholders allege that at the turn of the century (from June 1999 to December 2001) Halliburton misrepresented significant facts about the company's financial health. Significantly, the execs undervalued an asbestos liability claim.

The Erica P. John Fund is an investment fund created to support the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. It bought stock in Halliburton during the period of the alleged deception.

 In September 2007, EPJ moved to certify as a class all investors who bought the common stock of Halliburton during the period of the alleged deception,  a period that came to a screeching end with a stunning write-off of $4 billion. In support of this motion EPJ invoked the notion of a "fraud on the market," and presented an expert report by Jane Nettesheim of the Stanford Consulting Group.
Netteshein contended that the market in Halliburton stock is efficient, and accordingly the falsehoods told by executives were incorpor…

Beginning a Discussion of the Supreme Court Term

Another term of the U.S. Supreme Court has come and gone. This year, though as in most years the court issued a lot of decisions that are, in their own several ways, fascinating, is not a year in which THE ONE -- the big case, is immediately obvious. If any one of them is THE stand-out case, the matter will be determined by the jurisprudential historians of posterity.
I will leave out of my discussion here and in the next two days the decision regarding Argentina's bond default and the hold-out's recourse, because I have had something to say of that one already.

This leaves the following five decisions of great importance. Simply listing by alphabetical order they are:

*Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank -- patentability
*Halliburton v. Erica P. John Fund -- class action
*Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby -- Obamacare implementation
* Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus -- free speech
*Town of Greece v. Galloway -- establishment clause.
I'll say something about Alice Corp. in this entry, the…