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Showing posts from June, 2015

Lucy: A Review

Strange movie, no suspense. Of course she's going to defeat the Taiwanese drug running bad guys. You never have any doubt. Looks of fancy symbolism. No big whoop.

Medicinal marijuana: slow research progress

"Drug development based on herbal cannabinoids has been slow in the U.S. largely because of the scheduling issue and reluctance of the National Institute on Drug Abuse to approve research studies. A great deal of the current dispensary-based knowledge about the uses and efficacies of various strains has been the product of popular trial and error, a potentially dangerous and irreproducible way to approach science."

That's a quote from Anne Wallace, writing in MJ Investor News. I'll let you consider the implications without further ado.

Sense/reference distinction

I recently engaged in a stimulating exchange with an Objectivist on twitter. I'll put it together here in a way one can't do in twitter's concision-is-everything format.

He picked the fight. There were too few Jamesians with whom to argue, so he found me, and made the sweeping, but characteristically O-ist, declaration that James' pragmatism abandoned "principles" for "efficiency."

Of course I responded that this was a canard.

After some back-and-forth we got to the issue of what is a tautology and whether it is a bad thing. When O-ists are pressed on this point, they tend to take the absurd position that every true statement is a tautology. Simply because every true statement says of something that it is, what it is.

The reason this is absurd:  it squashes together "sense" and "reference."

The proper name "Samuel Clemens" and the pen name "Mark Twain" refer to the same man, the same biological organism. Henc…

South Park is way ahead of the news

Now people seem to be working to figure out the difference between Caitlyn Jenner and Rachel Dolezal. 
Caitlyn felt like a woman trapped in a man's body, and is now "out" as a woman, with the help of surgery, drugs, and a world-famous photographer.
Rachel appears to have "felt" black, estranged from her Causasian family, and trapped in the body you see in this photo -- the carrot-haired and quite light-skinned woman in the center of the back row.
Are the two cases similar or different in terms of what judgment (if any) rational observers can make about them? If they are different, is either of them to be judged to have done anything dishonest or even imprudent?
Well, let me not weigh in on such matters. I argue about no one's identity except my own -- and not that either, if I can help it. I simply observe that the animated sitcom SOUTH PARK covered this ground long before it was news. The character Kyle Broflovski, a short, athletically inept, Jewish kid …

Indexical Words and Possible Worlds

Linguists sometimes use the term "indexical" for a type of word or sign.

If I understand the point, a word is "indexical" if it presupposes some aspect of the situation in which it is employed.

"Here" is indexical. So, for that matter, is "there." Each presupposes that the speaker is located at a particular place, and that the listener has some idea what that place is.  You ask a friend over the phone, "Do you know where my folder is?" Your friend replies, "Yes, you left it over here." In that case, the speech situation includes the fact that both he and I know that I was at his place the previous night, and I presume (he knows that I will presume) that he is speaking to me now from that home. So, because I understand the indexical use of the term, I know where my folder is.

Likewise "now" is indexical. If I record the phrase "I am having trouble breathing now" and someone plays back that recording the ne…

Banking and Hastert

I’m an anarcho-capitalist, so I’m not the right person to ask about the particulars of money laundering policy by a nation state, though I do sometimes try to think “within the box” of statist assumptions.
In the Hastert matter, there are different layers of operating assumptions behind this indictment. As Mrs Falbo said, “When you ‘assume’ something, you make an ass out of u and me.” Forewarned, I proceed.

One might, at the outmost layer of our box,  question why there are banks in the modern (post-Renaissance) sense in the first place, and whether they’re a blessing or a curse. Socialists of many varieties think banks are evil, many Moslems think any institution that charges interest on loans is evil, but I’ll set them both aside. What I’m somewhat more interested in is the argument about the “fractional reserve” nature of banking.

Modern banks hold customer deposits and promise to give the customers this money back on demand.  But of course they aren’t holding it all in the vault.…

Also in the NYR of Books...

The day before yesterday, I quoted a review in the New York Review of Books, for June 4th. Today I will do likewise. Again with the caveat that I haven't read the book and likely never will.

The book in question this time is READING DARWIN IN ARABIC, 1860-1950 by Marwa Elshakry. What a marvelous title! so resonant (whether by intent or not) of READING LOLITA IN TEHRAN.

Anyway, the Ekshakry book is reviewed by Christopher de Bellaigue. He tells us, on Elshakry's authority,  that the Arabic term for Darwinism is "Darwiniya," and that in many quarters, especially in Egypt, it was a key part of modernizing/westernizing movements for decades. He ends his review this way:

"Darwiniya is not only a scientific system, but also a shorthand for intellectual curiosity and a progressive view of the human condition. The reverses it has suffered over the past few years are less bad than they look, not only because modern values are espoused by a great number of Mulsims, but be…

Michael Walzer's latest

Michael Walzer has a new book out, THE PARADOX OF LIBERATION, from Yale University Press. (And no, the photo here isn't of him.)

I haven't read the book and confess I probably never will: there are just so many books falling off the presses every day....

For many books, even if they seem of interest, I have to settle for an evocative review. For this purpose, a review by an admirer of the author is always preferable (a hostile review can not be relied upon to give a fair summary of the contents).

Fortunately, Walzer -- who has been a figure of importance in US intellectual circles, especially of the leftward sort, for decades -- has an admirer in Michael Ignatieff, who has written a review of this book for the NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS.

The book is about three revolutions/liberations of the mid-twentieth century that, in Walzer's review, started out promisingly and went bad. I'll just quote two paragraphs from the portion of Ignatieff's review devoted to summary:


Barbara Reynolds, RIP

The recent death of Barbara Reynolds is worth some mention here.

Barbara Reynolds was the goddaughter of Dorothy Sayers and a formidable scholar of the Italian language. For more than 30 years she was chief executive and general editor of the Cambridge Italian Dictionary.

After Sayers' own untimely death in 1957 it was Reynolds who put together the available materials and finished the work on the Sayers' translation of Paradiso, the third volume of Dante's Commedia. Sayers' translation of Inferno had appeared in 1949, of Purgatorio in 1955. The Sayers/Reynolds translation of Paradiso came out in 1962.

Despite huge differences in every sort of respect, I'm a great admirer of the Anglo-Catholic intellects of the first half of the 20th century, the so-called "Inklings" and their circle included, and Sayers perhaps most of all in that crowd, not just for her Dante translation (and the commentaries) but for the detective fiction and the width of her mind.

Gold farms? This is a thing?

From a recent essay by Isaac Knowles, Edward Castronova, and Travis Ross,

"Secondary markets can be further split into two types -- sanctioned and unsanctioned -- as determined by the game developer. Third parties in this case are firms that buy assets from players and so-called 'gold farms' and then sell the assets to other players. Gold farms are firms that employ people to spend several hours a day inside of a virtual world gathering currency and items, or developing avatars on a particular game account, for the specific purpose of selling the assets or the accounts to players or retailers."

I had no idea there existed firms that employ people to spend their time inside virtual worlds in this way. What a business model!

At any rate, once I knew I entered "gold farms" into Google Images and got the image above, of the workplace of some of these farmers.


On the off chance that anyone cares, I've taken a Myers-Briggs thing, and it classified me as: Intraverted, Intuitive; Thinking; Judging -- Assertive.  Or INTJ-A, also known as "The Architect."

Intraverted by a wide margin, and Thinking over Feeling also by a fairly wide margin, but the margins involved in the other three binary categories were smaller.

Apparently, people who like applying the Myers-Briggs test to fictional character have decided that this designation applies to both Professor Moriarty (in the Sherlock Holmes canon) and Dr. House (of the eponymous television series).

Do real psychologists still care these days about Myers-Briggs?

Narrative and History

Daniel Mendelsohn, in an essay in the April 2015 issue of HARPER'S that starts from the recent movie SELMA, discusses the crossroads of drama and journalism. I'll just offer a brief excerpt here:

"Just how much 'story' can we responsibly mine from 'history'? The conundrum is even more elegantly visible in the Romance languages, which make no distinction between the words 'history' and 'story': histoire in French and storia in Italian can mean both. Blame Herodotus: the so-called Father of History coined the word as we know it. For him, historia was a quasi-scientific investigation....But in part because Herodotus' inquiries into the causes and events of the Persian Wars were ever so entertaining -- epic, slightly rambling, sometimes gossipy, never dull -- the word came, in time, to mean something much more like our 'narrative.'"
[The bust above is of Herodotus.]