Tuesday, August 31, 2010

El Tenedor o.........La Fourchette

Does Your Language Shape How you Think?(NYTimes):

""""Seventy years ago, in 1940, a popular science magazine published a short article that set in motion one of the trendiest intellectual fads of the 20th century. At first glance, there seemed little about the article to augur its subsequent celebrity. Neither the title, “Science and Linguistics,” nor the magazine, M.I.T.’s Technology Review, was most people’s idea of glamour. And the author, a chemical engineer who worked for an insurance company and moonlighted as an anthropology lecturer at Yale University, was an unlikely candidate for international superstardom. And yet Benjamin Lee Whorf let loose an alluring idea about language’s power over the mind, and his stirring prose seduced a whole generation into believing that our mother tongue restricts what we are able to think.

In particular, Whorf announced, Native American languages impose on their speakers a picture of reality that is totally different from ours, so their speakers would simply not be able to understand some of our most basic concepts, like the flow of time or the distinction between objects (like “stone”) and actions (like “fall”). For decades, Whorf’s theory dazzled both academics and the general public alike. In his shadow, others made a whole range of imaginative claims about the supposed power of language, from the assertion that Native American languages instill in their speakers an intuitive understanding of Einstein’s concept of time as a fourth dimension to the theory that the nature of the Jewish religion was determined by the tense system of ancient Hebrew. """""

Wow, I did not know that as Ed McMahon might have said.

Monday, August 30, 2010

No on e-Meg, continued

e-Meg's tax reform plan: no taxes on e-Meg & her cronies

""""A nurse making $47,056 also paid 9.3%
Sounds fair, right?
So here's Meg's new plan: The nurse still pays 9.3% but Meg Whitman pays 0.00%
Since we don't have Meg Whitman's tax records, and we'll be getting them when hell freezes over, we don't know how much her Rich Eat Free tax giveaway will save her. But we can guess.

Let's say Meg has her billion dollars in a Bank of America Growth Maximizer Savings Account. Last year, married, filing jointly, her California state income tax would have been $90,843. I'll bet Meg did a little better than that. She knows all those insider trading guys from Goldman Sachs. So let's say her investments paid about the same as ten-year treasuries. If she made 3.75%, her California state income tax was $4,295,230.
Under Meg's plan, it would go down to zero.
On average, a really experienced California nurse makes $62,400. Her state income tax is $2,032. Under Meg's plan, it would go down to $2,032.
Another way of looking at these numbers: Meg Whitman's tax cut will save Meg Whitman four million dollars a year, basically even if she just has her money buried in the stable. It will save the average working Californian sweet F all.
And it'll cost the state billions.
It's going to take a lot of TV ads to make that sound like a good plan.""""

And to think...millions of Kalifornians take this sinister broad seriously. Then... Aynnie Rand hyper-capitalist potboilers remain bestsellers as well. e-Meg may be gambling on the silent CA majority: the Randian-WASP-zombie market.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

6000m +

¡Buenas Dias, Aconcagua!

peaks of the Andes, 6000m+

Friday, August 27, 2010


Richest Members of the US Congress

wit' Sat. mornin' Armada!


Thursday, August 26, 2010

moral landscapes

Sam Harris/HuffPo:

....3. """"But can't moral claims be in conflict? Aren't there many situations in which one person's happiness means another's suffering?

There are some circumstances like this, and we call these contests "zero-sum." Generally speaking, however, the most important moral occasions are not like this. If we could eliminate war, nuclear proliferation, malaria, chronic hunger, child abuse, etc. -- these changes would be good, on balance, for everyone. There are surely neurobiological, psychological, and sociological reasons why this is so -- which is to say that science could potentially tell us exactly why a phenomenon like child abuse diminishes human well-being.

But we don't have to wait for science to do this. We already have very good reasons to believe that mistreating children is bad for everyone. I think it is important for us to admit that this is not a claim about our personal preferences, or merely something our culture has conditioned us to believe. It is a claim about the architecture of our minds and the social architecture of our world. Moral truths of this kind must find their place in any scientific understanding of human experience...."

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Buh-bye, B & N

The impending Death of Barnes and Noble/WSJ:

""""The simple explanation for Barnes & Noble's decline is the Internet, which spawned Amazon.com, e-readers and digital books. But that didn't have to be the end for B&N, which had a dominant market position and should have out-Amazoned Amazon, leveraging its brand and innovating when it began marketing and selling books online.

I know exactly when B&N lost me as a customer. Some years ago, to compete with Amazon, B&N began offering free same-day delivery in Manhattan if you placed your order over the Internet by 11 a.m. I did so several times—and not once did the books arrive when promised. Everything I have ordered from Amazon has arrived on time or earlier. Then came Amazon's game-changing Kindle, and instant delivery. Nothing I've read about B&N's belated rival Nook has tempted me to try it.

My hunch is that B&N never really embraced the Internet or e-books, tied as it was to the old-fashioned world of physical books and stores. As B&N focused on managing decline, a much more nimble Amazon could concentrate exclusively on the new world it was forming. B&N needed to destroy its business model to prevail. Now it is probably too late. There is a lesson for all businesses here.""""

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Drone psalm

...even though we march
through the valley of the shadow of death,
we will fear no evil, for you art with us, DRONE;
your  machine guns and your missiles, they comfort us.....

* * *

""""...The Afghan war, launched covertly three decades ago, will be with us for at least two more years, and maybe several more , the need for protraction buttressed by such shock tactics as the picture of an Afghan woman with her nose cut off by the Taliban, featured on the cover of Time recently. It was certainly a horrible piece of barbarism, inflicted because the woman had breached the Talibans’ concept of moral propriety. The message was that with premature US withdrawal a lot more women’s noses will be sliced off, or women lashed and then shot for imputed “adultery” years after their husbands had died. I did feel all the same that balance should have required Time also to feature bits of human flesh strewn around after a Predator missile had landed on yet another Afghan wedding party, an inevitable feature of what happens so long as the US stays.""""

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Diamonds and blood

Blood diamonds:

""On the subject of illegal gemstones, it is fair to say that Mr Reeves is uniquely well connected, even if many of his best contacts are now either dead, on the run, or in jail. The tall, quietly spoken 38-year-old is the brother-in-law, no less, of Charles Taylor, the Liberian dictator who gave Ms Campbell a gift of uncut diamonds in 1997, according to her recent testimony at his war crimes trial in the Hague. For four turbulent years, he was at the centre of the blood diamonds trade, acting as Taylor's personal envoy in his infamous arms-for-gems deals with the rebels in next door Sierra Leone, whose drug-crazed recruits raped, maimed and slaughtered their way through a war that claimed some 150,000 lives.

As such, he also knows about the appalling price in human misery that was paid so that "the chief", as his brother-in-law was known, could flatter pretty girls at parties. The gifts Taylor used to hand out to the likes of Ms Campbell were the proceeds of dozens of clandestine trips that Mr Reeves made into the Sierra Leone bush, where he would swap truckloads of weapons for tiny but highly valuable packages of stones, many from rebel-held mines being run as virtual slave camps.""""

Res ipsa loquitur

Thursday, August 19, 2010

the treason of Reason

The National Interest on AC Grayling:

""""As Grayling sees things, it is only irrationality that makes human conflicts intractable. If only he had been around in the dark years of the Second World War, he seems to imply, and in a position to instruct Allied war planners on the finer points of ethical theory, the terrible struggle could have gone so much more smoothly. Certainty of this kind is comical, but it also raises a question about the origins of the principles that Grayling maintains so mechanically. He is insistent that liberal values apply universally. He is also insistent that these values have nothing to do with religion......

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

irrationality, Harry Reid-style

from firedoglake:

""""You would think, on occasion, the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause would mean something to aspiring Minority Leader, Harry Reid — a Mormon. However, that sort of rationality goes out the window when real important things — like reelection are involved.

The First Amendment protects freedom of religion. Senator Reid respects that but thinks that the mosque should be built some place else.
Because God forbid we tear down the holiest of relics, an abandoned Burlington Coat Factory (“You go in there with $645 and you are literally a king”) to class up the neighborhood.
By the way Harry, I imagine you were up front in making sure the Mormon Church didn’t build some sort of Memorial at the site of the Mountain Meadows Massacre, because that would be, y’know, offensive to the memories of the victims for the same reasons?
Oh, right, you were too busy peeing your pants."""

Sunday, August 15, 2010

say No to Megzilla

The politics of Whitmanopoly: e-Meg starts her gubernational campaign with $100 million+ (from e-bayCo, and G-sachs insider deals). Jerry Brown starts with under 1 million and some contributions from CA demos and unions. Life in the Mormonacracy.

No Meg2010
Hail to the Thief

Friday, August 13, 2010

Soak the very, very rich

James Surowiecki /New Yorker:

""The fight on Capitol Hill over whether to extend the Bush tax cuts is about many things: deficit reduction, economic stimulus, supply-side ideology. But at its core is a simple question: who counts as rich? The Obama Administration’s answer is that you’re rich if you make more than two hundred thousand dollars a year as an individual or two hundred and fifty thousand dollars a year as a household, and therefore you should have your taxes raised. Conservatives suggest that this threshold is far too low, and argue that Obama would be taxing mostly small-business owners, or the people a Fox News host has referred to as “the so-called rich,” rather than fat plutocrats. You might think this isn’t really much of a debate. An annual income of two hundred and fifty thousand dollars puts you in the top three per cent of American households, and is more than four times the national median. You’re rich, and a small tax increase isn’t going to rock your world."""
 Tea party types who insist they're being taxed to death don't know f**k about the economic history of the last 50 years (then, teabaggers are the sort of humanoids who consider basura such as Aynnie Rand or RA Heinlein great intellectuals):  marginal income tax and capital gains tax rates under the Nixon regime were 60%; about 80% under Eisenhower. 

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Morirse a gusto ...

desde La Gaceta...

""El hombre actual contempla la muerte como el fracaso de su dominio sobre las fuerzas de la naturaleza. El “hombre tecnificado” puede controlar y manipular casi todo, pero se encuentra indefenso ante el hecho innegable de la muerte. Así, la muerte y el morir no tienen cabida en las sociedades industrializadas, no afectan a los sistemas productivos. La muerte, la agonía y la senectud son consideradas como representación de la impotencia de la moderna tecnología biomédica."".......continua leyendo....

Sunday, August 08, 2010


Great hinds link alike!

"Carly has been endorsed by the National Right to Life, the California Pro-Life Council, and the Susan B. Anthony List. She is pro-life, pro-traditional marriage, pro-military, and pro-strict border security and against amnesty." - Sarah Palin, May 6, 2010

"Carly is also a strong supporter of the Second Amendment. Like me, she is a member of the NRA, has a 100% NRA rating, and she and her husband are gun owners." - Sarah Palin, May 6, 2010

fromFiorinaFacts aka NO on Carly (not only is Carly an ex-HP CEO-ette, but a ...Steinford Alum! More than sufficient for...negation).

When a GOP gal's in trouble campaign-wise--as MissFiorina appears to be--she can usually count on rallying at least some support by waving the flag, yapping about morali-tay, or making appeals to the hicksTed Nugent conservatives and biblethumpers. The LCD school of politics

Friday, August 06, 2010

keep the ~(faith)

mo' from the death of Hitchens...

Author and critic, Christopher Hitchens is fighting for his life. He has esophageal cancer that has metastasized to his lymph nodes and lung. But, don't expect to hear him pray as a result of it all.
Hitchens, has been a journalist of some note for decades and is a         regular contributor to "The Atlantic", "Vanity Fair", Slate and "The Nation"
He is an author of some note whose titles alone cause controversy. "The Trial of Henry Kissinger", "The Missionary Position: Mother Theresa in Theory and Practice" and "God Is Not Great."

From that last title you can surmise that he is an unapologetic atheist. Thursday night he spoke on CNN's Anderson Cooper 360 program about his mortality. He is resigned to the law of averages which says that more people than not don't come back from what he is stuck with.

Asked if his prognosis has driven him to a deity to whom he prays, Hitchens told Cooper, that he is aware of prayer groups that have sprouted in his honor but, "I shall not be taking part in that."

Hitchens' demise (which CH himself grants is likely...) reiterates the proverbial "are there atheists in foxholes" chestnut (deathbeds, cancer wards, vets hospitals, etc). We here at Contingencies don't detest Hitchens though generally disagree with his tactics (not to say his pro-Bush stance circa '03-04). He writes fairly effectively, certainly in comparison with the usual 'Merican pundit. He also understood the secular vision of the chief American founders, at least (unlike so many apparatchiks).  His slightly Humean prose seemed  refreshing when it appeared in the 90s, compared to the gonzo hacks, the Safire savants, the Sally Fields PC-hysteria crew. 

His reluctance to pray or to ask for a cleric deserves some respect. Many a skeptic has waved away the preacher or priest at the end. David Hume died in rather ugly circumstances--cancer of the bowels, more or less--and yet told Boswell a few days before death, that he was convinced the soul dies with the body. Voltaire told the priests to keep their distance (saying "this was no time to be making enemies," etc). Bertrand Russell also refused to allow clergymen attend his death--reportedly (tho' some reports suggest an Anglican bureaucrat was in attendance). Apart from the usual and somewhat trite prayer issue (wouldn't a loving G*d answer prayers of a young christian who lost his legs in an accident where a drunk driver struck him and his family, etc) why bother with mere ritual at the last? Besides, given the miniscule probability that a rational Deity exists, does He demand a mere wafer and confession? He--or is it They-- will weigh human souls according to their deeds, hopefully, as even Pascal suggested--not count the notches of the masses ingested (or so one wagers). No amount of repentance will likely save a truly corrupt or perverted individual (like this republican wiccan-on-steroids, Tusconius).   And will a box of sacred wafers suffice to...expiate the sins of corrupt or criminal papists--an Al Caponay, or...Dimaggio...Der Fuhrer?  Unlikely.   Couragio....

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Vineland at 20

Rereading Pynchon--

""""In 1993, when I first read Vineland, Thomas Pynchon's great novel about washed-up 60s radicals, I was living in northern California with two middle-aged hippies. A certain bohemianism and lawlessness still lingered in their creaking house in Berkeley. The cable TV service was siphoned off from a neighbouring property. One housemate drank rank-smelling wheatgrass for her breakfast. The other disappeared at weekends on unspecified operations against the logging companies in the redwood forests up near the Oregon border. When she was home, she almost never left her basement room. She emphatically instructed me to deny her existence if anyone called.

I was an inquisitive male postgraduate in my early 20s: a classic potential Pynchon reader. One day after the winter had set in, with its low skies and week-long rains, I went down to one of the bookshops on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, where some of the legendary 60s student demonstrations had taken place, and bought Vineland.

The book had come out three years earlier, to approving but subtly disappointed reviews. Pynchon's previous novel, the seemingly all-encompassing second world war adventure and postmodern box of tricks Gravity's Rainbow, had been published in 1973; during the 17-year wait for a follow-up, all sorts of rumours had spread about what the famously brainy and reclusive American prodigy, only 35 in 1973, would produce next. "We heard he was doing something about Lewis and Clark," Salman Rushdie wrote in the New York Times in 1990. "Mason and Dixon? A Japanese science-fiction novel? . . . A 900-page Pynchon megabook about the American civil war?"

In fact, Vineland was less than 400 pages long, largely American rather than international in its settings, realistic in style for long stretches, and relatively earnest, even sentimental, compared with what Pynchon had previously written. In a typical response in Time magazine, Paul Gray compared an early, lovingly drawn scene of greedy birds stealing food from a dog bowl left outside by the absent-minded main character, Zoyd Wheeler, with the dazzling opening panorama in Gravity's Rainbow of a V-2 rocket descending on London ("A screaming comes across the sky . . ."). Gray concluded: "There seems to have been a little downscaling going on." In the Nation, John Leonard suggested an explanation: Vineland was "a breather between biggies", a John the Baptist of a novel preparing the ground for "another, darker, [more] magisterial" Pynchon production.""""

Vineland, as beautiful as any macro-entropy, like mushroom clouds over an atoll.

Sunday, August 01, 2010



"""Once we allow some principle of recursive reasoning, we are landed with the infinite. There are an infinite number of natural numbers: for 0 is a natural number, and if anything is a natural number, its successor is a natural number. So there are natural numbers, and for any finite number, n, it is demonstrably false that there are exactly n natural numbers. We feel impelled to allow the question `How many natural numbers are there?', and the only possible answer seems to be `an infinite number'. But we have qualms.

Infinity seems out of this earth. It smacks of Platonism, mysticism and theology. The word `infinite' is a negative concept, contrasting not only with `
finite', in a strict mathematical sense, but with
`definite' and with `comprehensible'. Often, especially in theology and ancient philosophy, the Infinite is the Whole....the Universe, the Absolute, whose logic is difficult and fraught with inconsistencies. We are wise to be wary.

Although Parmenides, Plato, Augustine, William of Alnwick, Leibniz, Cantor, Dedekind and most modern mathematicians are fairly happy with infinity, other philosophers have had doubts. Aristotle allowed the existence of the potential infinite but denied
the actual infinite, and was followed by Aquinas and most of the Schoolmen. It is fair to place Weyl and the modern Intuitionists in that tradition. Locke had considerable difficulty in articulating a coherent and satisfactory account of infinity. Berkeley was deeply
critical of infinitesimals and mathematical infinity generally, and modern Finitists likewise reject every sort of infinity, and try to confine themsleves to finite numbers alone. But infinitistic arguments
keep seeping in, and strict Finitists distinguish themselves from their laxer brethren, and still are not stringent enough in their scepticism to escape the strictures of the ultra strict."""
(in other words, Cantor resides in Hades. Yay)

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