a scratch pad for half-formed thoughts by a liberal political junkie who's nobody special. ''Hard Heads, Soft Hearts'' is the title of a book by Princeton economist Alan Blinder, and tends to be a favorite motto of neoliberals, especially liberal economists.
Sunday, December 19, 2010
Arthur Silber - Once Upon A Time. . .Glenn Greenwald - The inhumane conditions of Bradley Manning's detention
Atul Gawande - Is long-term solitary confinement torture?Neal Stephenson - In The Beginning was the Command Line (1999)
From the beginning of his detention, Manning has been held in intensive solitary confinement. For 23 out of 24 hours every day -- for seven straight months and counting -- he sits completely alone in his cell. Even inside his cell, his activities are heavily restricted; he's barred even from exercising and is under constant surveillance to enforce those restrictions. For reasons that appear completely punitive, he's being denied many of the most basic attributes of civilized imprisonment. . .
. . .He is prevented from exercising in his cell. If he attempts to do push-ups, sit-ups, or any other form of exercise he will be forced to stop.
He does receive one hour of ""exercise” outside of his cell daily. He is taken to an empty room and only allowed to walk. . .
Paul Krugman - The Fall And Rise of Development Economics (1994)
. . .Those wordy intellectuals used to be merely tedious; now they seem kind of dangerous as well. . .
J.E. Gordon - Science of Structures and Materials (1988)
. . .a fascinating paper called "The evolution of European ignorance about Africa." The paper describes how European maps of the African continent evolved from the 15th to the 19th centuries.
You might have supposed that the process would have been more or less linear: as European knowledge of the continent advanced, the maps would have shown both increasing accuracy and increasing levels of detail. But that's not what happened. . .
. . .the improvement in the art of mapmaking raised the standard for what was considered valid data. . .And so the crowded if confused continental interior of the old maps became "darkest Africa", an empty space.
. . .In the end, the rigor of modern cartography led to infinitely better maps. But there was an extended period in which improved technique actually led to some loss in knowledge. . .
. . .something similar happened to economics. A rise in the standards of rigor and logic . . .led for a time to an unwillingness to confront those areas the new technical rigor could not yet reach. . .
. . .for many of us the image of a successful field of scientific endeavor is basic physics. . .most things we want to analyze, even in physical science, cannot be dealt with at that level of completeness. . .Any model of that system is therefore to some degree a falsification: it leaves out some (many) aspects of reality. . .
. . . how do you know that the model is good? It will never be right in the way that quantum electrodynamics is right. . .
. . .there are highly intelligent and objective thinkers who are repelled by simplistic models for a much better reason: they are very aware that the act of building a model involves loss as well as gain. Africa isn't empty, but the act of making accurate maps can get you into the habit of imagining that it is. . .
. . .If you look at the writing of anyone who claims to be able to write about social issues without stooping to restrictive modeling, you will find that his insights are based essentially on the use of metaphor. And metaphor is, of course, a kind of heuristic modeling technique. . .
. . .the model, unlike a purely verbal exposition, reveals the sensitivity of the conclusions to the assumptions. In particular, verbal expositions. . .make [a theory] seem like something that must be true. In this model we see that it is something that might be true. A model. . .makes one want to go out and start measuring, to see whether it looks at all likely in practice, whereas a merely rhetorical presentation gives one a false feeling of security in one's understanding. . .
. . .economists were locked in their traditional models, non-economists were lost in the fog that results when you have no explicit models at all. . .
. . .It is hard to know whether economic policy in the real world would have been much better if high development theory had not decayed so badly, since the relationship between good economic analysis and successful policy is far weaker than we like to imagine. Still, one wishes things had played out differently. . .
. . .For those who are impatient with modeling . . .Are you sure that you really have such deep insights that you are better off turning your back on the cumulative discourse among generally intelligent people that is modern economics? But of course you are. . .
R.K. Narayan - A Writer's Nightmare
"in all natural things there is something of the marvelous. There is a story which tells how some visitors once wished to meet Heraclitus, and when they entered and saw him in the kitchen, warming himself at the stove, they hesitated. But Heraclitus said, "Come in; don't be afraid. There are gods even here."
De paribus animalium
"The young painter must become the patient pupil of nature, he must walk in the fields with a humble mind. No arrogant man was ever permitted to see nature in all her beauty - the art of seeing nature is a thing almost as much to be acquired as the art of reading the Egyptian hieroglyphics."
John Constable, R.A. (1776-1837)
"Lecture on Painting"
The study of the strength of structures and materials, which is now fashionable, has been a Cinderella among the serious sciences. Like medicine in an earlier age, for many year the study of strength tended to be a pragmatic endeavor much beset by superstitions and half-truths. Like medicine in any age, the science of strength is apt to be complicated and difficult: simplistic theories can often be dangerous. . .
For many years a knowledge of materials and structures was to a large extent the province of craftsmen, of shipwrights, architects, and "practical" engineers - and this knowledge was mostly traditional in character. Cooperation with academic scientists, when it did occur, was not always fruitful. Attempts by theoreticians to predict the actual strengths of real material from the known strengths of their chemical bonds did not command much respect among engineers, for these estimates were frequently in error by a factor of a hundred or more. Mathematicians did cut some teeth on the design of large iron and steel structures early in the nineteenth century, but there is a long concomitant history of disasters in which ships and bridges broke despite all calculations, sometimes with heavy loss of life.
After some of these initial experiences with theory, engineers were understandably inclined to return to their handbooks and Codes of Practice. The academics retaliated by intimating that the whole question of how to support a load was intellectually trivial and of little scientific interest anyway. . .In fact, many universities strenuously resisted the establishments of departments of engineering until surprisingly recently.
For many years, and well into this century, respectable academic tradition favored "pure" specialization - the more specialized, the better. The hope or the fear of each practitioner was that, like nuclear physics, his field of study would turn out to be of practical importance. The flow of ideas thus ran from the pure to the applied. . .Gladstone. . .Faraday's laboratory. . .some of his experiments with electromagnetism and electrostatic induction . . .'"tell me Mr. Faraday, of what use is this electricity?" "Sir," said Faraday, "you will soon be able to tax it!"
The study of structures, however, often works the other way around: the flow of ideas is as often from practice to theory as from theory to practice. . .
Nowadays, progress is being made by bringing together experts in widely different fields. . .Until quite recently many of these specialists resisted, often very strongly, attempts to get them to communicate with one another. . .Although there are still some intellectual hermits, communications have improved a great deal during the last few years. . .
. . .Perhaps, too, we are becoming more liberal in our ideas and more prepared to accept that science does not have to be grand or remote, to dwell up among the stars or way down among the atoms. Like the gods and Cinderella, it may live in the kitchen. . .
. . .in cars and trains there is a good deal of latitude for inefficiency. Weight is not absolutely critical. ..design and manufacture can often be covered by making the parts unnecessarily thick and heavy. The development of aircraft and rockets, on the other hand, has forced us to pay more serious attention to the science of materials and structures. In aerospace weight is a luxury and breakage is likely to mean death. As we pursue newer technologies, therefore, we are "getting back to Nature.". . .
. . .Although the subject of strength affects everybody, its study has been made unreasonably difficult for the general reader because so much of the literature contains page after page of mathematics. The introduction of some numbers is unavoidable, but we shall get by here with only the simplest kind of algebra. . .
The Nobel Prize and all that
. . .The awards for Science and Medicine sound too technical and beyond the understanding of the average citizen, who accepts those announcements without a murmur, feeling: "Lucky fellows, let them flourish, God knows what they have achieved. However, not our business. . ."
The awards for Peace and Literature, on the other hand, provoke universal comment on the following lines "Oh! this is sheer politics and nothing less. So and so is a war-monger, racketeer in arms, smuggler, CIA agent, and to say he has striven for world peace, preposterous!" If the recipients name is unfamiliar, the comment would be "Who is this character? Which corner of the globe does he inhabit? No one has heard of this man or country! And to say that he was dedicated to the cause of world peace, too ridiculous for words!" . . .
We don't seem to care what's actually in
the Math & Science eggjams, we just seem to care that the Shanghai Chinese scored much better. It does seem to be a characteristic of our time that we have a desire to twist reality into serving the meritocratic ideal, which is further serving the ideal of heaven on earth, even when reality doesn't always cooperate.Preface to C.S. Lewis's "On Stories", by Walter Hooper
`Just as speech is invention about objects and ideas,' [Tolkien] said to Lewis that same evening, `so myth is invention about truth. We have come from God, and inevitably the myths woven by us, though they contain error, will also reflect a splintered fragment of the true light, the eternal truth that is with God.' . . .
Put me down as favoring black hobbits
. Hobbits are supposed to represent the stout "yeomen of Britain. . .yeowomen of Britain... yeopersons... yeopeople... No, the people of this island race. . ."
and right now the British citizenry, even peasantry, includes people with dark-skin.