Sunday, July 9, 2017

Not Conned by Seghal’s Coined

A degreed economist (LSE) who works for J. P Morgan, Kabir Sehgal is the author of Coined: The Rich Life of Money and How Its History has Shaped Us. By its title, it is obviously a book with a great breadth of scope for its 257 pages of narrative. However, every story that I already knew was arguable. This is a scissors-and-paste effort, quickly assembled without deep reflection, insight, or questioning. In truth, throughout the book, the author does present the facts approximately. He gets almost all of it almost right. But as we say, “close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.” 

As this is a book about the history of money, the origins of money are important. His narrative is incomplete, coming from secondary sources. Sehgal apparently failed to grasp the central facts of the event. The same is true for the invention of coinage. Sehgal does correctly understand the fact that seems curious to us today, that promissory money, “soft” money, preceded precious metals as hard money by thousands of years. That said, the story of ancient Sumer and the creation of promissory notes (pg. 86) is wrong in so many details that it is wrong in substance. His deepest misunderstanding is the claim that clay balls containing tokens were a form of proto-currency (page 104). They may have been a harbinger or foreshadowing of that, but he completely misses the significance of the contemporaneous invention of writing. For the correct accounting see “Debt: the Seed of Civilization” on this blog, which points to the works of Denise Schmandt-Besserat.  

On the invention of coinage, he again relies on secondary popularizations, rather than the best academic research. And he fails to ask delving questions. He claims (as many do) that coins were invented in Lydia before 630 BCE. But he also identifies the famous hoard of the oldest known coins and coin-like objects, from the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus. Why were the oldest known coins and proto-coins not uncovered within the excavation of Sardis, the royal site of Lydia?  Ephesus, Miletos, and Kolophon have been suggested as possible candidates for the first cities to strike coins, not for commerce, but as bonus payments to mercenaries.

Sehgal never questions the economic motive for the origin of coinage. But if they were invented to facilitate commerce, they would have originated at a center of commerce. And they would have been commercially convenient. In fact, the first coins came from a cultural hinterland, the Turkish coastline of archaic Greece. And they were worth more than anything you could buy with them, as if today, the smallest bills were $1000 and relatively rare, while $10,000 bills were common. And Sehgal completely misunderstands electrum, the naturally occurring alloy, nuggets of which the first coins were struck. Lacking anything like an atomic theory, gold, electrum, and silver were three distinct metals, even though the ancients knew that electrum could be made by alloying gold and silver; and that electrum gold could be parted from electrum silver.  

Seghal never stops to ask why but just keeps going with a facile, though interesting, narrative.  He correctly identifies the fact that coinage is closely tied to the development of democracy, but he misplaces the origin of democracy at Athens.

It does not get any better with his stories about Nero, Diocletian, Lincoln’s greenbacks, or Bretton Woods. 

Kabir Sehgal lavishes praise on the deep knowledge base of the numismatic auction house, Stack’s (pgs 247-249) and rightfully so, but simply cites Q. David Bowers as “David Bowers, legendary numismatist and business partner of Harvey Stack.”  Harvey Stack gets all the credit. And he is worthy, indeed. But everyone in the know calls Q. David Bowers “the dean of American numismatics.”

So, as much as I would like to believe that a cash economy created niche employment for the beggars of Jakarta as extra riders to validate a taxi cab’s right to the high-occupancy high-speed traffic lanes, I have to remain doubtful that Sehgal actually understood what was happening.


Saturday, July 8, 2017

Michael Shermer's Moral Arc

The 475 pages are a quick read because it is so easy to agree with the many assertions of fact and moral claims. Also, the typography - extra leading between lines - makes reading this into a downhill jog. The author founded Skeptic magazine and contributes to Scientific American. And he is a political liberal, carrying on the program of the Enlightenment. Moreover, the entire presentation is wholly compatible with the intentions of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged.

That may well seem paradoxical to both conservatives and progressives for whom reason, reality, ethics, politics, and economics are unrelated. Religious fundamentalists and academic postmodernists both deny the validity of science. While both camps claim the vocabulary of political freedom for their headlines and rubrics, their narratives quickly devolve into further controls and harsher punishments for their respective enemies. Both are racists; they just favor different groups. Both would quickly constrain and ultimately abolish the open global market. 
The Moral Arc: How Science and Reason
Lead Humanity Toward Truth, Justice, and Freedom

by Michael Shermer (Henry Holt and Company, 2015).

“As I documented in The Mind of the Market, trade breaks down the natural animosity between strangers while simultaneously elevating trust between them, and as the economist Paul Zak has demonstrated, trust is among the most powerful factors affecting economic growth.” (page 126)

“The effects of trade have been documented in the real world as well as in the lab. In a 2010 study published in Science titled “Markets, Religion, Community Size, and the Evolution of Fairness and Punishment,” the psychologist Joseph Henrich and his colleagues engaged more than two thousand people in fifteen small communities around the world in two-player exchange games in which one player is given a sum of money equivalent to a day’s pay and is allowed to keep or share some of it, or all of it, with another person.  You might think that most people would just keep all the money, but in fact, the scientists discovered that people in hunter-gather communities shared about 25 percent, while people in societies who regularly engage in trade gave away about 45 percent.  Although religion was a modest factor in making people more generous, the strongest predictor was “market integration” defined as “the percentage of a household’s total calories that were purchased from the market, as opposed to homegrown, hunted, or fished.”  (page 127) (See "Success of the WEIRD People" on this blog for a review of the wider study.)

That is especially telling as both preppers and greens advocate for economic and ecological self-sufficiency, living from the land and close to the Earth. 

Left: one person, one day;
slow changes over 100,000 years.
Right: Very many people,
very many per day. Rapid changes
over 20 years and still evolving.
Shermer goes into some statistical detail demonstrating that trade leads to democracy, and democratic government lessens the likelihood and damages of war.  He does the same for domestic war, that is, for crime, showing a decrease in violent crime and a concomitant decline in capital punishment.
The economics of capitalism are inseparable from the politics of equality, which in turn rest on the epistemology of reason.  Instead, the conservatives of the 20th century ignored or fought against every opportunity for progress. They still do so today, echoing the protests of Dinesh D’Souza, Ann Coulter, and Glenn Beck, that change is not natural.

On the other hand, Ayn Rand insisted that politics rests on morality which depends on epistemology. For her, the significant struggles were about the theory of knowledge.  Shermer devotes a chapter to the problem of free will, “10: Moral Freedom and Responsibility.”  I believe that ultimately, he does not answer the question.  But he does encase it in four replies: the modular mind; free won’t; degrees of moral freedom; choice as part of the causal net. The facts that he marshals are interesting, though no one is compelling. That, perhaps, is his strongest implicit argument. He never says it, but his approach defeats the attempts at reduction. You cannot have free will, the argument goes, because each action has a cause, and so on…  Shermer cites physiological studies of brain activity to show that your mind is more complicated than that, working deeply in parallel networks, not sequential steps.  And at several junctions, the “you” that is “you” has the ability to say “no” to redirect your own thoughts.  Usually.  He does examine several severe cases of psychopathic behavior and shows them to be materially caused by cephalic defect.  That only raises more questions.  But to me the important feature was recognizing that the essence of material progress is good thinking.

“Again, I am not arguing that reason alone will get us there; we need legislation and laws to enforce civil rights, and a strong police and military to back up the state’s claim to hold a monopoly on the legitimate use of force to back up those laws. But those forces are themselves premised on being grounded in reason, and the legislation is backed by rational arguments.” (page 257)
In Chapter 12, Shermer outlines his “Protopia” not the impossible Utopia, but the world of the actual present in which things are getting better.  Discussing income inequality, for instance, he demonstrates via IRS statistics that in America we still have social mobility. Some of the poorest rise and some of the richest fall, even as most of us remain in the middle three quintiles for most of our lives. “… 60 percent of those in the top 1 percent in the beginning year of each person had dropped to a lower centile by the 10th year.  Less than one-fourth of the individuals in the 1/100th percent in 1996 remained in that in 2005.” (Citing a report from the National Tax Journal.)

Shermer became a scientist late his academic career. His doctoral dissertation (Clarmont Graduate University) was a biography of Alfred Russell Wallace.  However, Shermer was at first a fundamentalist Christian. Not raised that way, he chose it as a teenager. Only the strict requirements Pepperdine for studies in Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic kept him from pursuing a D. Th. He was interested in psychology, but although a behaviorist, he was not interested in lab rats. He eventually settled on studying the history of science.  He later produced and hosted Exploring the Unknown for Fox TV.

That lays some foundation for Chapter 4: Why Religion is not the Source of Moral Progress.  He joins Christopher Hitchens (cited twice in that chapter) in a complete refutation of any claim to material or moral value in religion.  Shermer presents two pages of graphs correlating religiosity positively with divorce, homicide, abortion, and suicide.  The narrative only underscores the fact that religion has not led  us to our material comfort or self-satisfied happiness.

The essential arguments in this book that are so easily accepted by the right wing libertarians of the 21st century condemn the traditionalist conservatives of the 20th century.  Ending racial prejudice – even the very idea of “race” – recognizing social equality independent of sex (or gender), and abandoning the irrationality of superstition (especially from self-identified “fundamentalists”) should have been the agenda of the Republican Party. But the GOP never understood individualism; and the Democrats never perceived individuals apart from their special interest groups.


Tuesday, July 4, 2017


The long weekend gave me the opportunity to go out with my telescope for the first time in eight months. I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, so the sky that I am comfortable with is about the same as seen from the outer edge of a galactic arm.  Not many stars, but on a good night in the summer, you can find Homeward as steam from the teapot. In the winter, the stars are fewer but brighter: hot, young stars; with some red giants to remind us of our age.
Of course I keep a notebook.
I usually plan for each night I go out.
I typically record while viewing.
The night before last I was just getting familiar again with the process. All I lost in the grass was an eraser. Last night, for the first time, I watched a moon of Jupiter disappear behind the disk. It took about half an hour. I seldom display that much patience. I found a good lens (13 mm for 50x). At the end, I switched to higher power (6mm for 108x) just to see the last glimmer. I was surprised at how close the satellite got and still remained discernible. These old eyes still work.

When I came in and googled “moons of Jupiter tonight” I found a Sky & Telescope page that explained that Io was passing in front of Jupiter. 

As a member of the Austin Astronomical Society for two years, I did go out to their “Eagle Eye Observatory” at Buchanan Lake, about 80 miles from Austin. I earned a certification in telescope operations. I also took my own EQ-130 out there to see what I could see that I could not see from my backyard.  For the first time in my life, I viewed the entire Milky Way from horizon to horizon. But once the sky got completely dark, I had a hard time finding anything. “My God,” Dave said. “It’s full of stars.”  Fortunately, I was there with experts.

My telescope is a Celestron EQ-130 reflector (130 mm ~ 5.25 in). My wife and daughter bought it for me for my birthday in 2014. I shopped and they paid for it. I chose it because it seemed like a good midrange choice, similar to the Criterion 4-inch that I had from ages 10 to 17.  That device was much better by several standards.  (See my “Advice to New Astronomers” here.) 

When I got the telescope, I joined the Austin Astronomical Society and the International Astronomy Forum discussion board. There’s always lots of forums and blogs. The International Astronomy Forum felt best to me. I posted my complaints about my telescope there and got some replies. Going out to the Eagle Eye Observatory was evidence enough that the telescope’s optics were satisfactory. I just live in a city. So, the air is wavy and dirty. Nonetheless, I had to fix some mechanical problems.

On the Astronomy Forum, one of the posters told about the loss of his mirror. He thought that he was adjusting the azimuth when the telescope slid out of the cradle and hit the deck.  I knew why immediately: all of the knobs feel the same. It was a known problem in aviation. So, I fixed that. 

Beer bottle cap glued to knob.
(See "Drunken Astronomers" below.)
The first problem was losing one of the nuts off one of the C-clamps that hold the tube to the mount. It took several trips to Home Depot until I found hardware that would do the job and stand up to continuous use.  I will slide the tube forward or backward several times through the night, to balance it. Also, I take the ‘scope out and bring it in every night. (A couple of summer nights, wanting to go out again very late before dawn, I left it set up, and covered it with a plastic sheet.) And I have to be able to open and close the clamps without other tools.

The need for other tools comes from the fact that the azimuth is spring-loaded; it is not a worm gear.  So, with enough travel used, you have to go into it and with a hex wrench unscrew the bolt to allow further motion.  (With too much turning, it all comes out.)

Another thing that came apart in my hands was the 20mm ocular. About a month after I first used the ‘scope, I returned the motor drive unboxed, and I bought a set of lenses and filters. I thought that the filters would be compatible with the basic equipment. I unscrewed the 20mm eyepiece; and with a handful of little glass lenses I had a new problem. Fortunately, I got a pointer to a Celestron webpage from a poster to Astronomy Forum. Apparently, this is a well-known problem.

The first problem was losing one of the nuts off one of the C-clamps
that hold the tube to the mount.
It took several trips to Home Depot
until I found hardware that would do the job
and stand up to continuous use.
And it is easy to forget… The other night, I had that 20mm in my hand and was unscrewing it to put a filter in it… and I heard a little voice that I actually paid attention to… 

Orion Nebula
looks like this.
All of that aside, backyard astronomy has been my window to the universe. I own microscopes and hand lenses, but my Weltanschauung is mostly outward. The Orion Nebula, the Milky Way, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and the Moon are easy reminders of deep truths. The universe is more complicated than we know, but we can know it. Evidentiary facts have rational explanations: they are necessary truths. It is all at once very different from life on Earth, and yet very much like most of it: the same chemicals, molecules, atoms, particles, waves, and fields, agglomerated by mutual attraction into ponderable bodies, at once massive or weighable and worthy of and open to thought. 


Thursday, June 29, 2017


Canon exists. Once you stray from canon, you go from a slippery slope to a reductio ad absurdum in which all you have is an empty name. A Vegetarian Big Mac has no meat.  Alternately - and it is all about alternates - once a new poet recasts a myth, broad reception and acceptance can solidify that new interpretation into a classic. 

In the earliest saga of Sifrit, Brynhilda was a Valkyrie. In the Middle Ages, she was the Queen of Iceland; Hagan and his gang were Burgundians; and the curse of the Nibelungs was effected by Attila the Hun. Richard Wagner reanimated the older epic and made it the new canon. Clash of the Titans is no less canon than the re-imaged work of Apollonius of Rhodes who about 250 BCE borrowed from several ancient legends to build his Argonautica

The core of the Arthurian legends was a handful of separate stories. From them, Chretian of Troyes constructed a new epic for the court of Marie of Champagne, the half sister of Richard Lionheart. Four hundred years later, Sir Thomas Mallory reshaped the story for his own time - though we hardly know the difference between the two periods, both being only "medieval." In the 19th century, the romantic revolution provided the context for Alfred Lord Tennyson's Idylls of the King. Two generations later, they were presented as T. H. White's Once and Future King; and in another 20 years, the Broadway musical Camelot by Lerner, Loewe, and Hart came to stand for the Kennedy Administration.

How many times has Superman has been re-imaged? How many timelines and alternate universes exist? Even Bizarro Superman has re-instantiations.  And if Superman is variously vulnerable to the many forms of kryptonite, why is he never affected by his own costume, the space ship that brought him here, or Supergirl? (Riddle me that, Batman.)

In this version by Max Landis, Nick Dragotta, John Workman, and their collaborators, we meet a Superboy with whom Smallville is more or less adapted. Clark Kent's super powers still surprise him. Clark Kent's challenge after moving to Metropolis is to discover the range and limits of his abilities, and how to best use them--for his own good, and perhaps for a greater good. That greater good is also a challenge, though this version has no soul searching.

Superman and Clark Kent meet Batman and Bruce Wayne.  We have the wider field of vision, of course, perhaps even an x-ray vision by which we see their inner processes as they meet. But, again, Max Landis has written without the deep philosophizing of self reflection. As Montag said in Fahrenheit 451, inside each book is a man.


Sunday, June 25, 2017

Tarzan, the Amazons, and my Mother

Public education ain’t what it used to be.  It is a law of economics that collectivism is inefficient, an entropic downward path. So, it is no surprise that we were better at public education 100 years ago.  The other day at work, referring to “the old college try” someone said, “Siss boom bah” intended as a cheer from the stands. It is a common error, one I once made about 60 years ago and was corrected by my mother. Even though her culture expected her education to prepare her only to be a wife and mother, she did have two years of Latin, along with much else.  “Sic cum pah!” she said, “Thus with oomph.”
Left circa 1945. Right some years later.
 About that same time, give or take a few years, my brother and I were watching an old Tarzan movie on tv, and Mom stopped in.  It was Tarzan and the Amazons, and when they were taken to “Palmyria,” and they called for the Queen, Mom said, “This will be Zenobia.”  (Very much more on this Johnny Weismueller fan site.) I think that she was just eponymously the Queen, but, decades later, studying the numismatics of the Roman Empire, I learned about Zenobia of Palmyra and remembered that moment.

Tarzan returns Athena to the Amazons.
From IMDB Media view here.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Fools, Cowards, and Thucydides

The Internet assures that misattributions will always remain a problem.  “A nation that makes a great distinction between its scholars and its warriors will have its laws made by cowards and its wars fought by fools.” Widely attributed to Thucydides, it was not his statement.  Even the venerable Doctrine Man erred.

The quote comes from General Gordon, a biography of Charles George Gordon by Colonel Sir F. Butler (London: MacMillan & Co., 1891).  And it is so attributed at Wikiquote.

 Doctrine Man is to be found on Facebook. It is humor about the military in particular and politics and current events in general. Who Doctrine Man really is has been the subject of some controversy. It is beyond me, but apparently no few of the snide comments have subtexts that could only have come from conversations in the Pentagon. Doctrine Man is wholly credible, but that only underscores how common this misattributed quotation is.
Charles George Gordon (January 28, 1833 to January 26, 1885) was a Highlander who served as an engineer in the British army. His first action was in the Crimean War. Later, after the defeat of China in the Opium War, he then organized imperial Chinese troops fighting the rebels of the Taiping Revolt, for which he was called "Chinese" Gordon by the press. Gordon later was ordered to Egypt.  He evacuated the British from Khartoum. He then returned (against orders) and was killed defending the city against the armies of Muhammad Ahmad bin Abd Allah, the proclaimed Mahdi (redeemer preceding Judgment Day).  

"The nation that will insist upon drawing a broad line of demarcation between the fighting man and the thinking man is liable to find its fighting done by fools and its thinking by cowards."


Sunday, June 18, 2017

President Trump's Foreign Emoluments

The news squall about President Trump's “emoluments” from foreign governments is at once amusing and interesting to consider.  Two suits that have been filed by members of the Democrat Partythe attorneys general of Washington D.C. and the state of Maryland, and 188 members of Congress–are disingenuous. This “emoluments” accusation was raised earlier by conservatives about the business dealings of the Clinton Foundation. No one put the jinni back in the bottle, but he has been out before. 

Theodore Roosevelt was President of the United States when he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.  The grant was controversial on several grounds, both abroad and in the U.S. Congress (Nobel Prize site here).  
“Roosevelt did not keep the prize money. Though he stated privately to his son Kermit that he wished he could have kept it for his children, his wife Edith said a public figure such as Roosevelt could not keep such a reward. Instead, when he accepted his prize, Roosevelt stated he would be donating the money to Congress for the funding of a permanent Industrial Peace Committee which would address “fair dealings between classes of society.” However, Congress never organized the committee and so, during World War I, Roosevelt petitioned Congress to return the funds to him so that he could distribute the money to war relief efforts and various charities. -- Theodore Roosevelt Center here.
Later, U.S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull was nominated for a Peace Prize, which eventually was bestowed. “The lawyer and Democrat from Tennessee was US Secretary of State from 1933 to 1944. Hull was nominated for the Peace Prize several times in the second half of the 1930s for having conducted a policy of fraternization with Latin America and for having negotiated free trade agreements with a number of states. " -- (Nobel Prize Committee here.

The nominally objective “Politifact” website has waffled on this topic, first regarding President Obama, and then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. 
  • “Gingrich: Hillary Clinton broke law with foreign Clinton Foundation donations” Politifact: Mostly False (link here)
However, previously… 
  • "Obama re Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and Henry Kissinger." Barely True (at first here )  but then ...  
  • Editor's note: This statement was rated Barely True when it was published. On July 27, 2011, we changed the name for the rating to Mostly False.
The Washington Post also presented both sides of the issue when the subject was Hillary Clinton.  The column was a Volokh Conspiracy Opinion: “Is the Emoluments Clause a problem for Hillary Clinton?” by Jonathan H. Adler for September 23, 2016. But Adler only pointed to another debate between two Case-Western Reserve law professors, Jonathan Entin and Erik Jensen. Their exchange ran in the Cleveland Plain Dealer and is archived on
  • The corrosive influence of 'presents' from foreign governments per the Emoluments Clause: Erik M. Jensen (Opinion) Updated on September 23, 2016 at 5:15 AM Posted on September 23, 2016 at 5:13 AM (here) 
  • Hillary Clinton's eligibility to be president is clear, despite the Emoluments Clause: Jonathan L. Entin (Opinion). Updated on September 23, 2016 at 5:14 AM Posted on September 23, 2016 at 5:13 AM (here
It is true that the businesses common to most US presidents have been military service and the law and, of course, elected office. Most were notoriously bad at business, which is why they went into politics.  Few had extensive business holdings. Standing as an exception to that, Nelson Rockefeller sought the Presidency in 1960 and 1964. He was appointed Vice President in 1974.  In response to current news about President Trump, Time magazine resurrected some of the controversy from its archives. (See here.)  

And, yet, the focus back then was only on the wealth itself, not any alleged foreign ties, though of course, they had to exist with his shares of Standard Oil and Chase Manhattan Bank. The same lacuna appeared (or failed to appear) in discussions about Steve Forbes or H. Ross Perot.

And what of the 200 military orders and decorations that American soldiers have received from 63 foreign governments? (Wikipedia here. )

"The United Nations and NATO are transnational governments that have awarded decorations to American soldiers.  Acceptance of the medals of other international multilateral organizations finally came with Executive Order 11446 in 1969. Acceptance of these international decorations must be approved by not only the Secretary of Defense, but also the Secretary of State." --  (Wikipedia here.)  It remains that neither the Secretary of Defense, nor the Secretary of State are the Congress, which, by law, is the only authority that can allow such gifts. 

The problem is not that President Trump accepted a few tens of thousands of dollars and a gold medal for discovering a new element. The problem is not that a foreign government awarded President Trump a medal for bravery.  The problem is that he profits from a transnational corporation, as do the Clintons, among many other people. Whether or not those dealings are grants of nobility or other emoluments has never been settled by legislation. Even a Supreme Court ruling could not take the question off the floor of Congress. That is the subject of the suit by 188 Democrat Party legislators (here). They are demanding that the courts order the matter back to Congress, itself a curious maneuver in American politics. 

"To redress that injury, Plaintiffs seek declaratory relief establishing that Defendant violates the Constitution when he accepts any monetary or nonmonetary benefit—any “present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever”—from a foreign state without first obtaining “the Consent of the Congress.” Plaintiffs also seek injunctive relief ordering Defendant not to accept any such benefits from a foreign state without first obtaining “the Consent of the Congress.” (Filing here.)

Article I. Section 9 of the U.S. Constitution says:  No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.  

That restriction came from the original Articles of Confederation. 

Article VI.  No State, without the consent of the United States in Congress assembled, shall send any embassy to, or receive any embassy from, or enter into any conference, agreement, alliance or treaty with any King, Prince or State; nor shall any person holding any office of profit or trust under the United States, or any of them, accept any present, emolument, office or title of any kind whatever from any King, Prince or foreign State; nor shall the United States in Congress assembled, or any of them, grant any title of nobility.

 Equality and independence are deeply complementary aspects of American culture. We treat the President as an equal because we expect him to be independent.

Previously on Necessary Facts
Libraries of the Founders
Why Democracy is Difficult
The Syrian Quagmire
Wolf Devoon

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Crimes Against Logic: Exposing Bogus Arguments

The author calls this “a troubleshooting guide” similar to the owner’s manual of a car or computer. “It is aimed at everyday users and consumers of reasoning…” It certainly meets that measure. The main thrust is on failures of right reason such as inconsistency, equivocation, and begging the question. The author also reveals false claims, principally phony statistics.

Before moving into financial consulting and electioneering for the open market in his homeland of New Zealand, Jamie Whyte completed master’s and doctor’s degrees in  philosophy at Cambridge University (Wikipedia here).  You can find some of his essays archived at the Cobden Centre here. The Centre is named for the successful manufacturer and proponent of laissez-faire in early 19th century Britain, Richard Cobden.  His writings are archived at the Online Library of Liberty here.

In formal terms, Jamie Whyte is an objectivist, a strict rational-empiricist whose logically consistent statements explain experiential facts. This book is his attack on some of the people who fail to meet either standard.
Crimes Against Logic: Exposing the Bogus Arguments
of Politicians, Priests, Journalists, and Other Serial Offenders

by Jamie Whyte. (McGraw-Hill 2004, 157 pages.)
Google Books has an extract of the first chapter
on why you do not have a right to your opinion, here
The first crime that Whyte investigates is the claim that you have a right to your opinion. No such right exists. Whyte points out that this assertion is founded on an ambiguity. You do have a political right to an opinion. However, that is not to be confused with the epistemic right to an opinion. The epistemic right to an opinion, says Whyte, is similar to the right to boast. Just as you first must achieve something worthy of boasting, so, too, is the “right” to an opinion earned by correctly identifying facts and then explaining them rationally. When someone retreats by claiming that they have a “right” their opinion, they are actually admitting that they are wrong, or at the very least, they can present no reasons and facts to support their assertions.

In the chapter “Prejudice in Fancy Dress” Whyte demolishes Pascal’s Wager and several other examples including Faith and Mystery. The subhead “But Still” examines calls for the acceptance of ignorance. This is actually a variant of the non-existent right to an opinion. Yes, the facts are on your side. Yes, your argument is logical. But still I prefer my prejudices.

The chapter “Shut Up!” scrutinizes several ways that those losing an argument seek to cut off debate by silencing their opponent. Well-known facts are boring. That a claim can be countered with a boring fact in no way mitigates the strength of the contrary assertion. That a boring fact has been marshaled is especially strong, as it points to a clear violation by the party demanding that the other shut up. 

Under the subhead “Shut Up, You Sound Like Hitler” Whyte calls mass murder “something of a lottery.”  He tells of being in a Lenin Bar in Auckland, “decorated with red stars and black and white images of the great Communist leader.”  Hitler bars, he notes, seem to be in short supply. 

In the chapter on “Empty Words” Whyte goes into some depth on the use and abuse of sneer quotes. His example focuses on post-modernist philosopher Imr√© Lakatos. When you say that my “facts” are in dispute, it is clear from the quotes that you do not believe my claims to be facts. Whyte says that in discussing the work of physicist A. A. Michelson, Lakotos’s excessive use of sneer quotes reveals that he believes knowledge to be impossible because facts are non-existent. This is not unique to one philosopher. Whyte calls the abuse of quotes a hallmark of post-modernist academic writing.

Implied Generalizations slip into discussions – and usually slip by unchallenged. Whyte offers a bald example. When a Christian says that homosexuality should be illegal because it is condemned in the Bible, that is an implied generalization because the Bible condemns many things, including the use of cotton-polyester blends. Backing off from making illegal the use of mixed fabrics (also working on the Sabbath and eating shellfish) then leads to an inconsistency. Whyte also offers a mundane example in Tony Blair’s active campaigning against fox hunting while insisting that other forms of hunting (including fishing) would never be proscribed by his government. Why not?  The implied generalization is that cruel sports are wrong. The resultant inconsistency is that some are acceptable after all.

The chapter “Begging the Question” is subtle and deep. Most of this book was fun to read and I had little difficulty relating to the material. Whyte is a good writer. His topic is compelling. His examples are from everyday experience. However, I read “Begging the Question” three times through and made close notes all along. It paid off well. Whyte sets up a debate in which libertarian Jack calls for an end to regulations. Socialist Jill claims that this would lead to mass poverty. In fact, Jill is begging the question. Jack’s position is that property rights are absolute. Rather than accepting the premise, Jill needs to address it by first showing that property rights are not absolute. Whyte then offers a longer discussion on tolerance. When a Christian fundamentalist asserts that abortion is murder, the response is not, “If you believe that, then do not have an abortion, but neither should you interfere with the rights of others to have them.”  Substitute the word “murder” for “abortion” and you can see that the plea for tolerance only begs the question: Is abortion murder or not? 

You will find discussions of false statistics, weasel words, hurrah words, morality fever, coincidences, and more. It is easily true that no one likes to be contradicted, but that is one way that we discover the truth. As Whyte points out, when you are crossing the street in the false belief that there are no cars coming, you don’t mind being contradicted. Intransigent devotion to the truth is always in your best interest.
(An earlier version appeared under Books on the Rebirth of Reason discussion site for September 3, 2008,  here.)  


Saturday, June 3, 2017

From Joint Force to Unified Command

No one asked me, but I believe that eventually the armed forces of the United States will become a single entity. Different services from the component down to the fire team will maintain identity and special esprit de corps. However, the uniforms and ranks will be unified, and all will share one name: the United States Armed Forces. The unarmed military forces – the Public Health Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – will continue apart from them, perhaps until the time when Earth benefits from a common government.
Marine Corps "Fat Albert" rocket-assisted take-off, one of the
Navy's "Blue Angels" team. (left) US Army C-12 Huron (right). 
We are already moving in that direction with the concept of the joint force. And it is nothing new. It is a common quip that the Army has more boats than the Navy and more aircraft than the Air Force.  It not quite true, but it does underscore the fact that all of the services have operated their own cross-environmental platforms. This probably originated with the Battle of Myle (260 BCE). The Romans defeated the Carthaginians when they changed a sea battle into a land battle by dropping planks so that their soldiers could cross onto the enemy ships.
US Armed Forces as a whole must be multi-mission capable; interoperable among all elements of US Services and selected foreign militaries; and able to coordinate operations with other agencies of government, and some civil institutions.Multi-Mission Capable. Our forces must be proficient in their core warfighting competencies and able to transition smoothly from a peacetime posture to swift execution of multiple missions across the full spectrum of operations. …
 Some situations demand the unique capabilities of only one Service, but most will call for capabilities from all Services. The skillful and selective combination of Service capabilities into Joint Task Forces provides US commanders great flexibility in tailoring forces to meet national objectives given specific circumstances.
US Air Force Boats. The "Tyndall Navy" has provided electronic
support of missile tests since 1957. The USAF also floats
the Rising Star, a Thule-class tugboat.
 Joint Base San Antonio (JBSA) is a United States military facility located in San Antonio, Texas, USA. The facility is under the jurisdiction of the United States Air Force 502d Air Base Wing, Air Education and Training Command (AETC). The wing's three Mission Support Groups perform the installation support mission at the three bases that form JBSA.

The facility is a Joint Base of the United States Army Fort Sam Houston, the United States Air Force Randolph Air Force Base ,Lackland Air Force Base and Martindale Army Airfield , which were merged on 1 October 2010.
Joint Base Charleston … is a United States military facility located partly in the City of North Charleston, South Carolina and partly in the City of Goose Creek, South Carolina . The facility is under the jurisdiction of the United States Air Force 628th Air Base Wing, Air Mobility Command (AMC). The facility is an amalgamation of the United States Air Force Charleston Air Force Base and the United States Navy Naval Support Activity Charleston, which were merged on 1 October 2010.
US Army's Spearhead theater support vessel (TSV).
Commissioned 2002-2005. One of 127,793 Army vessels.
 WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Oct. 2, 2009) -- An Army installation in New Jersey and two in Virginia officially transformed Thursday to become part of new joint bases.
 Near the nation's capital, the Fort Myer Military Community joined forces with the Marine Corps' Henderson Hall, Va., to form Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall. The Army will manage installation functions there. The new joint base also includes Fort McNair in the District of Columbia.
 In central New Jersey, Fort Dix combined forces with Naval Air Engineering Station Lakehurst and McGuire Air Force Base to form Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst. At the new "super base," the Air Force will run installation management operations, acting as a sort of city manager to control basic infrastructure functions.
 Finally, in southern Virginia, Fort Story joined up with Naval Mid-Atlantic Region at Naval Station Norfolk to form Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story, with installation management provided by the Navy.