30 October 2013


Best thing on the internet today: This compilation of images based on topographical data of Mars taken from two years of flyovers by a European satellite (h/t Nature Magazine website)(seriously, get the bigger HD version):

(even the space-age electronic Andean flute soundtrack is kinda' cool)

Other inter/n/ether©® places I've spent time on instead of revising my novel:

25 Killer Websites that Make You Cleverer

Marketing Libertarianism (to Dupes on the Right and the Left):(which doesn't [make you cleverer])

The other best thing on/in the inter/n/ether: Did you see this? The "Culture Minister" from the Vatican tweeted lyrics from the Lou Reed song "Perfect Day".

Thus, more VU:

27 October 2013

Sunday Morning

It had to be on Sunday Morning. No?

Lou Reed, founding member of The Velvet Underground, was visited by the Black Angel this morning. Dead at the age of 71.

Nothing. Nothing. Nothing like VU. Nothin' at all.

25 October 2013

Theology De-mythologized

Here is everything you need to know about the four major Western religions in a nutshell:

Moses (most likely 1391–1271 BCE), a member of the royal family in pharoahnic Egypt, organized a slave revolt, liberated the enslaved populace, and established them as a unitary, theocratic nation with a code of laws which governed the actions of kings as well as subjects.

Siddhartha Gautama (most likely 563 - 483 BCE), aka the Buddha, a high-born prince from what is now Nepal, renounced his worldly possessions and family and inheritance once he became conscious of the suffering of the poor and outcast.

Jesus (most likely 2 BCE - 30 CE), aka the Christ, a Middle Eastern rural carpenter's son, took the criminal rap for his friends and family and sacrificed his own life, suffering a brutal execution at the hands of the state, for their sakes.

Muhammad (570 - 632), a merchant from the Arabian peninsula, raised an army and conquered and unified an unruly, polytheistic, pagan tribal region under a unified code of behavior and devotion to a single god.

There is a lot of gobbledy gook surrounding these persons and events—myths and scriptures and teachings and doctrines and interpretations and factions and whatnot—but what it all boils down to is this: militarism and legalism are the key themes in the founding myths of Judaism and Islam; self-sacrifice and empathy for the suffering of others are central to the origins of Buddhism and Christianity.

FN. I realize Buddhism is not strictly a Western religion, but it is 'major' in the West.

21 October 2013

Some Ill Snaps for Your Delectation, Yo!? Eh?

I'm back from Ontario with promised pics. As always, click pic to embiggen slideshow, mouse over individual pics for secret message!

First group is from Algonquin Provincial Park in Northern Ontario. It's not the farthest North I've ever been, but if you drew a straight line from where I'm standing in that first pic to the North Pole you probably would not hit a single human settlement.

Inviting Path into Algonquin Provincial Park
Rapids on trail to High Falls, A.P.P. 
More 'Things Growing on Other Things'
Path got a little tricky, so Jim H. had to clear the way
Loved the composition, textures, colors, shapes, movement—everything about this shot
Pleasant Canadian Woodland Scene
I think this sign means 'Be on the Lookout for Canucks with Funny Headwear'
You'll just have to guess where this is
Dramatic view of Bridal Veil Falls from the upper deck of the Maid of the Mist
Light, shade, contrast, perspective, texture, drama: Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner!
Dig that dramatic sky!
Raw Power! Up Close! 
Speaking of water features! {Translations encouraged in the Comments!}
Toronto Black Nutkin!

15 October 2013

Time Out

Taking a few days off from the fever dream that is this interwebs thingy of ours for a family occasion. Where I'm going I'm liable to be 'Helpless' to log on. (Hint. Hint.) LOLWUT? Amazeballs pics probs to follow upon my return. In the meantime, pleeze don't turn this place into the damn Banana Republic of Tejas! Keep the Cruz/Perry/Gohmert caudillos manqué at bay!!

14 October 2013

This Week in Water

Waterblogging time again:

As many as 12 million people have been or will be affected by Cyclone Phailin, a "very severe" Category 5 tropical cyclone, that swept through the Western Pacific Basin and hit Thailand, Myanmar, Nepal, and India.

Heavy rains and flooding have forced mass evacuations and stranded many more on the Mexican Pacific Coast around Acapulco.

Searchers are still looking for survivors of a shipwreck of a smuggler's boat off the coast of Malta. At least 34 people have been reported killed.

Massive quantities of water heavily contaminated with radioactive fluids are pouring into the Pacific Ocean off Fukushima over two years after the nuclear accident there. Many are calling for a global takeover of remediation efforts, but TEPCO and the Japanese government have been recalcitrant. The threat of an out-of-control disaster of potentially global consequence still looms.

In Japan, research has shown that the number of suicides increases after several days of rainy weather.

It is not only global warming that is destroying sea life. Increased acidification is proving to be a double whammy for the worlds oceans.

The current rate of acidification is unparalleled in at least the last 300 million years. The proverbial canary in the oceanic coal mine is krill. This from the International Programme on the State of the Oceans, or IPSO.

The dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico covers up to 6000-7000 square miles at the base of the Mississippi Delta.

Officials at the Vancouver Aquarium are increasingly 'alarmed' at the mass die-off of starfish on the ocean floor.

The U.N. aims to complete its first World Ocean Assessment sometime next year. Current ocean monitoring regimes are insufficiently comprehensive to evaluate the range and depth of stressors on the oceanic ecosystems on a global basis. Watch this space for more.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has released its findings on the impact of global warming. [Click through for the science] Following are some of its conclusions with respect to water issues:
"Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia. The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, sea level has risen, and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased...
"Ocean warming dominates the increase in energy stored in the climate system, accounting for more than 90% of the energy accumulated between 1971 and 2010 ... It is virtually certain that the upper ocean (0−700 m) warmed from 1971 to 2010 ..., and it likely warmed between the 1870s and 1971...
"Over the last two decades, the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have been losing mass, glaciers have continued to shrink almost worldwide, and Arctic sea ice and Northern Hemisphere spring snow cover have continued to decrease in extent...
"The rate of sea level rise since the mid-19th century has been larger than the mean rate during the previous two millennia .... Over the period 1901–2010, global mean sea level rose by 0.19 [0.17 to 0.21] m...
"The atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2), methane, and nitrous oxide have increased to levels unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years. CO2 concentrations have increased by 40% since pre-industrial times, primarily from fossil fuel emissions and secondarily from net land use change emissions. The ocean has absorbed about 30% of the emitted anthropogenic carbon dioxide, causing ocean acidification...
"Human influence has been detected in warming of the atmosphere and the ocean, in changes in the global water cycle, in reductions in snow and ice, in global mean sea level rise, and in changes in some climate extremes ... This evidence for human influence has grown since AR4. It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century...
"Changes in the global water cycle in response to the warming over the 21st century will not be uniform. The contrast in precipitation between wet and dry regions and between wet and dry seasons will increase, although there may be regional exceptions...
"The global ocean will continue to warm during the 21st century. Heat will penetrate from the surface to the deep ocean and affect ocean circulation... 
"It is very likely that the Arctic sea ice cover will continue to shrink and thin and that Northern Hemisphere spring snow cover will decrease during the 21st century as global mean surface temperature rises. Global glacier volume will further decrease...
"Global mean sea level will continue to rise during the 21st century ... Under all RCP scenarios the rate of sea level rise will very likely exceed that observed during 1971–2010 due to increased ocean warming and increased loss of mass from glaciers and ice sheets...
"Climate change will affect carbon cycle processes in a way that will exacerbate the increase of CO2 in the atmosphere ... Further uptake of carbon by the ocean will increase ocean acidification." (h/t Peter Glieck)
Bottom line: according to the IPCC, global warming is happening at unprecedented rates and it is unequivocally primarily human-caused. This is having devastating effects on ocean temperatures and acidification, sea levels, polar ice sheets, glaciers, water cycles and seasons, precipitation, drought, monsoons, floods, etc..

That's enough to absorb for now. There were also a number of positive and other interesting developments. I'll have more later.

10 October 2013

A Dangerous Game

Let's start with some basic principles.

Basic principle #1: If you borrow $100 for 1 year at 2% interest per annum, you will be required to pay $102 back at the end of the term. This is basic finance.

Basic principle #2: The United States government borrows money to meet its obligations by issuing Treasury Bonds at a certain price yielding a certain interest rate for a certain term. They are considered as good as, or even better than, gold.

A quick word about the pricing of these debt instruments. As the price of a Treasury Bond goes up, the interest rate goes down. Conversely, as the Bond's price goes down, the rate it pays goes up.

This seems counterintuitive. It seems like it should be the case that if the interest rate goes up then the price should go up. Like someone would pay more for a bond with higher interest. But that is not the case. Pricing of bonds has to do with volatility and security. The stabler and more secure the company/country which issues a bond, the lower the interest rate the borrower is required to pay.

Currently, U.S. Treasury bonds pay negative interest. You read that right: negative interest! Try to buy one. That means lenders actually pay money to loan the United States money. The U.S. can borrow $100 for 1 year at approximately -1% interest. That means that after the term, the U.S. only has to pay back $99 of the $100 it borrowed. That's how stable and secure the rest of the planet views the U.S. and its debt offerings.

Basic principle #3: As a borrower, it's always better to pay it back with cheaper money. That is to say, for debtors, inflation is actually a good thing. If dollars are cheaper at the end of the term, then the borrower can actually earn even more money by going into debt.

For example, let's say on Jan. 1, I borrow $100 for a term of one year. Further, that same  $100 will buy me 50 ingots of unobtainium on Jan. 1. Now imagine that by Dec. 31, the day I have to repay that loan, inflation has hit, the dollar has devalued, and that same $100 will now buy only 49 unobtainium ingots. That is to say, if on Jan. 1 I borrow $100 and buy 50 ingots then on Dec. 31 I only have to sell 49 of those same ingots to repay the loan. I've made a profit of 1 ingot on my money. And that's not even factoring in interest—which, if it's negative, further increases my earnings AS A BORROWER.

Now, when you ramp up these principles to a national scale, borrowing trillions of dollars, you get a sense of the stakes in the current debt ceiling issue.

The U.S. is indebted to China to the tune of trillions of dollars. The Chinese have been investing in Treasuries, loaning us money, parking their money in the safest instruments in the world.

We are paying interest to the Chinese for all the money we've borrowed since 2002 when Pres. Geo. W. Bush re-started issuing U.S. bonds to pay for his Afghanistan and Iraq adventures, his tax cuts, his reorganization and expansion of Federal government (esp. Homeland Security), his increasing use of government contractors, and his Medicare prescription drug reform, among other things. Recall, after Pres. Bill Clinton balanced the budget, the U.S. government stopped borrowing money, i.e., stopped issuing Treasuries, in or around 1997. Did you know that?

If the U.S. threatens to default on its loans by Congressional failure to raise the debt ceiling, it will cause the markets to perceive more volatility and insecurity in its obligations. The U.S. will cease paying interest on its debt. As noted, this will cause the interest rate on future issues of U.S. Treasury Bonds to increase and, concomitantly, the price of their issuance to decline. In other words, the U.S. will be selling its debt for less while at the same time having to pay a higher rate of interest. Rating agencies will downgrade the U.S.'s bond rating.

Disaster, right? Not necessarily.

This happened the last time this threat presented, so we have a precedent upon which to draw. It wasn't as disastrous as it could have because the volatility and insecurity in the rest of the world (competing credit markets) was even greater due to, among other things, the vicious world-wide recession at the time. The world markets turned to U.S. credit despite its increased volatility and instability only because of its stability and security with respect to the rest of the market. That was one mitigating factor at the time and may come into play this time. That 'flight-to-safety' effect, however, cannot be assumed.

You don't have to read far or deeply into the news to discover the sorts of disastrous results a U.S. debt default from failing to raise the debt ceiling could have on both the domestic and global economies. Some economists say it could dwarf the effects of Hurricane Sandy, Lehman Brothers' collapse, and even 9/11. And then there are always the 'unknown unknowns', the unintended consequences that even the greatest economic strategists cannot foresee.

But something ailing, generous blogbuddy BDR said a few days back struck a chord. Quoting Star Trek, he wrote: "But it is true that I will miss the arguments. They were, finally, all that we had." All we have is the argument.

Is there some benefit to be gained from this constant bickering over this debt ceiling—and, in fact, the government shutdown?

"How can that be?" you might well ask. Well, factor this into your calculations: The number one customer of U.S. debt is not the Chinese, it is we, the U.S.A. Americans. An enormous proportion of U.S. debt is owed from the Treasury, which issues debt, to the Federal Reserve and the Social Security trust, among others. This is the policy called 'quantitative easing'.
"[All told] Foreign governments and investors hold 48% of the nation's public debt. The next largest part (21%) is held by other [U.S.] governmental entities, like the Federal Reserve and state and local governments. Fifteen percent is held by mutual funds, private pension funds, savings bonds or individual Treasury notes. The rest (16%) is held by businesses, like banks, and insurance companies and a mish-mash of trusts, businesses and investors."
Bet you didn't know that!

What does that mean? If interest rates go up and the price of Treasuries declines as a result of threats of a default, the U.S. Treasury will be forced to borrow money at a higher interest rate and sell its bonds at a lower price. But, as by far the largest single purchaser, other areas of our government—the Fed, Social Security, etc.—will be paying a lower price for those same instruments and receiving a higher rate of interest. 

We, as both borrower and lender, stand to gain on either side of the equation. It will balance out domestically. Our foreign creditors, the Chinese and Japanese, do not stand to be so 'lucky'.

Also inflation. As interest rates go up, it will have an inflationary effect on the U.S. dollar. That is to say, we will be paying back our foreign creditors, in particular, the Chinese, in cheaper dollars—giving them the equivalent of fewer unobtainium ingots. Thereby further reducing Chinese leverage over our economy.

So, is all this wrangling and posturing merely a grand kabuki (or its Chinese equivalent) on the part of both parties intended to talk down our foreign debt?

I'm not suggesting a conspiracy, mind you. But the interests of the U.S. government are paramount for both the executive and legislative branches. Their actions may, in fact, be furthering those interests. Meaning, of course, even in its dysfunction, the government is actually somehow managing to further its own interests.

Of course, U.S. debt is the gold standard for world finance. And this chaos in the Treasury markets could roil the world economy. That could have other and possibly unintended consequences which I am in no position to evaluate. I am, after all, no economist.

But the question remains—assuming the panjandrums have gamed the whole thing out—do the dire consequences to the world economy outweigh the potential domestic advantage to be gained by all these money-juggling monkeyshines in reducing Chinese leverage over our economy?

It's a dangerous game. Gambling on the stability of the world economy. Threatening a global collapse of potentially catastrophic proportions. Worrying that the partisan adversaries will know when and how to stop the game of chicken once the finances and economics have been sufficiently economically jiggered. But it might just explain this whole "seeming" fiasco.

09 October 2013

That to Which Lately I Have Been Up

If you find yourself asking "What's Jim H been up to lately?", I'm here to tell you. Deep in the cultural wasteland that is the American South, October has been a surprisingly busy month for me.

Saw the Patriots pretty much dismantle the Falcons on Sunday Night Football.

Sat right behind Bob Costas and the on-field crew
Saw Clayton Kershaw dominate the Braves. Got a sad.

Nothing more exciting than October baseball.
Saw Philip Glass (sorry, no pics) introduce Paul Schrader's film Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters, for which he composed the soundtrack. Saw it when it first came out in NYC in like 1985 or 1986. Remarkable how much I could recall after, what?, nearly 30 years. Here it is in full:

Attended opening night of the Atlanta Opera's presentation of Puccini's Tosca. Hadn't been to the opera in years. Used to go once or twice a year in NYC.

Here's a taste:

Spent the day with His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama—along with another 8000 or so. He's a Distinguished Professor here at Emory University and gets down here every three years. Dude is a rock star. Topic was secular ethics. One panel he presided over included a couple of real heavy hitters: Franz de Waal whose work with Bonobos and chimps has uncovered surprising politics and even empathy and moral feeling among primates. Is doing for moral sentiment what Chomsky did for language—it's hard-wired, not learned. And Richard Davidson who has done research suggesting that infants humans are hard-wired to prefer generosity and helpfulness, and that compassion meditation (a Tibetan Buddhist thing, as opposed to contemplative meditation) produces neurological changes, causes people to extend their circles of friends and intensify the ones they have, and brings about a greater sense of well-being and, in fact, physical health. The Lama is giggly and awfully cute—for a theocrat, nonetheless a benign one. His heart's in the right place, though.

Oh, yeah "Gunga la gunga." Striking. Big hitter, the Lama.

Plus, gratuitous Sasha snaps.
If I weighed about 70 or 80 pounds more, I'd be eating you now.
Toy? What toy?
Oh, and thanks, you Bruces, for the Comments to my last post. Much appreciated!

Bonus: "He say name go in book."

07 October 2013

World, Thing, Case, Is, The

"The world is all that is the case." Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus.

With one deceptively simple sentence, a proposition really, Wittgenstein sets the course for much of Twentieth Century philosophy. What does he accomplish here? Let's take a look.

The form of Wittgenstein's proposition is this: {x is P}, where 'x' is 'the world', and 'P' is the entire set of things that are the case. Of the things that are the case, the world is all of them. In such a formulation, P is predicated of x. For there to be a world, there must first be at least one thing that is the case. And if we find something to be the case, then it is necessarily included in that world.

But what is the meaning of this statement? What sort of world does Wittgenstein envision here? What can we glean from an analysis of these eight single-syllable words? There's really nothing in this sentence that a rudimentary reader of the English language would have trouble reading. And at first face, upon reading it, most readers might very well think they understand it and move on to the next sentence.

Before moving on, it will pay to analyze this statement. What assumptions does it entail, what conclusions does it imply? We can learn quite a great deal about the young Wittgenstein's philosophy by taking this one proposition apart and, in the process, get a taste of how philosophers read and think about things.

You wouldn't know it from a cursory reading, but Wittgenstein essentially gives the game away with his very first word: 'the'. He doesn't say 'A world is all that is the case.' or 'One of many worlds...' He says 'THE world'. Implying there is one unitary reality which he then proceeds to name 'world'. There is A reality. One reality. Not many and not none. There is something out there which just is THE world. It is something around which philosophers, or at least readers of his treatise, can unify.

A world is a thing, and there is one and, by implication, only one of them. We shall have to read on to see how he defines and delimits this world, for this is the aim of the proposition. To wit: to indicate how, in philosophy at least, this 'world' can be formed. If there is a world (and Witttgenstein asserts there is so long as something is the case), it is comprised of the entirety of things that are the case. If something is indeed determined to be the case, everything that is the case therefore constitutes the world.

There is no 'my world' and 'your world' nor is there some lesser world subordinate to a greater world. In science, for example, the most powerful theoretical view is the one that comprises the greatest number of verifiable statements about the reality under observation. More powerful theories supersede lesser explanatory theories. For Wittgenstein, by contrast, THE world exists. It is independent of our knowledge of it, and it contains everything that can possibly be the case. If we discover something to be the case that previously we did not know to be the case, this does not alter THE world. It merely increases our knowledge of THE world.

The 'is' in Wittgenstein's statement is formally a copulative and a powerful one at that, inextricably linking the subject with its predicate. Identifying them for once and for all.

But it accomplishes far more than this. It insists not only that this unitary world exists but that it has substance. The world IS. It exists as the totality of everything that is the case. And then he proposes to tell us of what that world is constituted.

What, then, is the substance of this Wittgensteinian world? Why, of the things that are the case, it is all of them. Now, what can we infer from his use of this locution 'is the case'?

The predicate 'is the case' is philosophical jargon meaning 'true', or more specifically 'logically true'. If you ever studied symbolic logic, you learned about truth tables—variables, operations, connectors, etc. Logical propositions are always either true or false.

If we say that it is the case that 'grass is green', then we mean that if we go out an look at a patch of grass we will all agree that it is green. Or, technically, 'grass is green' is true if and only if grass is green.

[There is not space here to discuss 'greenness', nor is it implied in Wittgenstein's seminal proposition. I'll save that for another day.]

Truth and is-the-caseness, though, are values ascribed to propositions. This is very important in philosophy. Truth is not something that exists in reality. Rather it is a value we give to propositions.

Technically speaking, truth does not exist in Wittgenstein's 'world'. Rather, it is the qualifying quality of the things ('is-the-caseness') that ultimately go to make up THE world. But what exactly are the sorts of things that make up this world? This is where it gets interesting (for philosophers, at least).

Things like grass and greenness do not exist in Wittgenstein's world if we read him aright.

For example, we don't say 'grass is the case', or 'grass is true'. Nor do we say 'green is the case', or 'green is true'. Those plant blade thingies that sprout up from the ground and are often found in people's yards and have appearance of greenness (except maybe in winter or in drought) are not the sort of thing that goes to make up Wittgenstein's world.

Moreover, we don't say grass is green is the case, rather we say 'grass is green' is the case. Is-the-caseness, in this instance, has nothing to do with grass or greenness; it has to do with the mapping of the proposition 'grass is green' to the color of the grass. If the proposition can be demonstrated to map onto things, then it is case and it goes to make up the world.

We might, thus, say there is some grass over there and it has the aspect of greenness. Thus, 'the grass is green' is one of things of which we might say that it is the case. 'The grass is green' gives us, to use Wittgenstein's term, a picture of reality.

The Tractarian world comprises all and only those statements that are true. It is, in a sense, a picture world. A linguistic, or languaged, model of the world. This seems to be what Wittgenstein is saying here. He is not making an assertion about the rocks and seas and stars and people in what we normally think of as the physical reality we all inhabit.

Rather, he is making an assertion about a technical, philosophical world, a picture world of true propositions which, ideally, in the best of all possible worlds, map precisely and completely onto the normal world of rocks and birds and plants and things, etc. And, according to him, there is only one such world, the one which contains ALL of these true propositions.

In other words, we cannot make any headway in making complete and coherent systems of philosophy if we are dealing with the so-called real world, the sensory world of things. We must make ourselves a picture, a precisely circumscribed and accurate model that we can deal with linguistically, that is to say whose axioms and rules we can delineate, a model that contains all and only those propositions we can demonstrate to be true. A complete picture of reality.

Thus, to know the world is to know all possible true propositional statements about that world. To understand it is to be able to generate all true propositions from a given set of axioms and rules. This is what we can glean from an analysis of this one simple statement. Esoteric enough for you? Ready to move on to the second sentence of the book?

It's fair to say that Wittgenstein achieves here what novelists, poets, and other artists seek to accomplish via their works, namely the creation of a world. Here, he takes the opportunity in this prefatory statement to his Tractatus to define the precise parameters of this world.

This is what we can take away from that first sentence. It is, of course, subject to correction, and if Wittgenstein is any sort of philosopher (which he is!), he will address and explain everything we've inferred from it.

This is how philosophers think. They set up precise, technical definitions of the terms they use and operate within those limits. Terms like 'being', 'reality', 'existence', 'world', 'mind', 'knowledge', 'meaning', 'truth', 'beauty', 'freedom', and etc., and etc. all have very circumscribed meanings in philosophical discourse, quite unlike the sort of loosey-goosey way we throw terms about in our day-to-day discussions. In fact, much of philosophical dialogue revolves around making sure the conversants are not talking past each other. Making sure they are agreed on the precise technical meanings, limits, and uses of the terms they are bandying about and about which they are debating. In this, philosophy is different from other forms of discourse.

Wittgenstein's world-making, of course, raises a whole set of problems, some of which he is at pains to decide in the Tractatus. For example, such a proposition begs the question whether there is a real world independent of our knowledge of it—or, our statements about it. That is to say, we have the ontology of the world, everything included in it (i.e., everything that is the case), but we simply lack the foundational wherewithal to determine whether Wittgenstein's Tractarian world completely and coherently captures reality.

The Wittgensteinian world seems set, fixed. This is signaled by the power of 'is'. In his world, can a proposition that was once true cease being true? Can a proposition that once was not-the-case ever become the case? Do new true propositions emerge? Do old true propositions ever fade away?

How do we know that the Tractarian world contains every possible true proposition? If this world includes all and only those propositions that are true, then, by implication, it excludes all and only those propositions that are not true. But can we conceive of propositions that are neither true nor false, and in such an instance should they be included in this world or excluded from it? Are there propositions that are both the case and not the case, and does the world include or exclude them?

Are there aspects of the world that are not susceptible to languaged propositions? That is to say, is the language of propositions all powerful? Is it capable of determining all possible worlds?

What do we do about undecidable propositions? For example, does the Tractarian world contain the statement 'The world is all that is the case'? That is to say, in the Tractarian world is there any way ever to know whether this proposition is or is not the case? Is "'The world is all that is the case' is the case" determinably true or false? There seems to be no way to decide this question in the Tractarian world.

Why do we need these sorts of specialized, technical terminologies and models? What about everyday language and speech? Don't carpenters and business people and politicians and others effectively communicate without resort to all this recursive, semantic, meta-linguistic nit-picking?

Some of these intractable problems (and, of course, others) ultimately caused Wittgenstein to abandon this attempt at articulating the basic principles of a systematic philosophy. This came about in his later book, the only other book he completed and published during his lifetime, Philosophical Investigations.

Confused? Welcome to the world of Philosophy where sometimes being wrong can be a very valuable exercise. It's not that you're wrong that matters, it's how you're wrong.

05 October 2013

Diver Down: The Forbidden Isle, Pt. 6

Once again, I've lapsed. Shied away from completing my Hawai'i adventure story. And, again, I apologize—especially to mistah charley, ph.d. who seems to have taken a real interest in this tale. This post should wrap it up. Here are the previous five parts, in, of course, blog order, if you need to refresh or catch up.

Now, where were we?

We left off with our increasingly desperate boat load of scuba divers scanning the waters of the Pacific Ocean around Lehua, off the coast of Ni'hau, some 17 miles from Kaua'i, Hawaii, looking for a missing diver, Doug. Our captain had enlisted the crew of a nearby charter catamaran filled with snorkeling, picnicking tourists, the only boat within miles, to help in our search. Wisdaughter and Wisdoc and I were sitting with Doug's newlywed wife. Dive masters, including my son Wisdomie, had been down several times scouring the dive site and down-current underwater spots.

A couple of hours had passed since Doug had disappeared—at around 10:00 a.m.—on what was to have been the first of three dives that day. That was when we spotted the Coast Guard helicopter, bright red, above. I pointed it out to Doug's wife, and she seemed relieved. Hope had arrived. Circling low, it could cover far more territory than our two boats.

Shortly thereafter, a rescue boat made its way across the channel from Kaua'i, a two-hour journey. This was sometime between noon and 1:00 p.m. And for the next hour or so, the helicopter and three boats executed a co-ordinated search of the waters around and down-current from Lehua. But, as the moments wore on, our hope in locating Doug waned. I knew that, and Doug's wife knew that.

Around 2:00, we got word that the tourist catamaran had to abandon the search and return its passengers to Kaua'i. The crew offered to transport us back. Our boat could not give up its search, but there was nothing much the rest of us could do. Wisdomie and I talked about staying aboard the dive boat, he because of his rescue diving prowess and I, I just thought I could be of comfort to Doug's wife. She, however, convinced me to go ahead. She thought about coming as well, but decided she needed to stay with the dive boat crew—even though hope was fading.

We put our towels and cameras in garbage bags, cinched them tight, held them above our heads, and one-by-one swam across to the catamaran. I was the last one into the water. I gave Doug's wife a hug. She cried for a moment on my shoulder. I was at a complete loss for words. There was nothing I could say that wouldn't be false or trite or even hurtful. I simply held her for a moment. I could not begin to understand what she was feeling.

At last I had to go. I jumped in. The water felt soothing and cool after four plus hours in the sun. The swim across was not as easy as it sounds. As the day had worn on, the convection effect of the heat had made the swells much higher. Climbing aboard took some effort and, more importantly, timing. You don't want a large metal ladder to come crashing down on your head or to yank you up out of the water when you're trying to grab ahold of it. But, once aboard the luxury craft, we sped across the waves back toward Kaua'i, leaping from peak to peak.

The crew offered us free sandwiches, beer, and drinks. The kids were famished and were grateful. Two sips of a soda did nothing but make me queasy. It was the first time all day I'd felt that way. My attention had been on other things. I hadn't had the luxury of being seasick. Besides, a number of people on the boat were green around the gills, lying around with their heads in buckets. Power of suggestion, I guess.

I have to say, the crowd on the dive boat was definitely a different group than the picnickers on the cat. Most of the picnickers were significantly overweight, whereas the diving group collectively did not seem to have a whole lot of body fat. I was by far the oldest and least fit—and I'm a runner. People go on vacations for different reasons. My family likes to be adventurous, to explore and do things that challenge us. Others want to be pampered.

Wisdoc and I sat in a sort of stunned silence the whole way back. A person in our little group of divers had died. His new bride had lost him just like that! He'd drifted away on a current while they were under water, and she'd never seen him again. She'd never see him again. I couldn't get the image of her shell-shocked face out of my head.

And what's more, it might have been the very same current that had pushed me down below my group, then swept me back up to the surface before I knew what had happened. Had I dodged the same fate?

It was a grim realization. A grim two-hour ride back to Kaua'i contemplating something that seemed unthinkable. And unthinkably sad.

I don't think it hit the kids quite as hard right then, though I was certain it would at some later time. They were regaling the crew and a couple of the younger folks on the cat with the story of our day.

I was grateful to the crew for offering to bring us back. It was the sort of courtesy all the local boating companies would normally extend to each other. It was professional.

One thing that bothered me about the boat ride, and more specifically about some of the people on the boat, however, was the pervasive attitude that they had been cheated out of their picnic and snorkel excursion. They complained to the crew and looked at those of us who were exhausted, dehydrated, and demoralized like it was our fault that their pleasure cruise had been disrupted. They seemed to resent the fact that their boat had had to join in the search for a missing, presumed dead, diver. They were insisting, even in our presence, on getting their money back.

It was an unfathomable attitude to me. Someone had died. Out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. No one around for miles. And they resented their crew doing what, frankly, the laws of the sea required them to do. Assist.

And besides, you've seen the pictures in the first couple of posts in this series, this is one of the most beautiful and remote places on Planet Earth.

The crew did their best to calm tempers of their clients. They told us, the diver refugees, they would be returning us to a different port than the one from where we'd embarked. Someone from our dive company would meet us at the pier.

It felt like this ride would never end. And it felt like this event would overshadow our entire vacation time with my son and his girlfriend in Hawai'i. It was supposed to be a joyous time. We only get to see Wisdomie a couple times a year. But how do you go on after such a day? How do you enjoy your time together with this hanging over your head? Well, for one thing, you try to appreciate every moment you have with family and friends. And that was the sort of resolve I knew would I would have to summon the rest of our time there—if I could climb out of the dark place in which I found myself on this boat ride.

We arrived back at Kaua'i around 4:30. We'd gotten on the boat that morning at 5:30. It was a long day. At the pier, we were met by a couple of young women who counted heads, showed us where to rinse off and where we could use the restrooms, and huddled us into a corner as the picnickers hiked single-file back to their shop, I presume, to bitch and moan some more. We were glad simply to be back ashore.

Once we were alone, though, one of the women gave us the news: They had found Doug! Unbelievable! How? Where? Was he alive? What happened?

We were incredulous. Hugs. Tears. High fives. All of it. The relief was palpable, like a huge dark cloud had lifted from our collective heads all at once. Like parole. And we all knew it.

Apparently, Doug, like me, had indeed gotten caught up by some sort of rogue current sweeping down the vasty Pacific from the Aleutians. But instead of going down current, as you would expect, he found himself on the back side of Lehua, facing the northside beaches of Ni'ihau. He didn't see anyone, but he didn't panic. Instead, in the leeward, current shadow of Lehua, swam across the narrow channel to the Forbidden Isle, which is where the dive boat eventually spotted him. Apparently, on a whim, and against any sort of common sense, they'd decided after we left to explore the back side of the island. And that's when they spotted him. He'd laid out his dive gear on the beach and was waving his sausage in the air waiting to be spotted.

What's more, the woman told us, when the dive boat came to shore to pick him up, with the helicopter hovering overhead to make sure he didn't need to be taken to an emergency room, they were greeted by a contingency of locals who were apparently brandishing spears. Ni'ihau, recall, is off limits. You have to get prior permission to go there, and apparently the locals thought some tourists were invading their private beaches. All was explained to everyone's satisfaction, and Doug and his bride were re-united.

Here's the newspaper story of the incident if you care to read it..

We never saw Doug. And we never saw his wife after we swam across to the catamaran. I'd hoped we would run into them on the island at some point so I could tell them how happy I was for them. I would love to've bought them a bottle of celebratory champagne and, yeah, toasted their marriage. But it didn't happen.

That evening, our family treated ourselves to a nice dinner out. No one felt like cooking or grilling. We were all emotionally wrung out. After all, we'd spent roughly 6 hours in abject shock and grief, only to have the whole thing vanish into joy and relief in an instant.

And it was Wisdoc's and my anniversary—27th! Thanks for asking.

As tired as we were, we all stayed up late into the night after dinner, talking, watching a rerun of Game of Thrones, and, quite simply, not leaving each other's sight.


More snaps from Kaua'i (click to embiggen):

Na Pali Coast
Endangered Monk Seal lounging on a public beach
Into the clouds
Shipwrecks Beach
Near Poipu at sunset
Out toward Na Pali
Heading North
View from the Na Pali coast trail
Na Pali
Near Poipu

04 October 2013

A Rock 'n' Roll Slumgullion: Stuff You Don't Hear on the Radio

Some early, unheard The Who:

Unknown Glaswegians The Jolt will kick your ass:

The Records keep making "The Same Mistakes":

A young Alejandro Escovedo with The True Believers:

The Parasites are "Crazy":

Rainy Day Saints have a "Mirror Mystery":

Mind Spiders rockin' "On the Radio":

03 October 2013

Let's Make a Deal! With Whom?

I'm trying to follow the insider baseball, sausage-making aspects of the current impasse in Washington as little as possible. But, to be honest, it's like seeing a couple of locomotives heading for a head-on collision: it's hard to turn away.

This is how I see things—and, again, I'm not DC villager or insider. I have no privileged access to the thinking process (and I use that term loosely) of either side.

There seem to be several issues in the hopper: (1) The 'continuing resolution' or 'CR' which in lieu of a new, agreed-to budget allows the Federal government to keep operating at its current level of funding (post-sequestration); (2) The 'debt ceiling' which the Federal government will hit on or about October 17, the extension of which would allow the U.S. Treasury to continue to pay interest on U.S. Treasury Bonds, i.e., pay the interest on Federal debt that has already been racked up; 3) The implementation of the Affordable Care Act aka 'Obamacare', more specifically the opening of statewide exchanges which allow individuals to purchase health insurance on the open market at collective, or group, rates which, theoretically would drive down the costs of premiums.

The present shut-down is supposedly about number (1) above. The House of Representatives has refused to pass a CR unless President Obama delay (3) or do away with ACA altogether. The House has a Republican majority and has refused to date to pass a clean 'CR' (one without extraneous matter attached), something the Senate has passed. The Republican House has voted some 40 times to repeal ACA. They have attached a similar repeal to the CR, and lately have attached a delay of the individual mandate portion of ACA to the CR.

It seems beyond dispute that the Speaker of the House, John Boehner, could get a majority of Congress members to pass a clean CR if he would agree to bring it to the floor of the House. Most, if not all, Democratic members would vote for a clean CR as would sufficient Republican to garner a majority of total votes. Boehner apparently refuses to do so because he cannot whip a majority of the Republican caucus in favor of bringing a clean CR bill to the floor.

The Republicans who want to repeal ACA will, it is believed, attempt to unseat Boehner as Speaker if he introduces a clean CR.

I've seen this tactic over and over. If you don't want to do a deal, you claim you can't do a deal. Someone else won't let you.

Boehner and the Republicans claim that Obama and the Democrats are refusing to negotiate. This despite the fact that the President met yesterday with leaders of both parties from both chambers. They claim ACA was never 'litigated' or negotiated. This despite the last major election in which Obama was decisively elected over a challenger who vowed 'on day one' to repeal Obamacare. And the full day in 2010 when Obama met with the leaders of the opposition to entertain their arguments about ACA—on national television. Moreover, ACA was passed by both houses of the Congress with Republicans using every procedural means available to stop it, but failing to participate in negotiations to improve or make it better.

This is not the first time the Republicans have used a CR to try and wrest concessions from the President. The last time, the President and the Speaker of the House reached an agreement in principle on a 'grand bargain' which included tax reform and revenue issues as well as budget cuts and entitlement reforms. This deal died when the Speaker took it to his members. And therein lies the problem.

By all appearances (and I cannot tell whether Boehner is playing a double game here), the Speaker does not have the power to negotiate on these matters. Or that, at least, is the face he is putting on the matter. I've seen this tactic on many occasions in my practice of law, as has any judge who deals with commercial matters. In order to knock heads together and force a settlement of a contentious litigation, the judge will often force 'decision-makers' for each party to meet. There can be no "I'll take it back to my people." The person in the room has to be authorized to act. And Boehner, apparently, doesn't have the authority to act on the CR.

This is a big problem. You can't negotiate with someone who doesn't have the authority to make a deal. If Obama and Boehner strike a deal, there is no guarantee that the Republican caucus will approve. So, what's a President to do?

Recall, the faction in the Republican party which is behind this matter campaigned on going to Washington to shut down the government. Shutting it down is what they want. There is statement after statement on the record vowing to shut it down. They met in caucus recently and voted to pursue this strategy. Eighty of them signed a letter recently declaring their intention to shut down the government if Obama refused to stop implementation of ACA. And now they want the press and American public to believe that the shutdown is Obama's fault because he refuses to negotiate with them. They do not want to be held accountable for their avowed plan. One supposes they are relying on the laziness and ignorance of the American public (and the press) which will blame both sides.

It seems to be an intractable mess. What's more, since many of these intransigent Republicans are in gerrymandered districts, there is little to no chance of defeating them in the next mid-term election cycle. As a result of the Citizens United decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, moreover, many of these Republicans are financed by the political arm of the far-right Koch brothers operation, including but not limited to the so-called 'Tea Party' and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and any number of shady-money organizations.

While the shutdown of the Federal government is a nuisance and is debilitating to many people around the country—much of which these Republicans refuse to acknowledge—the failure of Congress to extend the debt ceiling could be disastrous. And there is every indication that the Republicans want to link the two and use them to increase their leverage over the President and against ACA.

No one seems to be asking why they want the 35 to 40 million people who will obtain affordable health insurance under ACA to lose their chance of being covered for medical costs. They claim it's a disaster, even though it hasn't been fully implemented yet. They claim we can't afford it, even though the rise in health care costs has slowed down significantly and individuals are finding that premium costs are within reach of middle-class Americans now for the first time in a generation.

Similarly, no one seems be asking why they are refusing to abide by their Constitutional duty. The Tea Party Republicans rode to power on a platform of forcing President Obama to abide by the U.S. Constitution which they treat as a sacred document.

Article 1 of the U.S. Constitution lays budgeting authority and responsibility squarely on Congress. Article I, section 9, clause 7 states that "No money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law; and a regular Statement and Account of Receipts and Expenditures of all public Money shall be published from time to time."

It is Congress's Constitutional duty to pass a budget, something it hasn't done in years and something it is refusing to do now unless it forces concessions from Obama on ACA.

Similarly, the Congress has the authority to borrow money to pay for the debts incurred by the government—debts which it and it alone specifically authorized. Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution states: "The Congress shall have power ...To borrow Money on the credit of the United States."

Moreover, by threatening not to extend the debt ceiling on Oct. 17, these Tea Party Republican Congress members are threatening to violate their Constitutional duty to pay the bills they themselves incurred (e.g., in authorizing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, tax cuts for wealthy Americans and corporations). Amendment XIV, Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution states: "The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law ... shall not be questioned."

Congress authorized the expenditure of the money (N.B. Once Congress authorizes expenditures, the Executive (i.e., President Obama in this case) must carry out Congress's wishes.) Congress authorized the borrowing of money to pay for these budgeted expenditures. Now, Congress has to pay that money back. Just because the costs of its actions exceeded its intake of revenue, it is not relieved of its responsibility.

Yet, this is what is being threatened by a faction of Republicans. Default on authorized, legitimate debts of the U.S. And no one seems to be capable of holding them responsible for their actions. Not John Boehner—whose intentions and motives in this are at best questionable. Is he merely craven? Seeking to hold onto his Speakership? Or is he in cahoots with the Tea Party faction in his caucus—despite his pleas to the contrary? Why does he refuse to bring a clean CR to the floor? Why is he allowing his members to threaten the 'validity of the public debt'?

Nor are their constituents, apparently, capable of holding this minority responsible. They are well-funded and organized and seem to be dug in.

I've tried to present this without resort to rhetoric or emotional terms such as 'hostage-taking'. This is my analysis of the law and the facts as I see them. What the resolution of this is is simply beyond me.