Saturday, November 22, 2003

Good God

Thinking about God, don't ask me why. The old Heinlein quote about the absurdity of god being all of omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent. Yes, that's absurd. I think we mostly focus on the omnipotent part, god as creator and manipulator of the universe. This is the part science has successfully replaced.

What about the benevolent part? I'm doing the exercise of imagining a God that is far from omnnipotent but is omnibenevolent in the sense of being the source and focus of all that is Good. God/Good. You know. Somehow that's a lot easier to believe in because it's that much more decoupled from physics.

Let's say God is a concept that has some hard-to-understand relationship to reality, just like the concept of "3", or "function", or "factorial". All of these are concepts, they can be embodied as marks on paper or rituals or whatever, they are unreal things with real instantiations and influence.

Very good, but so what?

Here's the full Heinlein quote:

God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent - it says so right here on the label. If you have a mind capable of believing all three of these attributes simultaneously, I have a wonderful bargain for you. No checks, please. Cash and in small bills. [Robert Heinlein, Notebooks of Lazarus Long]
Ah, Heinlein, grandfather of all the net flamers that ever were and ever will be.

Theory 2: god isn't especially benevolent, since he created both good and evil and maintains them both. You probably couldn't have one without the other. Contrast, you know.

And I guess theory 3 would be giving up omniscience, evil exists because god just doesn't know about it, making him sort of a sunny airhead type. That one doesn't seem satisfying somehow.

Why I am engaging in this sophomoric theology is anyone's guess, I suppose it means I'm tired.

Monday, November 17, 2003

Proof explorer

Cool tool for exploring detailed formal mathematics proofs, with heavy hyperlinking. I used to think about building something like this, but less formal, more educational, with some options for abstracting away the details.

I found this while looking to see if they still made Wff 'n Proof games, contemplating getting one for the big kid. Turns out they do. I wonder if it's worth buying $30 worth of wooden cubes and such to do what could be done better with software. But there is an irresistable urge to buy my favorite childhood things for my children.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Democrats are conservatives

Democrats are conservatives, Republicans are radicals. I realized this a few years ago, but it's nice to see it confirmed by an anointed pundit. The column is about foreign policy but it's equally applicable to economics, where the Dems are trying to conserve ideas that have been established for many decades (ie, child labor laws) and the Repugnicans are trying to overturn them in favor of unregulated markets, an extremely radical and dangerous move.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

The Straussian Illuminati

Reading an article on Leo Strauss and neoconservatism. This philosopher and his followers are revealed to be profoundly anti-democratic, and explicitly in favor of hiding their true beliefs from the masses.

More here, and here.

Ooh, the graphic version of the conspiracy:

Pro-strauss article by William Kristol and another one.

Thursday, October 23, 2003

I call firsties on "amazonwhacking"

Amazon made their full-text search features live today. So I uncreatively invented the latest internet fad, amazonwhacking.

My first effort is: oxymoronic nictating

which returns a single entry, The Annotated Lolita.


Monday, October 13, 2003

California reaming

Two writers weigh in on the psychological subtexts of the latest in
California hyperreality:

Frank Rich's references are Disneyland with a little bit of Hitler:

The Audio-Animatronic Candidate

As for the young Arnold's ruminations about Hitler, sure there was fire to go with the smoke. Otherwise, why would the star have overpaid $1.2 million in 1991 for the exclusive rights to "Pumping Iron" and its outtakes? But whatever his sloppy words about the Führer back in the 1970's, his statements about governance in general were more revealing and more to the point of his campaign. Mr. Schwarzenegger's credo was laid out quite specifically in his autobiography, "Arnold: The Education of a Bodybuilder": "A certain amount of people are meant to be in control. Ninety-five percent of the people have to be told what to do, have to be given orders." This philosophy, which he has repeated elsewhere and never retracted, sums up his politics far more than conventional conservative-vs.-liberal, Republican-vs.-Democrat paradigms. The budget deficit? Failing public schools? Mr. Schwarzenegger will make things right by terminating the malefactors from on high; let the other 95 percent of "the people" get out of the way. What was the plan? "Hasta la vista, car tax!" Such know-nothingness is not Nazism; it's too idea-free even to qualify as fascism-lite. What the Arnold platform really amounted to was a steroid-inflated codification of the trust-me paternalism of Disney's Celebration.

Whereas Mike Davis is put more in mind of The Day of the Locust, with a little bit of Hitler:

Yet, I don't want to suggest that this is a simple repeat of anti-immigrant Proposition 187 in the context of a recession and a nationwide crisis of state financing. Arnold Schwarzenegger does add something genuinely novel to the mix. He is not just another actor in politics but an extraordinary lightning rod, both in his movie persona and in real life, for dark, sexualized fantasies about omnipotence. Pleasure in the humiliation of others -- Schwarzenegger's lifelong compulsion -- is the textbook definition of sadism. It is also the daily ration of right-wing hate radio. As governor he becomes the summation of all smaller sadisms, like those of Roger Hedgecock that in turn manipulate the "reptile within" of millions of outwardly affluent but inwardly tormented commuter-consumers. In their majesty, the predominantly white voters of California's inland empires and gated suburbs have anointed a clinically Hitlerite personality as their personal savior.

Friday, October 03, 2003

the historical origins of the tinfoil hat

The Air Loom Gang, describing a psychotic delusion based on state-of-the-art 1810 technology:
Matthews was convinced that outside the grounds of Bedlam, in a basement cellar by London Wall, a gang of villains were controlling and tormenting his mind with diabolical rays. They were using a machine called an 'Air Loom', of which Matthews was able to draw immaculate technical diagrams, and which combined recent developments in gas chemistry with the strange force of animal magnetism, or mesmerism. It incorporated keys, levers, barrels, batteries, sails, brass retorts and magnetic fluid, and worked by directing and modulating magnetically charged air currents, rather as the stops of an organ modulate its tones. It ran on a mixture of foul substances, including 'spermatic-animal-seminal rays', 'effluvia of dogs' and 'putrid human breath', and its discharges of magnetic fluid were focused to deliver thoughts, feelings and sensations directly into Matthews' brain. There were many of these mind-control settings, all classified by vivid names: 'fluid locking', 'stone making', 'thigh talking', 'lobster-cracking', 'bomb-bursting', and the dreaded 'brain-saying', whereby thoughts were forced into his brain against his will. To facilitate this process, the [Air Loom] gang had implanted a magnet into his head. As a result of the Air Loom, Matthews was tormented constantly by delusions, physical agonies, fits of laughter and being forced to parrot whatever nonsense they chose to feed into his head. No wonder some people thought he was mad.

Saturday, August 30, 2003


William Burroughs provides this thought for the day:

"Elimination of all natural sciences----If anybody ought to go to the extermination chambers definitely scientists, yes I'm definitely antiscientist because I feel that science represents a conspiracy to impose as, the real and only universe, the Universe of scientists themselves----they're reality-addicts, they've got to have things so real so they can get their hands on it."

But this was part of a long interview that I found, the more interesting quote to me was this:

"Now all politicians assume a necessity of control, the more efficient the control the better. All political organizations tend to function like a machine, to eliminate the unpredictable factor of AFFECT---emotion. Any machine tends to absorb, eliminate, Affect. Yet the only person who can make a machine move is someone who has a motive, who has Affect. If all individuals were conditioned to machine efficiency in the performance of their duties they would have to be at least one person outside the machine to give the necessary orders; if the machine absorbed or eliminated all those outside the machine the machine will slow down and stop forever."

Related to thesis and models for thinking about action, blah blah etc.

What I read on my summer vacation

Back from an exhausting tour of the east coast with family. I realize I managed to get quite a bit of reading done (and revisited my favorite Harvard Square bookstores):

Snobbery: The American Version, by Joseph Epstein

The curious incident of the dog in the night-time, by Mark Haddon

In Green's Jungles, by Gene Wolfe

DNA: The Secret of Life, by James Watson

Tishimongo Blues, by Elmore Leonard

Krakatoa: the day the world exploded, by Simon Winchester

Monday, July 28, 2003

Linux as dancing bear

Desktop Linux is a dancing bear -- remarkable that it works, but you don't expect it to be graceful (and it isn't). When you start it up (I'm using Red Hat 9, pre-installed) it looks remarkably like a real desktop computer system -- icons, task bars, the works.

Underneath of course is Unix.

I've been saying this a lot lately and I may as well say it here: Unix went from being the worst operating system available to being the best without really undergoing any improvement.

I want to use Linux because I want and need the openness, plus I'm cheap. BUT, I'm a real adult person with not much time, so I want the openness and programmability to be SIMPLE, ELEGANT, and ACCESSIBLE. Am I in a vanishingly small demographic or something? [Answer: yes]

Bad name

OK, "omniorthogonal" might be the worst name for a weblog ever. Hard to say, hard to type, and a pretentious yet illiterate mix of Greek and Latin roots.

Already paid my domain fee though, so stuck with it. And I it seems in the spirit of The Subtle Journal of Raw Coinage, a vanished zine for which I have a deep admiration.

Weird web jump: I was googling for "orthogonal to everything" and came up with this. "The analysis and design of benevolent goal architectures". Something I've thought about in the past.

Best Ann Coulter takedown yet

"Even the company of Maoist insurgents would be more intellectually invigorating than that of Ann Coulter. More to the point, whatever side this woman is on, I don't want to be on it."
-- Anne Applebaum in the Washington Post

The all-knowing eye of the market

Give the bushies credit for ushering in a new era of off-the-wall military research. Perhaps the glory days of the 60s/early 70s ARPA will come back.

This proposal in particular has a distinct retro echo of the Delphi Method, a classic RAND Cold War idea.

It turns out that the original Delphic Oracle may have been tripping on natural gas.

I assume that the code for these forecasting techniques will be written in Python.

Saturday, July 26, 2003

The web language mess

Well, I was just forced to do modifications to a CSS file to get this thing the way I liked. Gad, what an ugly mess of syntax the whole web world is. I've never been involved in constructing any but simple websites (static or dynamic via HTML generation), so I've never been forced to deal with the horrible mess of HTML, Javascript, Java, CSS, PHP, and all the browser-specific variations thereof. Fortunately I never will, there are armys of unemployed web hackers out there to hire if things ever get that far, but it's a pity it requires so much useless and divergent expertese. Reminds me of Unix (and I'm sure it's not a coincidence).

I have friends trying to fix this with a single language that is supposed to be elegant, powerful, and capable of replacing the mess. The idea of Water is to combine features of Lisp, Javascript (prototype-based OOP), all in a unified XML syntax. The big problem here (aside from the general problem of getting a new language accepted at all) is that nobody really wants to write code using an XML syntax.

If they put a GUI front-end (or even a Lisp-syntax front-end) they might have something.

Thursday, July 24, 2003

High achieving familes

Factoid: Nora Volkow, the new head of NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse) is the great-granddaughter of Leon Trotsky. Also see here.

Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Narrative psychology

A possibly interesting little subfield: Narrative Psychology

Association of Anarchist Parents

The idea for this organization came to me as I was walking captured me due to its inherent irony, or so I thought. Being a parent is kind of a cure for anarchism, or so it seemed to me. Yet many former anarchists or freedom-inclined individuals suddenly find themselves in the position of having to be authority figures, ordering people about and enforcing disciplinary measures. A hard situation, and certainly it deserves a support group.

Well, of course, thanks to the richness of reality and Google, I find that this already exists, sort of, although the ironic aspect seems to be missing.

There's actually a whole spectrum of non-authoritarian parenting thought out there, of course. Most of it seems too naive or ideology-driven for my taste. Take, for instance, the group/movement Taking Children Seriously.

"We believe that it is possible and desirable to bring up children
entirely without coercion (i.e. without doing things to them against
their will, or making them do things against their will), and that
children are entitled to the same rights, respect and control over
their lives as adults. "

They lose me right there. But they are British, and so can at least defend these manifestly silly ideas with great prose and energy.

TCS depends quite a bit on the philosophy of Karl Popper, who I also think is fairly silly.

Wednesday, July 02, 2003

Anarchy in the USA

"For, whatever was the case in de Tocqueville's day, not the passion for egalitarianism but individualist, that is anti-authoritarian, antinomian, though curiously legalistic, anarchism has become the core of the value system in the U.S.A."

- Eric Hobsbawm (sigh, now paywalled, but excerpted here)

Yes -- and it's especially odd that it's the conservatives who seem to lead in (supposedly) antiauthoritarian attitudes. They portray themselves as insurgents against the supposed liberal establishment, who makes horribly restrictive rules against their freedom to fire guns in restaurants and drive SUVs in duck blinds.

Our politics are twisted up in weird ways that makes it almost impossible for one side to understand itself, let alone the others.

Tuesday, July 01, 2003

Minor but significant irritant

It's so irritating that in Visual Studio, you are not simply working on a "project", let along a "program" or "module", but a solution. It's this intrusion of marketing speak into the sacred space of the programming environment, among many other things, that is driving me towards Linux.

Monday, June 16, 2003

Antisocial Lispers

Piece on Terry Gross this morning, with some comedian (Colin Quinn?) who mentioned that comics don't socialize well and basically hate each other. I wonder if that applies to Lisp the sense that they (like comics) are smart and somewhat twisted in their idiosyncractic way. This is why they like Lisp, and why they don't cooperate all that well. Programmers in Java etc are more normal, socializable, etc. Cats vs. dogs.

Saturday, June 14, 2003

If I can think of it, it isn't what I want

A Sick Child

Randell Jarrell, 1969

The postman comes when I am still in bed.
"Postman, what do you have for me today?"
I say to him. (But really I'm in bed.)
Then he says - what shall I have him say?

"This letter says that you are president
Of - this word here; it's a republic."
Tell them I can't answer right away.
"It's your duty." No, I'd rather just be sick.

Then he tells me there are letters saying everything
That I can think of that I want for them to say.
I say, "Well, thank you very much. Good-bye."
He is ashamed, and turns and walks away.

If I can think of it, it isn't what I want.
I want . . . I want a ship from some near star
To land in the yard, and beings to come out
And think to me: "So this is where you are!

Come." Except that they won't do,
I thought of them. . . . And yet somewhere there must be
Something that's different from everything.
All that I've never thought of - think of me!

Monday, May 05, 2003

The Loyal Opposition

Idea for an essay: "The Loyal Opposition" -- the left has problems
because it is almost by definition "the opposition". This attitude of
opposing can shade into nihilism unless its balanced by "loyal". In
Britain, to the nation in the person of the queen. But in the US, to
what? The president is not the personification of the state and is
definitely not above the political fray. To the flag? No. Most
leftists have their loyality to ideas and ideals, maybe to ideals that
are identified with the US but often to others. And ideas are too
abstract. Often they are contradictory and muddled, too (like freedom
and equality for isntance -- both good but often in opposition to each

So, how to be a loyal oppposition?

See also: Satan!

Thursday, May 01, 2003

sick of but not at work

I'm at home with a cold. Haven't left the house in a couple of days.
I'm sitting in on a typical boring phone meeting (Accuchem FrontEnd Project
Team). My biggest worry now with AccuChem is not getting fired, but getting
too used to it and not having the energy to leave. I find the stupid
practices occasionally making sense, I find myself thinking that large
teams might be useful sometimes...argh, it's the Stockholm Syndrome!

Frank Johnson said that "I'm becoming a team player", but in fact that
means I'm really not giving much of a rat's ass about stuff, so I've
stopped complaining. I can kick back, do a bit of work, spend time on
my side project (PathWhacker).