Jan 30th, 2006 by ravi
Pots, Kettles, Noses, Faces and Solidarity

On Sept 28, blogger extraordinaire Kos, wrote the following about the fairly large anti-war rally in DC (Sept 24, 2005):

Peace protests and the new media environment

by kos

Wed Sep 28, 2005 at 10:47:17 AM PDT

I’ve been critical of peace protests in the past […]. This time, however, I wasn’t feeling animosity for last week’s protests. I was feeling something akin to apathy.


The lack of focus is maddening, obviously. But my biggest problem with anti-war protests is that they’re obsolete. What do they accomplish?

And we don’t need marches to let the country know that people are turning on the war.


People marching on the street? Boring. Unless you 1) have violence, or 2) crazy people making crazy speeches. It’s a lose-lose situation, and at best a single news cycle story.


The Right, except for the crazy anti-abortion protesting crowd, focuses its efforts solely on influencing media coverage. And it’s paid incredible dividends in the past few decades. We need to follow suit, rather than continue the same activism tactics of a century ago.


Ultimately I was agnostic over the march this past weekend because I can appreciate that people want to gather to fight for the cause, I appreciate that they want to feel like they’re doing something.

My question, then, becomes whether the money and effort people expended getting to DC to march might’ve been better spent in other forms of activism — letters to the editor, contributions to anti-war candidates, politicians, and organizations, calls and letters to their elected officials […]

Today (Jan 30, 2006) he writes:

So now what?

by kos

Mon Jan 30, 2006 at 03:53:52 PM PDT

We lost the cloture vote, but that was — despite some of your best wishes — a pre-ordained conclusion. But that doesn’t mean we lost on the bigger picture.

What you guys accomplished the last week was amazing — the outpouring of emails, letters, faxes, and phone calls was unprecedented for the netroots and particularly surprising given how weak our issue groups organized against Alito. We should’ve played a supporting role to strong efforts by NARAL, People for the American Way, and others. Instead, we ended up being pretty much the entire effort.

But say what you will about blogs and the netroots, we are not effective organizers for this type of large-scale effort, with an opposition wielding tens of millions of dollars. That we got this much accomplished in the fact of that is simply incredible.

So we are now on the map. The Alito vote may have fizzled, but you better believe the Dem establishment knows we exist.

Hmm… is it necessary to add a comment here, or perhaps just highlight the inadequacy of such thinking with a quote from the very same Kos post, misappropriated for my purpose:

In addition (this isn’t an “either/or” situation),

On another note: elsewhere on his site Kos confesses to his Republican campaigning past while other parts of the site ridicules “hippies” (while dispensing advice on what to do and not to do at the boring irrelevant DC march). The irony highlighted by these two excerpts can serve as a good starting point on why the left doesn’t hang together in the USA.

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Jan 30th, 2006 by ravi
WP: Senate Ends Alito Filibuster Attempt

Washington Post is reporting that the Dems stay true to cowardly form:

Senate Ends Alito Filibuster Attempt
72-25 Vote Virtually Assures Nominee’s Confirmation

By Fred Barbash
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 30, 2006; 5:57 PM

By a 72-25 vote, the Senate cut off a symbolic filibuster attempt today on the Supreme Court nomination of Samuel A. Alito Jr., all but assuring that the federal appeals court judge will be confirmed Tuesday morning by the Senate.

Now, rather than the usual lament about the Democrats (that I started out with, with my reference to cowardliness), I am interested in some level-headed analysis of why this happens. While I subscribe generally to the duopoly party system story and the idea that the Democrats are a kinder, gentler Republican party, there is more to it than that. In this case, perhaps the simple explanation is that the Democrats have too many vulnerable seats (South, Dakotas, etc). While I can understand the public in these regions being pro-Bush, pro-Iraq-war etc., and wishing to punish their representatives for not toeing that line, do they really follow and care about a SCOTUS nomination, even if it involves pet issues such as abortion? If this is the case, wouldn’t Harry Reid (from Nevada) face similar pressures?
Recent polls seem to have shown that a majority of Americans are not opposed to Alito. What percentage of the people polled cared about the issue, I wonder? Also, another reason put forth by Kerry (need a link here) is the fear of the Democrats being successfully labelled as ‘obstructionists’. More data needed here.

Finally, we must also examine (for the sake of completeness) the possibility that Alito is (or will be) a centrist (or right-centrist) on the bench. By ‘centrist’ I do not mean a sort of objective centrist, but at the centre of the current rightward leaning climate.

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Jan 25th, 2006 by ravi
The emperor’s new inadequacy

In a well-reasoned piece titled:

Can humans escape Goedel?:A review of "Shadows of the Mind" by Roger Penrose

Daryl McCollough provides a non-paradoxical version of the Liar's Paradox to illustrate inconsistency in human thinking. In doing so, he addresses a particular aspect of the interpretations of belief and truth with regard to debate on Gödel's incompleteness theorem (the first, for the picky). That issue is a better understanding of human fallibility (and its relationship to the phrase "there are some sentences we know to be true"). Perhaps Wittgenstein can be interpreted to also explore this in his [in]famous commentary on Gödel's Theorem but more on that later.
McCollough writes:

6. How Could Inconsistency Creep Into Human Reasoning?

6.1 As I discussed in the last section, Penrose's arguments, if taken to their logical conclusion, show us not that the human mind is noncomputable, but that either the human mind is beyond all mathematics, or else we cannot be sure that it is consistent. If we reject the "mysterian" position that mind is beyond science, we are left with the conclusion that we can't know that we are consistent. This seems very counter-intuitive. If we are very careful, and only reason in justified steps, why can't we be certain that we are being consistent?

6.2 Let me illustrate with a thought experiment. Suppose that an experimental subject is given two buttons, marked "yes" and "no", and is asked by the experimenter to push the appropriate button in response to a series of yes-no questions. What happens if the experimenter, on a lark, asks the question "Will you push the 'no' button?". It is clear that whatever answer the subject gives will be wrong. So, if the subject is committed to answering truthfully, then he can never hit the "no" button, even though "no" would be the correct answer. There is an intrinsic incompleteness in the subject's answers, in the sense that there are questions that he cannot truthfully answer.

6.3 Now, there is no real paradox in this thought experiment. The subject knows that the answer to the experimenter's question is "no", but he cannot convey this knowledge. Thus there is a split between the public and private knowledge of the subject. But now, let's extend the thought experiment.

6.4 Someday, as science marches on, we will understand the brain well enough that we can dispense with the "yes" and "no" buttons (which are susceptible to lying on the part of the subject). Instead of these buttons, we assume that the experimenter implants probes directly into the subject's brain, and we assume that these probes are capable of directly reading the beliefs of this subject. If the probes detect that the subject's brain is in the "yes" belief state, it flashes a light labeled "yes", and if it detects a "no" belief state, it flashes a light labeled "no". Now, in this improved experiment, the subject is asked the question "Will the 'no' light flash?"

6.5 In this improved set-up, there is no possibility of the subject having knowledge that he can't convey; the probe immediately conveys any belief the subject has. If the subject believes the "no" light will flash, then the answer to the question would be "yes", and the subject's beliefs would be wrong. Therefore, if the subject's beliefs are sound then the answer to the question is "no". Therefore, since the subject cannot correctly believe the answer to be "no", he similarly cannot correctly believe that he is sound. If the subject reasons from the assumption of his own soundness, he is led into making an error.

6.6 As can be seen from this thought experiment, the inability to be certain of one's own soundness is not a deficiency of intelligence. There is no way that the subject in the experiment can correctly answer the question by just "thinking harder" about it.

And provides this conclusion:

8. Conclusion

8.1 Penrose's arguments that our reasoning can't be formalized is in some sense correct. There is no way to formalize our own reasoning and be absolutely certain that the resulting theory is sound and consistent. However, this turns out not to be a limitation on what computers or formal systems can accomplish relative to humans. Instead, it is an intrinsic limitation in our abilities to reason about our own reasoning process. To the extent that we understand our own reasoning, we can't be certain that it is sound, and to the extent that we know we are sound, we don't understand our reasoning well enough to formalize it. This limitation is not due to lack of intelligence on our part, but is inherent in any reasoning system that is capable of reasoning about itself.

I think its a refreshing angle to the old debate, one that does not get as much attention.

P.S: When talking about truth above I am hopefully not mystifying it in a way that ignores the deflationary theory of truth.

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Jan 25th, 2006 by ravi
You might be a (mathematical) Platonist?

[with apologies to Jeff Foxworthy]

Among other eminent bits, Karlis Podnieks has an interesting test you can use to see if you are a Platonist. As psychologists like to say, denial is more than just a river in Egypt and the first step to recovery is accepting the problem. So, take the test… its for your health! ;-)

Foundations of Mathematics. Mathematical Logic. By K.Podnieks

Suppose, someone has proved that the twin prime conjecture is unprovable in set theory. Do you believe that, still, the twin prime conjecture possesses an “objective truth value”? Imagine, you are moving along the natural number system:

0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, …

And you meet twin pairs in it from time to time: (3, 5), (5, 7), (11, 13), (17, 19), (29, 31), (41, 43), (59, 61), (71,73), … It seems there are only two possibilities:

a) We meet the last pair and after that moving forward we do not meet any twin pairs (i.e. the twin prime conjecture is false),

b) Twin pairs appear over and again (i.e. the twin prime conjecture is true).

It seems impossible to imagine a third possibility…

If you think so, you are, in fact, a Platonist.

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Jan 25th, 2006 by ravi
Today’s Bookmarks
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Jan 24th, 2006 by ravi
Today’s Bookmarks
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Jan 23rd, 2006 by ravi
Books (etc) We Like

Books (etc) We Like

Since social bookmarkng (del.icio.us and friends) is all the rage these days, you may wish to check out “Books We Like” (click on link above). Here is a short bit of their blurb:

Books We Like is activist e-commerce and collective intelligence. It’s a non-profit service for book (and music and film) lovers, for promoting and discovering great stuff, and for supporting social-change non-profits through your online purchases.

Seems like a bunch of nice folks providing a great service. Your clickthroughs gives them some cash to fund the service, so use it to save your Wishlists, book lists, or as they suggest, start your web shopping at their site.

If you have a blog you may also find their BookRoll feature interesting.

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Jan 18th, 2006 by ravi
Trivia from Divia, Part 1

Yeah, bad pun on that title…

Some fun bits (at least if you are as much of a geek as I am) from Divya (I am not sure what her sources are, so no attribution):

  • Animals can digest only molecules with one orientation (in an Organic Chemistry sense) though both exist in nature.
  • Mitochondria, now part of our cellular makeup, were once free living bacteria. Did you know that they are passed down only the maternal genetic line? (Findings of an underappreciated female biologist: Lynn Margulis)
  • Cockroaches can live for 2 weeks without their heads since they have their brains in their legs, but they will eventually die of starvation.
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Jan 16th, 2006 by ravi
Is Western Liberalism so uniquely Western?

In left circles in the USA I have heard the (at times grudging, or at other times even proud) acceptance/declaration of the notion that Western Liberalism (or Western Democracy) is the better of available systems, past and present. While one part of this notion, that liberalism or democracy are positive systems, is unambiguous (and even agreeable) to me, I have been confounded by what clarification or addition is provided by the prefix “Western”.

Perhaps the simple fact that many non-Western nations have a relatively short history at democracy excludes them from contributing to the idea of it? That this short history is a consequence of the colonialism of these same Western nations is surely not unworthy of consideration in such a conclusion? Or is it? It could be argued that while the latter is a sad and deplorable truth about the double-faced advance of democracy in the West, it does not change the factual record of democratic and liberal thought and movements.

In his new book, The Argumentative Indian Sen speaks to this very issue as he tracks the history of the development of the argumentative tradition in India (one non-Western nation that gained independence from colonialism in 1947 and has, apart from a brief period of emergency, retained a democratic form of government):

From Sen’s “The Argumentative Indian” (hardcover, 2005):

Pages 12-14:

The historical roots of democracy in India are well worth
considering, if only because the connection with public
argument is often missed, through the temptation to
attribute the Indian commitment to democracy simply to
the impact of British influence […]. [I]n general, the
tradition of public reasoning is closely related to the
roots of democracy across the globe. But since India has
been especially fortunate in having a long tradition of
public arguments, with toleration of intellectual
heterodoxy, this general connection has been particularly
effective in India. When, more than half a century ago,
independent India became the first country in the
non-Western world to choose a resolutely democratic
constitution, it notonly used what it had learned
from the institutional experiences in Europe and America
(particularly Great Britain), it also drew on its own
tradition of public reasoning and argumentative


It is very important to avoid the twin pitfalls of (1)
taking democracy to be just a gift of the Western world
that India simply accepted when it became independent,
and (2) assuming that there is something unique in
Indian history that makes the country singularly suited
to democracy. The point, rather, is that democracy is
intimately connected with public discussion and
interactive reasoning. Traditions of public discussion
exist across the world, not just in the West.


Even though it is very often repeated that democracy is
a quintessentially Western idea and practice, that view is
extremely limited because of its neglect of the intimate
connections between public reasoning and the
development of democracy – a connection that has been
profoundly explored by contemporary philosophers […].


Pages 75-80:

In that large tradition, there is indeed much to be proud
of [he is talking about Indian achievements that the
expat community could take pride in –ravi], including
some ideas for which India gets far less credit than it
could plausibly expect. Consider, for example, the
tradition of public reasoning. Even though the
importance of dialogue and discussion has been
emphasized in the history of many countries in the
world, the fact that the Indian subcontinent has a
particularly strong tradition in recognizing and pursuing
a dialogic commitment is certainly worth noting,
especially in the darkening world — with violence and
terrorism — in which we live. It is indeed good to
remember that some of the earliest open public
deliberations in the world were hosted in India to
discuss different points of views, with a particularly
large meeting arranged by Ashoka in the third century
BCE. It is good to remember also that Akbar
championed — even that was four hundred years ago
— the necessity of public dialogues and backed up his
conviction by arranging actual dialogues between
members of different faiths. […]

It is at this time rather common in Western political
discussions to assume that tolerance and the use of
reason are quintessential — possibly unique —
features of “Occidental values”: for example, Samuel
Huntington has insisted that the “West was West long
before it was modern” and that the “sense of
individualism and a tradition of individual rights and
liberties” to be found in the West are “unique among
civilized societies”. Given the fair degree of ubiquity
that such perceptions have in the modern West, it is
perhaps worth noting that issues of individual rights
and liberties have figured in discussions elsewhere as
well, not least in the context of emphasizing the
importance of the individual’s right of
decision-making, for example about one’s religion.

There has been support as well as denial of such rights
in the history of both Europe and India, and it is hard
to see that the Western experience in support of these
rights is peculiarly “unique among civilized societies”.
For example, when Akbar was issuing his legal order
that “no man should be interfered with on account of
religion, and anyone is to be allowed to go over to a
religion that pleases him”, and was busy arranging
dialogues between Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Jains,
Parsees, Jews and even atheists, Giordano Bruno was
being burnt at the stake in Rome for heresy, in the
public space of Campo dei Fiori.

The quoted sections above offer only a small glimpse into Sen’s thought on the matter, but even this short bit of text makes a compelling argument against intentional or unintentional regional chauvinism (if that’s the right phrase).

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Jan 15th, 2006 by ravi
REI Tagalong Child Carrier

With apologies to my single friends, an entry for the “Dude, what the hell?!” category just so it gets indexed by Google:

REI Tagalong Child Carrier from REI.com

Have a baby? Like to hike? Before you go out and buy that expensive Kelty backpack baby carrier, take a gander at the REI Tagalong. I should warn that having paid my $15 lifetime membership fee, I am part of the REI co-op, so vested interest alert ;-). The Tagalong feels lighter than the lightest Kelty, and:

  • Has a bunch of shoulder positions for the straps
  • Opens wide to make putting baby in easier
  • Is only $99
  • Fits better if you have a smaller frame
  • Kickstand opens wider making it more stable when set down

Some of the Kelty’s have a bit better padding for the baby.

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