Thursday, December 31, 2020

Coronavirus -- symptoms of Covid

Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID, According to New Study

1. Amnosia - loss of smell
2. Ageusia - loss of taste
3. Difficulty concentrating
4. Dyspnea - shortness of breath
5. Memory loss
6. Confusion
7. Headache
8. Heart palpitations
9. Chest pain
10. Pain with deep breaths
11. Dizziness
12. Tachycardia fast heart rate
13. Fatigue

I assume the more symptoms you have, the stronger the sign. Some singly, e.g. headache, chest pain, dizziness, fatigue seems more likely a sign of something else.

Happy New Year and take care.

Monday, December 28, 2020

U.S. Election 2020 #1

The people voted. A record number of mail-in ballots were used, many spurred by the ongoing pandemic. The Electoral College voted with Joe Biden beating Donald Trump 306-232. Vocal, super-loyalist ‘Trump won no matter what” supporters allege the election was rigged by Democrats and stolen from Trump. Success in proving that enough for Trump to win has been very weak.

Unsurprisingly, President Trump has been most vocal about a fraudulent vote. He even said he should have won because he got more popular votes than anybody in history. How many popular votes did Biden get? Blank out.

Unsurprisingly, Trump takes maximum credit for himself related to the pandemic such as the rapid development of vaccines, while deflecting any personal blame for the pandemic. He said if anybody but him were President -- "according to almost everybody, even the enemy" -- it would have taken at least 5 years to develop the vaccines (link). LOL. 😁  Raising his hand and pointing up, he shows his eagerness to say something well before the reporter pauses talking.  

Congress will meet January 6, 2021 about accepting or rejecting the Electoral College vote. It will be very, very newsworthy and noisier than a New Years Eve party in 1999.

Friday, December 25, 2020

A posteriori and a priori #1

Frankenstein is the 1818 novel written by English author Mary Shelley that tells the story of Victor Frankenstein, a young scientist who creates a hideous sapient creature in an unorthodox scientific experiment. The monster has some, but not all, ordinary human characteristics.

The nature of the human mind according to the German philosopher Immanuel Kant has some parallels to the nature of Frankenstein’s monster. The cognitive aspect of mind Kant depicts as human is not an ordinary human mind. This is so regarding Kant’s a posteriori – a priori distinction. A priori and a posteriori ('from the earlier' and 'from the later', respectively) are Latin phrases used in philosophy to identify two types of knowledge, justification, or argument, characterized by the use of empirical evidence found in experience (a posteriori) or the lack thereof (a priori).

If Kant had kept closer to the Latin meaning of a priori, his theory of cognition would have differed. However, this is not how he made his distinction – nor is it -- twofold. According to Kant human a posteriori cognition is empirical, based on the content of experience. His distinction is threefold. Kant held that a priori knowledge is not entirely independent of the content of experience. However, he held that a priori cognition, in its pure form, that is without the admixture of any empirical content, is limited to the deduction of the conditions of possible experience. These pure a priori, or transcendental conditions, are seated in one's cognitive faculties, and are not provided by experience in general or any experience in particular (although an argument exists that a priori intuitions can be "triggered" by experience).

The reproductive and productive imagination that Kant discussed in his Critique of Pure Reason produce determinate (rule-governed) judgments. Kant's thoughts on the creative imagination, which produces indeterminate (non-rule-governed) judgments, as set down in his Critique of Judgment.

Judgment in general is the ability to think the particular as contained under the universal. If the universal (the rule, principle, law) is given, then judgment, which subsumes the particular under it, is determinative (even though [in its role] as transcendental judgment it states a priori the conditions that must be met for subsumption under the universal to be possible). But if only the particular is given and judgment has to find the general for it, then this power is merely reflective.(Critique of Judgment, 179).

Reflective judgments "do not constitute acts of knowledge, since they do not involve the determinate structuring of a field of representations according to a definite concept. Reflection is an imaginative activity in which the mind 'plays over' various representations (percepts, images, concepts) in search of possible ways that they might be organized, although this process is free from the control of the understanding (which is the faculty that supplies concepts)" (Johnson 1987,158).

In reflective judgment, there is no previous, given concept that is automatically applied to experience. This ability to generate new concepts and new organization in our experience is not guided by any concept that guarantees success, but it results in novel ideas that can make sense (Jetton 1991).

I don’t consider this very problematic. Kant’s pure a priori is the problem.

For the following I retain the Latin meanings. A posteriori means experienced, i.e. retrospective. A priori means prospective and experimental. The distinction will not be limited like Kant’s to knowledge, justification, or argument. It will be about cognition more widely, including what Kant called imagination or reflective judgment.

Consider trying to do some action X that you have done very successfully in your past experience. You wish to perform a future action that ist very similar to X under present, similar conditions. You consider how action X could be modified to X* to better fit the partly different present conditions. In other words, X is known a posteriori and X* is largely a posteriori but also partly a priori.

Another useful distinction is between identical – with exceptions for time and location – and similar. ‘Similar’ means identical in some respects but not all. Of course, there are degrees of similarity.

That is a very abstract thesis. One or more future posts will be more concrete.


Jetton, M. 1991. Imagination and Cognition. Objectivity 1.3. Online:

Kant, I. 1987 [1790]. Critique of Judgment. W.S. Pluhar, translator. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Teen: "Math isn't real" Revisited

Three months ago I commented on a teenager who made a video saying “Math isn’t real.” Link. The video went viral. She also said the math she learned in school is real. She was obviously confused and naive. She asked three related questions: 
1. How did people come up with algebraic formulas?
2. How did they know what they were looking for?
3. How did they know they were correct?

I gave answers to them then. However, yesterday something else occurred to me about the second question. Why did she assume one has to know what one is looking for in order to find it?

Maybe it is partly her age and experience. Being a teenager, searching on the Internet became a common activity before she was born. She likely does it a lot. For that activity, one does need to be aware of what one is looking for in order to find it. Sometimes when one is looking for something quite specific, one has to already be aware of exactly what one is looking for. Else the search engine returns can overwhelm what one is looking for. What you are looking for will be buried deep in the stack and thus hard to find. Whereas using optimal search terms will put what you are looking for at the top of the stack or close thereto.

I learned that when I did a search about myself and something specific. What I was looking for was very local news. Hence, it was reported in only one not widely read publication. Searching only for my name on Google, there were 1500 hits. That's with a very unique name (first and last together). What I was looking for was well below the middle of the stack. Searching for my name and two more terms, what I was looking for was on top of the stack. Imagine the more general search had millions of hits.  

This may seem like an insignificant point. However, it is more significant from a philosophical perspective. It is an aspect of Empiricism. Experience shapes and limits knowledge.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Moral debate per Alasdair MacIntyre

In After Virtue Alasdair MacIntyre asks, What salient characteristics do debates and disagreements about morality share? He says there are three kinds.

"The first is what I shall call, adapting an expression from the philosophy of science, the conceptual incommensurability of the rival arguments in each of the three debates. Every one of the arguments is logically valid or can be easily expanded so as to be made so; the conclusions do follow from the premises. But the rival premises are such that we possess no rational weighing the claims of one as against another. For each premise employs some quite different normative or evaluative concept from the others, so that the claims made upon us are of quite different kinds. In the first argument, for example, premises which invoke justice and innocence are at odds with premises that invoke success and survival; in the second,  premises which invoke rights are at odds with those that invoke universalizability; in the third it is the claim of equality that is matched against liberty. It is precisely because there is in society no established way of deciding between these claims that moral argument appears to be necessarily interminable. From our rival conclusions we can argue back to our rival premises; but when we do arrive at our premises argument ceases and the invocation of one premise against another becomes a matter of pure assertion and counter-assertion. Hence perhaps the slightly shrill tone of so much moral debate" (p. 8, pb). 

"A second, equally important, but contrasting, characteristic of these arguments is that they do none the less purport to be impersonal rational arguments" (p.8).

"A third salient characteristic of contemporary moral debate is intimately related to the first two. It is easy to see that the different conceptually incommensurable premises of the rival arguments deployed in these debates have a wide variety of historical origins. The concept of justice in the first argument has its roots in Aristotle's account of the virtues; the second argument's genealogy runs through Bismarck and Clausewitz to Machiavelli; the concept of liberation in the the third argument has shallow roots in Marx, deeper roots in Fichte. In the second debate a concept of rights which has Lockean antecedents is matched against a view of universality which is recognizably Kantian and an appeal to the moral law, which is Thomist. In the third debate an argument which owes debts to T.H. Green and to Rousseau and competes with one which has Adam Smith as a grandfather" (p. 10).  

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Two Articles by Walter Williams, RIP

Sadly, Walter E. Williams died December 1 at age 84. Here is a tribute to Mr. Williams by the great Thomas Sowell (90 years old).
'Correct Diagnostics Needed’ is a recent article by Mr. Williams.

Costs Must Be Weighed Against Benefits’ is another.

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Schumer and Warren yearn for a dictator

Senators Chuck Schumer (link) and Elizabeth Warren (link) yearn for a dictator. They want Joe Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in student loan debt per person, and they want him to do so by Executive Order -- bypass Congress and just do it. Apparently they did not learn, have forgotten, or don't care that the Executive Branch is for executing the law, not making it. It is Congress's role to make law. That follows the principle of separation of powers. A primary definition of "execute" in most dictionaries is to carry out or put in effect, not to create or make.

Even the left-leaning Brookings Institution said Biden shouldn’t listen to Schumer and Warren on student loans. The objection was not based on separation of powers. "Many student loan borrowers are advantaged, well-educated high earners. About 56 percent of student debt is owed by those with masters or professional degrees, and almost 35 percent of loan balances are owed by individuals in the top 20 percent of the income distribution. Many student-borrowers need relief, but well-off borrowers who are thriving — thanks, no doubt, to their college degrees — do not."

Even the Washington Compost is against itI doubt it is based on separation of powers. I don't subscribe to the Compost, so I couldn't read the article.   

Joe Biden has proposed only cancelling up to $10,000 (link). He might also accept an income cap, such as $125,000, or limiting it to undergraduate debt. More significant -- and unlike Schumer and Warren -- he wants Congress to make the law.

Sunday, December 6, 2020

A Metaphysics for Freedom #8

My final post of this series gives my personal comments on the book A Metaphysics for Freedom by Helen Steward.

Overall I thought it was very good and well worth reading. I think the book could have been significantly shorter. She spends many words saying what she is going to say later in the book. She repeats in only slightly different words. She often expresses things tentatively, using lengthy clauses and sometimes entire sentences to do so.

Regardless, I believe her broad thesis is sound. Hard determinism assumes a lot, more than it delivers. Physics has nothing to say about goals, motives, and intentions, nor language. The concept of agency in its many and various ways, including when not limited to humans, is needed to give a plausible or better understanding of our complex existence.

Steward bases her case for agency on an animal's ability of moving its body, wholly or parts. The sort of movements she means is not entirely clear, but it seems she mostly means moving its entire body to a different place. I believe her case could be made somewhat stronger by tying some of those bodily movements to perceptual or sensual capacities. Examples are moving the eyes or head, ears, or nose to direct more attention to something visual, auditory, olfactory, or thermal in the environment. More specific ones include the eyes of a falcon, the nose of a bear, and the ears of a fox. Such movements are instrumental to the animal's survival or well-being -- for food, water, or safety.

Friday, December 4, 2020

Coronavirus - vaccine development

The Vaccine Story’s Heroes Do Not Fit the Liberal Narrative


"Moderna had hundreds of vials of its vaccine shipped to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Bethesda, Maryland by February 24. Everything that has happened since — 1.4 million deaths worldwide, crippling lockdowns — has gone on while we were waiting for that vaccine to be tested, approved, and distributed."

"Moderna’s testing was slowed for a critical juncture by demands to include more racial minorities in the trials."  

I guess the demands came from the FDA. Regardless, clinical trials were yet to be done, and they take a long time. Reference: Coronavirus – clinical trials #2

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Coronavirus -vaccine approval

The U.S. FDA drags its feet and the UK acts quickly to grant emergency use authorization to the Pfizer and BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine. 

Dr. Marty Makary [Johns Hopkins University] blasts FDA timetable to approve coronavirus vaccine: 'Why are they waiting three weeks?'

TheHill Nov. 28: UK to approve Pfizer and BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine next week

Update Dec. 2, 2020.

"LONDON — Britain gave emergency authorization on Wednesday to Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine"

The European Union authorities say they will decide by December 29.

"White House officials reportedly summoned FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn [nominated by Trump Nov. 2019] to the West Wing earlier this week for an explanation as to why the U.S. still has not granted emergency use authorization to Pfizer, which applied for FDA approval late last month."

“We are one of the few regulatory agencies in the world, if not the only one, that actually looks at the raw data from clinical trials,” Hahn told CBS News on Wednesday. “So we’re not going to take a summary from a company and take their conclusions and base our decision on that.”

Monday, November 30, 2020

Coronavirus - spread

Social Distancing Isn’t Enough to Prevent InfectionHow to Detect COVID-19 Super-Spreaders

This is an interesting article about the physics of transmission of the coronavirus. Detecting super-spreaders requires a sophisticated device now being used in hospitals.

Friday, November 27, 2020

A Metaphysics for Freedom #7

The following is a continuation of my summary of, much of it quotes and paraphrases from, Chapter 8 of A Metaphysics for Freedom by Helen Steward.

Often said about top-down causation is that if such a thing existed, it would have to involve suspension of, or interference with, operative laws at the lower level. But how does the apparent commitment to law violation arise from the assumption that certain psychological states and events can cause the cells and molecules in a bird’s body to move? Why would physical laws be such that do not allow for any variation according to their setting? Is it that laws of physics completely dictate the movements of all physical things? What if they only constrain the movements without dictating every detail? A free falling tennis ball will obey Newton’s laws of gravity and the laws predict its travel without interference, but interference is possible. There is no scientific reason to endorse the claim that physical laws completely dictate movement. There is only the grip of a mesmerising world view.

John Searle has argued there is no room for free will because neurophysiology settles everything. On the other hand Roger Sperry defends downward causation on the grounds of emergent properties. We cannot understand the movement of a small part of a wheel apart from understanding the movement of the whole wheel.

“Our standard model for causation involves one object impacting on another and thereby producing a change in it, usually a change in properties that relates to its motion (though perhaps not only those.) The wheel certainly does not impact on the molecule in this way, but must that be the only kind of causal interaction we can envisage? Might there be types of causal affecting that obtain only in the special case where one object is part of another?” (p.235).

“The key to to this puzzle about top-down causation, I think, is the phenomenon of coincidence. For in general the ‘basal conditions’ from which complex entities may be said to ‘emerge’ tend to be complex conditions, which require for their generation that a great many quite separate things occur together or else in some precise order, or (more usually) both” (p. 236).

“That molecules are in this special kind of arrangement, that they are ordered in the necessary way, is a fact that is to be causally explained by appeal to someone’s plans and designs: a wheel was wanted and so a wheel got made. Without this part of the causal story, it would just be an enormous and totally inexplicable coincidence that the universe had managed to throw up molecules arranged wheelwise” (p. 237).

“Causation is about how things come to be. Where certain things require for their coming to be that complex synchronous arrangements to exist has to be part of the causal story, part of the relevant metaphysics of causation and not just part of what is required to satisfy the intellectual curiosity of the investigator” (p. 239).

“The question is how on earth a whole person or animal could manage to have effects on its own parts in such a way that causation does not simply reduce to the causation of parts on parts? It is of course not possible for me to give a full account here of what the cause of human action actually involves, for that is the scientific question to which there will have to be scientific answers” (p. 243).

An animal could affect things without its role collapsing into the role played by the various lower-level entities out of the activities from which its own doings emerge. It is essential to avoid thinking of the animals input as something prior to whatever neural processes initiate and then monitor and control the relevant bodily movement or change.

“In more complex animals [ ] it seems the need to respond swiftly to the ever-changing demands of an unpredictable environment has made it imperative that the integration of subsystems be organized overall by a top-level system that differs from the other systems that operate in it in a special way. The important new feature of the top-down system is discretion [ ] as to optimize its chances of survival and success.” (p. 245)

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Truth, Power, Money

The spectacle of the 2020 U.S. election brought to mind the above competitors.

“Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.” - Henry David Thoreau

Some might say that the 3-word title is too short, since it doesn’t include love and fame. In my opinion love and fame don’t compete in a political context nearly as much as the three. By “power” I mean political power.

In all the noise about Democrats stealing the election from Donald Trump and others denying it, I’d say truth is in third place in the competition. It seems that power is in first place for most Democrats, most of the media, Trump and most pro-Trumpers. Die-hard Democrats and major media brand any allegations of flawed vote counts as completely absurd. Apparently the quest for power trumps truth.

It is hard for me to rank the three for the leaders of Trump’s legal team Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell, and Jenna Ellis. (Giuliani recently said Powell is no longer part of the "team", whatever means. Regardless and doubtless, Powell remains part of the effort of Trump being re-elected.) I’m inclined to say money is #1. Are they being paid from campaign funds whose purpose is to re-elect Trump? I would not be surprised if the answer is ‘yes’.

There was a Legal Defense Fund for the American Republic established to fund the legal effort on behalf of Trump. It apparently has been superseded by another fund. Sidney Powell established a legal defense fund called Defending the Republic. Checks are payable to Sidney Powell, PC. If all the money to pay the team is not coming from one of these fund, then where? Have campaign funds for Trump gone to said funds? What will happen to any money remaining in the funds after the dust settles?

Giuliani, Powell, and Ellis are all lawyers. So I suspect they know pretty well about libel, slander, and perjury. I also suspect they know pretty well how to use half-truths, hyperbole, innuendos, omit things that challenge their hype, and to stretch the truth, but not go so far as cross the line into lies that could have adverse legal problems for them.

They and others have made lots of allegations. Some sound like far-fetched conspiracy theories. Whether or not they have enough solid evidence to overturn the election of Biden is yet to be seen. If the Dominion Voting System allows manipulating the vote count, where are the lines of code and/or the user interface that allow such manipulation?

Newsweek reports that Sidney Powell claimed that Republican Georgia Governor Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger were being paid to be part of a conspiracy with Dominion Voting Systems. She said, “And Mr. Kemp and the secretary of state [are] in on the Dominion scam with their last-minute purchase or reward of a contract to Dominion of $100 million."

Hmm. If Kemp and Raffensperger were paid “proves” a fraudulent vote in Georgia, then doesn’t Sidney Powell getting paid to represent Trump “prove” her allegations are fraudulent?

I don’t doubt that there were some illegitimate votes, e.g. from “dead voters” or altered ballots or altered counts. However, were there enough to overturn the election?

For most of the media, left-wing and right-wing, the quest for power outranks truth. It is not about the opiner having the power personally, but deciding what politicians will have power.

This webpage, obviously pro-Trump, claims the following.

“The democrats found a batch of 23,277 votes in Philadelphia and incredibly, every single ballot was for #GropeyJoe. 🤔 Not a single ballot was for President Trump. Not a single ballot was for third party candidates.

"In a hypothetical precinct with a 50/50 split of voters, the chance of a vote going for either President Trump or #GropeyJoe is statistically equivalent to a coin flip. Now imagine flipping a coin 23,277 times, and every single time it lands on tails. That is what the democrats would have us believe happened.”

How did this allegedly occur? The article doesn’t say.

From a pile of votes, some for Trump and some for Biden, 23,277 in a row for Biden is extremely unlikely. However, assume 45,000 (legitimate) ballots are firstly sorted into two bins, one for Biden and a second for Trump, and then counted. Then finding 23,277 in a row for Biden in the first bin would not be surprising! Saying so would be wholly truthful. Neither would finding 21,723 in a row for Trump in the second bin be surprising, and saying so would also be wholly truthful. Citing one number but not the other would be a half-truth.

I am not alleging that Trump’s lawyers actually claimed such a half-truth about only votes for Biden. However, I have not seen proof that they didn’t either.


The following is only one of many news stories about money flow.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Coronavirus -- vaccine effectiveness

"Hopes are soaring that a Covid vaccine is within reach, following news that an interim analysis has shown Pfizer/BioNTech’s candidate to have 90% efficacy in protecting people from transmission of the virus in global trials.

This article was amended on 18 November 2020 to clarify that results of vaccine trials at this stage refer to “efficacy” – the performance of an intervention under ideal and controlled circumstances – not “effectiveness”, which describes performance under real-world conditions" (The Guardian).

"In Moderna's trial, 15,000 study participants were given a placebo, which is a shot of saline that has no effect. Over several months, 90 of those people developed Covid-19. Another 15,000 participants were given the vaccine, and five of them developed Covid-19" (CNN). 

News reports from other sources are very similar. 

Okay, so 90% or 95% effectiveness or “efficacy” means that of the people who got the vaccine, 90% or 95% of them did not get Covid-19. This doesn’t answer the question of how many of them were enough exposed to the coronavirus to get Covid-19. If the people in the clinical trials wore masks, washed hands often, and minimized social contact, then it should not be surprising if effectiveness falls when people who get vaccinated during the big roll-out are not so precautious. Of course, effective rates depend on the degree of presence of the virus, and herd immunity will be reached eventually.

I heard a doctor say on television that he expects effective rates will fall as the vaccine is more widely distributed. He wasn’t clear about why.

Both vaccines are type mRNA. There are many articles on the Internet about this, such as this one.

Friday, November 20, 2020

Coronavirus – clinical trials #5 (& statistics)

The New York Post reports that a clinical trial has shown another repurposed drug, baricitinib (brand name Olumiant) is effective in reducing mortality rates of Covid patients.  Other sources, such as report the same. 

The articles say baricitinib reduces mortality by two-thirds or 71%. I don't understand how, because 1 - 17/35 = 0.514 is significantly less. Moreover, I have seen other cases where I didn't understand how the number was calculated. 

I have heard of other metrics used for clinical trials, such as odds-ratio and Cox Proportional Hazards-model but have been unable to replicate numbers the story claimed. I couldn't calculate an odds ratio for baricitinib because the news stories do not give all the numbers needed. Anyway, the alleged number in the news story has every time been higher than the number I got using the simple method shown above.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

A Metaphysics for Freedom #6

Following is a summary of, much of it quotes and paraphrases from, Chapter 8 of A Metaphysics for Freedom by Helen Steward. It is the last chapter and titled Agency, Substance Causation, and Top-Down Causation. It is also the longest chapter in the book, so a later post will also be about it.

Steward’s view has much in common with what’s called agent causationism, which holds that causation by agents is fundamental to any solution to the problem of free will. She doesn’t believe agent or substance causation is reducible to event causation. (She doesn’t say so explicitly, but her use of substance seems like that of Aristotle.) “The first and most crucial point to be made is that it is simply not correct to suppose that the ontology of most non-human causation is an event ontology. Causation by substances is utterly ubiquitous. Inanimate substances can cause things just as well as animate ones.” The idea seems to have become very prevalent in philosophy that where an inanimate substance may be said to cause something, it is always ‘really’ some event involving it that is the cause (p. 207).

Steward states three categories of cause – movers, makers-happen, and matterers.

“Roughly speaking, movers are things: usually substances, or collections o substances, although [ ] I would not want to rule out [ ] less familiar sorts of endurants, such as fields, might also be movers of a sort. They are such entities as stones and masses of air and water, animals and persons, as well as some of the smaller entities that go to make them up, like molecules and ions” (p. 212). One might object that fundamental physics may ultimately recognize no entities of the sort we generally suppose enduring things like this to be, but fundamental physics has little use for the concept of causation either. Movers are the primary doers of so-called ‘causal work’.

“Makers happen, roughly speaking, are the proper [Donald] Davidsonian events that trigger substances into action.” Often the event that triggers a mover into action is the impact of some other substance.

Matterers are facts. They are the causes we advert to by means of basically sentential expressions and which we link together with their effects by means of sentential connectives like ‘because’. For example, the match did not light because it was too damp.

There is no need for an agent causationist to deny that actions may have causes, but not all actions have a necessitating cause. If the latter were so, there would be no settling by agents.

The idea of a form of causation that is ‘top-down’ evidently exploits a metaphor of ascending levels. The relevant levels are relative, not absolute. There is no need to commit to monolithic divides across all of nature. For animals, for example, at the bottom there may be subatomic particles, moving up to atoms and molecules, then cells, tissues, and then organs, and finally top-level.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Self-employment taxes

I believe this MarketWatch article about self-employment taxes -- for Social Security and Medicare -- could have a better title. Like the article says, the full-time self-employed are well aware of said tax. The article's purpose seems to be to inform readers -- especially those self-employed part-time or who do occasional work -- whether or not they are subject to said taxes. A title such as 'Is Work Income Subject To Social Security & Medicare Taxes?' better fits that purpose. 

Some more specific kinds of work that the article doesn't mention are:

- Driving for Uber or Lyft is subject to self-employment taxes. The state of California government based on Assembly Bill 5 tried to turn said drivers into Uber or Lyft employees instead of independent contractors. This attempt was defeated by Proposition 22 this month (link). If treated as employees, they would pay half and their employers pay the other half of Social Security and Medicare taxes.

- Income to poll workers (for voting) and door-to-door census workers presumably are not subject to Social Security and Medicare taxes, since the work does not qualify as a "regular trade or business."

This Motley Fool article implies that Social Security and Medicare taxes are owed on all gig work. “Gig work” is not defined, but there can be exceptions if the work does not qualify as a "regular trade or business."

When filing taxes, self-employment income is reported on Schedule C and line 3 of Form 1040 Schedule 1. Income to poll workers (for voting), to door-to-door census workers, and for jury duty are reported on line 8 of Schedule 1 and not on Schedule C. The Form 1040 Instructions, page 82 show more kinds of income that go on line 8. Many are non-work income.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

A Metaphysics for Freedom #5

Following are quotes and paraphrases from Chapter 7 of A Metaphysics for Freedom by Helen Steward. She responds to three anticipated challenges to her arguments against the Challenges from Chance. The challenges are (1) matters of luck, (2) Frankfurt style examples, and (3) refrainment and robustness.  

Matters of Luck

Steward uses an example of Joe deciding whether or not to move in with his girlfriend and the ideas in of Alfred Mele’s book Free Will and Luck. Mele holds that the difference between the possible world in which Joe decides at time t to move in and the world in which he decides at time t to not move in as a ‘matter of luck.’ For Mele it seems that there is no complete explanation in terms of antecedent condition at time t why one outcome rather than the other occurs. Steward’s Agency Compatibilist position is it is not something about us that makes us act, but simply because we act that it is up to us what happens to our bodies. “There is simply no coherent way of understanding how Joe, gripped by the excitement and enthusiasm with which he is happily imagining his new life in his girlfriend’s beautiful flat [ ] , and lacking any thoughts, emotions, or motivations that might justify the decision to stay where he is, could nevertheless have made the decision at t not to move in at all.”

Mele would contend that we have to allow for the possibility that Joe might not have moved in at time t despite he did so at time t. Steward counters that it is rationally unintelligible there is an alien force that counters Joe’s wishes and reasons and hopes. Indeed, there are lots of alternative possibilities for which there is really no good explanation. There are, of course, cases in which a decision must be made at a given moment if an opportunity is not to be lost. However, the hypothetical alternative decision is a failure to act, not an action. It is important to Steward’s position that the power of agency is a power to settle, not merely a power to decide.

Frankfurt style examples

Philosopher Harry Frankfurt is the originator of a much-discussed variety of counterexamples to what he calls the Principal of Alternative Possibilities: A person is morally responsible for what he has done only if he could have done otherwise. It had been supposed to be a priori; Frankfurt argued it was false.

Such examples are very contrived. One is that Gunnar intensely dislikes Ridley and plans to shoot him. Cosser also dislikes Ridley and worries that Gunnar will not complete his plan. Cosser, a neurosurgeon, is able to implant a device in Gunnar’s brain that Cosser can activate if Gunnar loses his resolve. The point of the example is that Gunnar could not have done other than to shoot Ridley.

Since such examples are so contrived, have little bearing on Steward’s concept of agency, and pertain to moral questions, I will skip saying more.

Refrainment and robustness

Van Inwagen suggested that though Frankfurtian agents may not be able to avoid bringing about certain types of consequences (e.g. Ridley dies), they might nevertheless retain the power to prevent the particular consequences they in fact produce. Again, since such examples are so contrived, have little bearing on Steward’s concept of agency, and pertain to moral questions, I will skip saying more.

Friday, November 13, 2020

My first two JARS articles

My first two articles published in The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies can be read online free at Reading them requires being registered there, but registration is free. Reading newer articles requires payment somehow, but these articles are old enough to be read for free. (This is based on my personal experience. Somebody else's might differ.) 

Both articles are about epistemology, more specifically the nature of concepts.

Omissions and Measurement (2006)
The Sim-Dif Model and Comparison (2011) 

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

A Metaphysics for Freedom #4

Following are quotes and paraphrases from Chapters 5-6 of A Metaphysics for Freedom by Helen Steward.

It is essential to distinguish between the following:

P1: The question whether determinism is true can only be answered by physics.

P2: Whether determinism is true or false may some day be settled by physics.

P2 does not rule out a philosophical argument bearing on the issue. But some people say deciding if determinism is true or not is not a philosophical question.

In Steward view we make sense of agency daily when we use the concepts of agent, action, and psychology – the psychology of belief, desire, intention, etc., and even seeing, wanting, and trying to get.

She gives two arguments for libertarian free will as ultimately unintelligible. Chapters 6 and 7 address the first one. Chapter 8 addresses the second one. The first is that its denial of determinism merely introduces an unhelpful randomness to causality. She calls it the Challenge from Chance. If it is right to think that a genuine choice has to be something with intelligible roots in such things as an agent’s reasons and desires, libertarian free will not only saddles us with the Challenge from Chance. It looks incoherent, if it insists it was possible, at the moment of decision, that the agent could have made the opposite choice, even when the agent has no reason or desire for the opposite. Even if it were possible to make a choice unrelated to one’s desires, beliefs, or deliberations – perhaps from deep psychological causes – it’s hard to accept that such a cause provides a solid foundation for a coherent libertarian free will (p. 132). It suggests that outcomes are then at least partly a matter of luck. It is partly a matter of luck not merely in that the outcome is not completely determined by antecedent factors, it is a matter of luck to the decision maker. It is not freedom-enhancing. It is an obstacle to control and the operation of agency (p. 141). I skip Steward’s extensive examples to support this.

The concept of action she defends draws on terminology introduced by John Searle. He argues for three ‘gaps’ an explanation of action must take into account.

1. A gap between ones beliefs and desires and any actual decision made.

2. A gap between the decision and the action.

3. For actions extended in time, a gap between the initiation of the action and its completion. A constant voluntary effort is required.

Regarding 2, we often decide to do things and then fail to do them without changing our minds, but due to laziness, inertia, lack of resolve, cowardice, etc. Chapter 7 will deal with responses to the Challenges from Chance such a challenger could make to her claims.

Saturday, November 7, 2020

A Metaphysics for Freedom #3

Following are quotes and paraphrases from Chapter 4, Animal Agency, of A Metaphysics for Freedom by Helen Steward.

Normal development starting in infancy “results in the eventual emergence of a mature concept of agency that has roughly the following features:

- and agent can move the whole, or at least some parts, of something we are inclined to think of as its body;
- an agent is a centre of some form of subjectivity;
- an agent is something to which at least some rudimentary types of intentional state (e.g. trying, wanting, perceiving) may be properly attributed;
- an agent is a settler of matters concerning certain kinds of the movements of its own body in roughly the sense described in Chapter 2, i.e. the actions by means of which those movements are effected cannot be regarded merely as the inevitable consequence of what has gone before” (p. 71-2).

“The most powerful motivation to compatibilism has always been the reflection that it is no easier to see how indeterministic processes of a psychological sort could possibly sustain agency than it is to see how deterministic ones might allow for it” (p. 74).

If one watches a large farm animal engaged in its normal activities, she suggest it is near impossible to avoid looking upon it as an agent. The animal determines the details of how, when, and where exactly these activities are to be carried out. It looks as though it involves such things as desires and perceptions and decisions on the part of the animal itself, and we have not the faintest idea of explaining these movements without such mentalistic concepts.

Human children acquire and adults use a framework which postulates not independent ment al ‘staes’ causally interacting, but rather a minded entity that possesses those states, and that acts in light of them. The agent, not her desires and beliefs, retain the power to produce, or not produce, bodily motions (p.77).

Watching a bird pecking for food or a cat stalking a mouse is utterly unlike, say, a tree blowing in the wind. Such animal is a moment-to-moment controller of its own body and its motivational states. It is a way of mental states and at the same time a way of seeing.

Daniel Dennett’s “intentional stance” including concepts like ’desire’, ‘intention’, and ‘belief’ goes hand in hand with agency, although Dennett rarely uses ‘agency.’ However, one aspect of Dennett’s view with which Steward doesn’t agree is his willingness to attribute consciousness to computers (p.103).

In the final section of Chapter 4, Steward tries answering which animals pass the test of being an agent. Where does agency end and mechanism begin? She considers the jumping spider, Portia. Observing the Portia’s apparent plans and strategies of catching prey, she finds it hard to conceive of the spider as not an agent. She doesn’t doubt that much of Portia’s behavior is instinct, but she also posits judgment and some form of thinking based on its variability and flexibility (p. 108).

She also considers earthworms, which Charles Darwin intensely studied and made the subject of his last work. “Darwin’s own conclusion appears to be that though the general types of purposive behavior he examined were undoubtedly instinctive in the earthworms, the precise manner of execution of the various tasks they undertook were too variable to be strictly instinctive” (p. 111).

An algorithmic or functionalist view of the earthworm’s behavior can only go so far. At that point she suggest “it is natural to have recourse to the idea that instead of a simple program-instantiating machine we had a different kind of system in our sights: an agent with a [ ] lowly form of consciousness making moment-to-moment decisions about what to do, guided no doubt by instinct, sometimes pre-empted in its operation by mere reflexes, tropisms, and other involuntary responses, but nevertheless deserving to be thought of as a low-level conscious controller of a body, responding to environmental factors in ways [ ] not open to exact prediction” (p. 112).

Earlier in the book Steward eliminated sponges and paramecia as animals no meeting the criteria of agency (p. 14). 

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

A Metaphysics for Freedom #2

Following are quotes and paraphrases from Chapters 2 and 3 of  A Metaphysics for Freedom by Helen Steward. The main concept is settling.

A compatibilist likely holds that certain things are up to us, but this does not bear upon the future being metaphysically open. The compatibilist can suppose that something’s being up to someone is a matter of that thing’s being causally dependent on such things as desires or choices or intentions. This brings no difficulty fitting within the confines of a perfectly deterministic world, according to which actions are the causal upshots of such prior mental events and states.

Van Inwagon’s Consequent Argument: If determinism is true, then our acts are the consequence of the laws of nature and events in the remote past. But it is not up to us what went on before we were born, and neither is it up to us what the laws of nature are. Therefore, the consequences of these things (including our present acts) are not up to us.

Presumably, Van Inwagon takes it for granted such things as ‘our acts’ exist; his concern is whether or not theses acts are ‘up to us’ or not. Steward contends that his is the wrong way of looking at the matter. If nothing is up to us, then there are no such things as actions. There are merely reactions, a series of inevitably unfolding events.

Her concept of settling is central. “I want to insist that as I move through the world, performing the various activities of which my life consists, I am constantly settling the answers to a variety of questions whose answers are (therefore) not already settled long before the time at which my actions take place.” The moment of settling is when the agents decides and acts and hence settles the matter in a particular way (p. 39).

“I settle things not only by initiating motor activity but also by continuing it; by refraining, for example, from vetoing the original instruction or from altering it in any of the multifarious ways that are constantly open to me. Because these powers of refrainment and alteration are present throughout the whole duration of the action, I am constantly settling what happens from moment to moment, even if I do not in fact exercise those powers of refrainment and alteration” (p. 46).

Experiments conducted by Libet cast doubt on Steward’s contemporaneous settling, since such experiments suggest that how we shall move is sometimes settled by prior causes of which we have no knowledge. It might be thought that evidence of prior neural activity in advance of a conscious decision suggest the operation of a hidden neural variety of determinism. On Steward’s view, Libet’s evidence is of a readiness potential, a part of the action, but not the necessary cause of the entire action.

“All intentional bodily agency, I suggest, involves the interweaving of conscious systems of bodily control with more basic, effectively automated or partly automated systems. … An enormous amount of the settling that we do as agents is delegated, inevitably, to processes that are ill-described as the causing of motions by mental states, such as choosings, intendings, and the like. … An agent’s settling of things can be perfectly well be constituted by processes to which she pays no mind whatever” (p. 52).

She devotes several pages to the compatibalist Causal Theory of Action that I won't summarize.

Monday, November 2, 2020

A Metaphysics for Freedom #1

A Metaphysics for Freedom is the title of a 2014 book by Helen Steward, a lecturer at the University of Leeds in England. Her book offers a new perspective on free will, free choice, or volition based on the concept agency. Agency is not limited to human beings. It also exists to a lesser extent in many other, but not all, animal species. 

Quotes and paraphrases from Chapter 1 follow.

In traditional terms Seward is an incompatibalist [ref.: compatibalism], holding that anything worthy of calling ‘free agency” could not exist in a completely deterministic universe. She agrees with John Bishop, who claimed that the serious problem concerning debates about freedom and determinism has nothing to do with either, but with the possibility of accommodating actions within the natural universe. Determinism is falsified as much as what is natural to think about the meanderings of a goat as by the ethical agonizing and deliberate choices of humans. Yet in recent years there has been a tendency for the ‘freedom’ side of the debate to be conceived in more lofty and sophisticated terms. 

“The supposition that agency itself – the capacity to move oneself about the world in purposive ways, ways that are at least in some respects up to oneself – is unproblematic, and that it is only something rather more special, given, perhaps, the honorific appellation ‘free agency’ or ‘free will’, that creates potential difficulties, inevitably gives rise to the suspicion that the incompatibalist must mean to insist upon the operation, in connection solely with human powers, of types of causality or disruption in the natural unfolding of events not generally found elsewhere in the world, and it is reasonably supported by many that this cannot be acceptable.” [p. 4-5; Whew!]

“[W]hat I shall call animal agency, a collection of powers that are remarkable enough, despite the fact that they are not unique to humanity, and which might themselves be thought of as representative of a variety of freedom – albeit, admittedly, a far more lowly sort than we are used to encompassing with that term – which will be the main focus of my book” (p. 5).

“In order to exercise the forms of agency that we value so highly – moral choice, exercises of taste and skill, communication, self-disciplined attention to duties, personal development, creativity, etc. – we have to be able to move our bodies in such a way as to make them carry out plans of our own devising, in the service of our ends. My claim will be that these humble abilities, which are widely possess throughout the animal kingdom, are themselves incompatible with universal determinism” (p. 5).

Causal theories of rational action, according to which an agent’s strongest desire always prevails, provide further grist to the determinist’s mill, as does empirical evidence that root explanations in sub-personal phenomena such as hormones or neurally-based dispositions (p. 10).

Quantum indeterminacy, if granted, seems not to help very much with the free will problem (p. 10).

Her argument for the falsity of universal determinism is:

1. If universal determinism is true, the future is not open.
2. If there are self-moving animals, the future is open.
3. There are self-moving animals.
4. Therefore, universal determinism is not true (p. 12).

However, the concept of self-moving animal needed to support agency is hard to specify precisely. Sponges and paramecium are not good candidates (p. 16). A goal is required (p.17).

Settling is a key concept in her theory. It is not true that everything relating to the relevant set of movements and changes in the animal’s body is determinately settled by the universe prior to the time of the animal’s activity, for at least some things have to be settled by the animal at the time of its activity (p. 20).

Reference: Scope of Volition. This doesn’t try to explain volition in terms of physics. On the other hand, perceptual attention, motivation, and goals don’t fall within the scope of physics.

Addenda Nov. 8: When writing the above I didn’t include much from pages 9-12 in order to emphasize her argument for free will rather than her argument against determinism. So I will focus on the latter here.

No one supposes that the mere existence of quantum indeterminacy lead to the dissolution of the free will problem (p. 9).

The huge success of molecular biology provide evidence that some complex, higher-level phenomena of life are susceptible to reductive explanation by chemistry. She believes explaining what these are, how higher level phenomena relate to lower level phenomena, rather than any generalized commitment to determinism, that sustains compatibilism (Steward being an incompatibilist). It is not universal determinism per se which is problematic for agency, but a localized variant of determinism. She will say more about this in Chapters 6-8, and I will also in later posts in this series. 

The relation between agency and the microphysical is as much about supposing the way different levels of reality relate to one another as it is the idea that each momentary state of the universe inexorably necessitating the next.

Section 1.3 is titled ‘An Argument Against Universal Determinism.’ However, most of the section in my view is her case for her concept of agency.

Friday, October 30, 2020

Science of Nerdiness; Statistics

Here is an interesting article from Scientific American. It gives a plausible explanation for my being nerdy. 😲 Maybe that should be my being "dopey."  😋

A friend and professor is near completing a college-level textbook about statistical literacy. He already has a well-known publisher. Nerdy me is reviewing and proofreading it for him. His website is among the external links in the Wikipedia article. 

Statistical literacy is important. Many people accept questionable statistics. Numbers add an aura of being  objective. It is sometimes said, "Numbers don't lie." That's literally true, but liars may use numbers (link). And people may be duped by statistics-based arguments such as this one by David Leonhardt of the The New York Times.

"There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics." -- Mark Twain

Monday, October 26, 2020

Joe Biden’s public option

Another pile of ambiguity that Joe Biden promotes is the so-called “public option.” This will allegedly improve Obamacare, but is not as extreme as Medicare for All. Strong critics call it socialism, which Biden says is false. A more accurate description would be “toddler socialism”, and it is widely known that most toddlers grow into adults. Another term is “creeping socialism,” although “fast crawl socialism” would better fit Biden’s “plan.” It isn’t quite Medicare for All as advocated by Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren. Joe Biden loudly denies that, despite his plan’s strong push in the same direction. This Vox article about Biden’s “public option” offers a passing explanation. This Biden page tries to explain it.

The essence of the public option is that a person less than age 65 can enroll in Medicare. How much below age 65 and how much would the premium be? The answers to these questions are typically deemed unimportant details. However, the adage "the devil is in the details" applies. The Biden page above includes multiple answers – “premium-free” for some and tax credits for others, which in effect reduce premiums. Full-blown, the answer is a hodge-podge due to state variations and subsidies via Medicaid or other government assistance (existing or per future legislation).

Something to keep in mind is the premium that people now covered by Medicare (or Medicare Advantage) pay. The basic amount for 2020 is $144.60 monthly. Higher income people pay as much as $491.60 monthly (IRMAA, link). That is for Part B. Most people pay $0 for Part A, but a few pay something ($252 to $458 monthly).

Imagine that Joe Biden’s plan were implemented. Mary Doe age 62 takes the public option and qualifies for paying a $0 premium. Three years later when Mary Doe qualifies for Medicare, her premium will jump to the Part B basic amount, now $144.60. That could be quite a shock for some people, so it’s reasonable to expect that Biden’s plan would contain some “transition rules” (probably complicated) to ease Mary’s burden.

More people going on Medicare, with the CMS’s low reimbursement rates paid to medical providers, will put upward pressure on prices for any private or employer-paid insurance – mostly that provided by employers. For inpatient services, private payers and employers recently paid prices that were 231 percent of Medicare reimbursement, while for outpatient these entities paid 267 percent of Medicare reimbursement (link).

Since employees generally pay around 20% of the cost of employer-provided coverage, the employee cost will go up as well. Then they might choose to switch to the public option. And very likely as in Bernie Sanders’ and Elizabeth Warren’s proposals, the government would confiscate the employer’s “cost savings” when the employee opts out of the employer’s health insurance plan. With rising costs, more employers could drop their plans, pushing all of their employees toward the public option. All that is part of the unspoken future reality of Biden’s plan – push more and more people into government-run healthcare. In other words, fast-crawl socialism. Since “socialism” is vague, with different meanings to different people, better and clearer is “fast-crawl authoritarianism.” Biden’s authoritarianism is more institutional than personal, but nevertheless authoritarian. To him government knows best and is the preferred means for anything regarded as "social." 

Sleepy Joe himself says nothing at all about most of the above to the general public. As far as I know, he has said nothing about taxing employers the way Sanders and Warren did. The Biden plan linked above says nil about it. Maybe he doesn’t even understand "his" own plan. Many politicians' foresight is very short-range. I’d guess that Sleepy Joe himself is not even the author of "his" plan. Some staffers wrote it. I bet he knows less about what’s in “his” plan than Nancy Pelosi knew about the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) when she said, "We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it."

Sanders' and Warren's Medicare for All would in effect force everyone to take the public "option" (in quotes because there would no option.) Of course, there is no assurance whatever that Sleepy Joe, if elected, would not quickly substitute some form of Medicare for All for the "public option" plan he promotes while campaigning, especially if pushed by Congressional Democrats. He is an accomplished flip-flopper. He might even follow the pattern of Bill and Hillary Clinton. He could appoint Kamala Harris -- who advocated Medicare for All while a presidential candidate -- healthcare czar.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Hyperbole, truthfulness, half-truths, lying, Donald Trump, Joe Biden

Let’s consider hyperbole, truthfulness, half-truths, and lying regarding President Donald Trump and Joe Biden.

Trump stretches the truth or uses hyperbole very often. Doing so supports his bombastic narcissism. When he does, the mainstream media folk call it a “lie,” which is itself either hyperbole or an outright lie. For example, if Trump overstates GDP growth as 3% when its actually 2%, CNN and other media outlets don’t say he stretched the truth, but that he lied.

Joe Biden isn’t untruthful as often as Trump stretches the truth, uses hyperbole  or lies. But when Biden lies, it is usually a whopper and/or relies on nitpicking. If Trump says something about Biden that isn’t purely truthful, Biden will jump on the untruthful bit and claim “That is NOT true,” insinuating that everything Trump said is a lie. Similarly, suppose Trump were to say, “The Bidens have received millions of dollars in corrupt payoffs.” It’s clear that Trump did not mean only Joe. Yet Joe would likely respond with “I did not receive a penny,” insinuating that Trump’s claim is 100% false. Biden used this tactic multiple times during their second debate.

Whenever Biden talks about what he would do as president, it’s near impossible for him not to lie, because he flip-flops and contradicts himself so much from one day to the next. Whenever Biden talks about what Trump did or wants to do, it is typically a whopper. 

A prime example is pre-existing conditions regarding health insurance coverage. Trump has said numerous times that he would not allow insurers to reject applicants with pre-existing conditions, without contradicting that at other times. As far as I know, Trump has never even hinted he approves allowing insurers to terminate existing health insurance coverage because the insured has a pre-existing condition. Yet Biden said in the Oct 22 debate about Trump:

“Lastly, we're going to make sure we're in a situation that we've actually protect pre existing -- there's no way he can protect pre existing conditions. None, zero, you can't do it in the ether. … [H]e’s already cost the American people because of his terrible handling of the COVID virus and economic spillover. 10 million people have lost their private insurance, and he wants to take away 22 million more people who have been under Obamacare, and over 110 million people with pre-existing conditions.“

Kamala Harris in her debate with Pence said Trump was out to take away insurance from people with pre-existing conditions.

It would be hard to find bigger lies than these. Firstly, pre-existing conditions pertain to less than 10% of the population with insurance, plus the uninsured. The insured part is applying for individual policies for people under age 65 directly purchasable from insurers and outside the Obamacare exchanges. Nobody can be denied coverage for pre-existing conditions when applying for health coverage via Medicare, Medicaid, Medicare Advantage policies, Medicare supplement policies when first eligible (usually age 65), an Obamacare exchange, CHIP, or an employer plan. All told, that’s most of the population for whom pre-existing conditions is not an issue. However, Biden and Harris exaggerate it to the entire population. 

Biden has said many times he would ban fracking, and as about as often not ban fracking, that it is impossible from him to not contradict himself, i.e lie. He is all for renewable energy (wind, solar) and anti-fossil fuels. He says he wants to end or transition from using fossil fuels. So where will people get gasoline for their cars, and gas or most electricity for their homes? How will that affect airplanes flying? Blank-out. Ceasing or transitioning from using fossil fuels entails fewer jobs that rely on fossil fuels. Biden loves to “advertise” millions of new jobs in renewable energy while blanking out the simultaneous loss of jobs that depend on fossil fuels. He wants to end subsidies of oil and gas, yet says nil about ending subsidies for wind and solar, which are many, many times greater. Ditto for Harris. They can’t have their cake and eat it, too.

Biden says out of one side of his mouth that he will reverse the Trump tax cuts, but says out of the other side of his mouth that he will not raise taxes on people with incomes less than $400,000. These claims are mutually contradictory. Reversing the Trump tax cuts necessarily raises taxes on many with incomes less than $400,000. So together or saying only the latter, Biden's claim is a big fat lie. 

Of course, CNN, Lesley Stahl, the Washington Compost, New York Times, and numerous other media people or outlets don’t challenge the lies and half-truths of Joe Biden or Kamala Harris. They let it pass without comment, maybe due to poor understanding of the two's gibberish.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Wokeness - Andrew Sullvan

I posted about the New Discourses website and "wokeness" on August 9.

Andrew Sullivan's blog The Weekly Dish dated October 18 is also about wokeness. He asks why is wokeness or Critical Race Theory (CRT) winning?

His main answers are:

- It is emotional. 

- It’s super-easy. 

- There’s the deep relationship between CRT and one of the most powerful human drives: tribalism.

- Social aspiration.

-There’s little doubt that there is a religious component to wokeness.

- But what also make CRT so successful is ruthlessness. Those who hold a view of the world in which only power, and the struggle for power, matters, have few qualms in exercising it.

Monday, October 19, 2020

Black Rednecks and White Liberals #2

‘The Real History of Slavery’ is the third essay of Thomas Sowell’s Black Rednecks and White Liberals. The following is paraphrased or quoted from it. Quotes are in all italics.

Slavery was an evil of greater scope than most people imagine and its place in history is radically different from the way it is usually portrayed. Mention slavery and immediately the image that arises is that of Africans and their descendants enslaved by the whites in the Southern United States. A somewhat broader perspective includes slavery by Europeans or a slaves elsewhere in the Americas. Clearly, the ability to score ideological points against American society or Western civilization, or to induce guilt and thereby extract benefits from the white population today, are greatly enhanced by making enslavement appear to be a peculiarly American, or a peculiarly white, crime.

Almost any library can show the incredibly lopsided coverage of slavery in the United States or Western hemisphere as compared to the meager writings on the even larger number of African enslaved in Islamic countries, not to mention the vast number of Europeans also enslaved in centuries past in the Islamic world and within Europe itself. At least a millions Europeans were enslaved by North African pirates alone from 1500-1800, and some European slaves were still being sold on auction blocks in Egypt, years after the Emancipation Proclamation freed blacks in the United States.

During the Middle Ages, Slavs were so widely used as slaves in both Europe and the Islamic world that the word “slave” was derived from Slav in English, other European languages, and Arabic. Nor have Asians and Polynesians been exempt from either being enslaved or enslaving others. Slavery was also common China and India for centuries.

For most of its long history, slavery was not the enslavement of racially different people for the simple reason that it wasn’t possible to go to another continent to get slaves and transport them en masse across an ocean. People were enslaved because they were vulnerable, not because of how they looked.

How and why did slavery end in most of the world?

Far from being targeted by Europeans for racial reasons, Africa became a large source of slaves after Europeans ended enslaving other Europeans. The anti-slavery ideology behindthis began to develop in 18th century Britain, when the British Empire led the world in slave trading.

Contrary to the myth created by Alex Haley in Roots, Africans were by no means innocent to slave trading. West Africa became one of the great slave trading regions, before, during and after the white man arrived.

Slavery ending in the U.S. due to the Civil War was unique. The same didn’t happen elsewhere.

Moral, philosophical objections to slavery was a development in the Western world of the 18th century. There was near none before then.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Black Rednecks and White Liberals #1

Black Rednecks and White Liberals is the title of a book by Thomas Sowell. It is also the title of the first essay, from which the following is paraphrased or quoted.

“Black rednecks” are the subset of blacks who copy the habits and adopt the culture of white rednecks.

Long before “black pride” became a fashionable phrase, there was cracker pride – much the same kind. “It was not pride in any particular achievement or set of behavioral standards or moral principles adhered to. Instead it was a touchiness about anything that might be even remotely construed as a personal slight, much less an insult, combined with a willingness to erupt into violence over it. New Englanders were baffled by this kind of pride among crackers.”

The people who migrated from different parts of the British Isles took their habits with them to different parts of the U.S. Most who settled in New England were from the lowland southeastern half of Britain. Many who settled in the South migrated from other parts of the British Isles. Even where there was no conflict or hostility, Southerners often showed a reckless disregard for human life like they did from whence they came.

The violence for which white Southerners became most known and notorious was lynching. But most victims of lynching in the antebellum South were white. It was only after the Civil War that most lynching victims were black.

Observers of the white population of the antebellum South commented on the white redneck poverty and their lack of industriousness or entrepreneurship. For example, while the South abounded in cattle, the reported production of dairy products was small compared to that in the northern states. Literacy in the South was much lower than in the North.

Much of the cultural pattern of Southern rednecks became the cultural heritage of Southern blacks. The culture of Northern blacks were much closer to that of Northern whites.

White liberals in many roles – as intellectuals, politicians, celebrities, judges, teachers – have aided and abetted the perpetuation of a counterproductive and self-destructive lifestyle among black rednecks. It has been reinforced by the welfare state and other white liberal policies.

Blaming others for anything in which blacks lag is standard operating procedure among white liberals. For example, riots by blacks are blamed on whites. Why it is not a problem for blacks from the Caribbean or Asians goes unexplained.

Saturday, October 10, 2020

The V.P. Debate -- NY Times

David Leonhardt of the NY Times opines on the Oct. 7 debate between Mike Pence and Kamala Harris. Finding a more biased opinion favoring Harris would not be easy. Here is a transcript of the debate.

Both Harris and Leonhardt insist Biden will only raise income taxes on incomes of more than $400,000 a year. They ignore Biden's saying that he will reverse Trump's tax cuts. So both are lying and Pence noted it in the debate. His saying "on day one" is of no consequence.

Harris: "On day one, Joe Biden will repeal that tax bill."

Two minutes later, Pence: "Senator Harris tell you, on day one Joe Biden's gonna raise your taxes."

Harris: "That’s not what I said."

Two minutes later, Harris again blatantly contradicts herself: "Biden has been very clear. He will not raise taxes on anybody who makes less than $400,000 a year."

Harris absurdly claimed that Trump/Pence will take away health insurance from people who have pre-existing conditions. Harris' vague lie said, "you have Donald Trump who is in court right now trying to get rid of – trying to get rid of the Affordable Care Act, which means that you will lose protections, if you have pre-existing conditions. ... If you have a pre-existing condition, heart disease, diabetes, breast cancer, they're coming for you."

Leonhardt says, "The administration has repeatedly attempted to take health insurance away from Americans." It includes a link to a tweet that is a big lie.

Trump/Pence have not done or advocated such a thing. They got rid of one small part of the Affordable Care Act, the mandate to buy health insurance and penalties for non-compliance. They did nothing to eliminate the Affordable Care Act's health insurance exchanges or hamper people with pre-existing conditions. Insurers on the Obamacare health insurance exchanges cannot refuse an applicant for pre-existing conditions and are prevented by law from ending somebody's coverage because the insured has pre-existing conditions.

Insurers who sell Medicare Advantage and Medicare supplement policies cannot refuse coverage to a person when they first become eligible for Medicare. Medicare itself does not deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions. These rules concerning Medicare, Medicare Advantage and Medicare supplement policies existed long before the Affordable Care Act. A total repeal of the Affordable Care Act would not change these facts.

There are plenty of other lies, distortions, and half-truths from Harris that Leonhardt omitted. An annoying one was Harris's portrayal of the response in the U.S. to the coronavirus as being dictated and entirely controlled by Trump and Pence. Harris completely ignored the role of the CDC, FDA, state governments, and governors such as Cuomo of New York, Whitmer of Michigan, and Murphy of New Jersey, all Democrats who forced nursing homes to take Covid patients. Pence did not invoke this.

There are plenty of other lies, distortions, and half-truths in Harris's claims and Leonhardt's article, about which I am refraining from saying more.

Leonhardt: "Post-debate instant polls: 59 percent thought Harris won, 38 percent thought Pence won, CNN’s poll found."  Gimme a break. Consider the source. There are plenty of polls saying that Pence won.  

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Nobel Laureate on the Morality of Markets

This video is an interview with Vernon Smith. It's 56 minutes at normal speed. Smith is a slow talker. With the Settings control that looks like a gear, it can be played faster.

I recommend not downplaying his references to auction markets near the start. They exist far more than auctions per se. The trading of stocks and many commodities are in essence auction markets. In some markets there are parties who are mostly buyers and mostly sellers. For example, in the crude oil market, extractors are sellers and refiners are buyers.

Smith makes an interesting analogy between (1) government and its citizens and (2) parents and children. Government and parents exercise top-down control. Citizens and children adapt and cooperate on their own autonomously. 

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Dependent Rational Animals #3

In my final post about Dependent Rational Animals I will not give summaries for the remaining chapters and only list their titles.

Chapter 5. How impoverished is the world of the nonhuman animal?

Chapter 6. Reasons for action

Chapter 7. Vulnerability, flourishing, goods, and ‘good’

Chapter 8, How do we become independent practical reasoners?

Chapter 9. Social relationships, practical reasoning, common goods, and individual goods

Chapter 10. The virtues of acknowledged dependence

Chapter 11. The political and social structures of the common good

Chapter 12. Proxies, friends, truthfulness

Chapter 13. Moral commitment and rational enquiry

Lest anyone conclude that MacIntyre’s saying a lot about dependency implies or even suggests he uses it as a bridge to altruism as conceived by Auguste Comte or Ayn Rand, a deontological ethics, or utilitarianism, that is not the case. He is a virtue ethicist in the tradition of Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas. Virtue ethics identifies the central question of morality as having to do with the habits and knowledge concerning how to live a good life. His approach seeks to demonstrate that good judgment emanates from good character.  

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Dependent Rational Animals #2

Some key points from Chapter 2 of Dependent Rational Animals follow.

Aristotle made the distinction between the living and the inanimate, putting humans with other animals except for humans being the only rational ones. Both perceive. Later philosophers tied language use with rationality. It has been commonly argued that nonhuman animals do not possess the requisite kind of language for other capacities. That is, nonhuman animals cannot have thoughts, must lack beliefs, cannot act for reasons and in their encounters with the objects of their experience must be innocent of concepts.

The title of Chapter 3 is The intelligence of dolphins.

The title of  Chapter 4 is Can animals without language have beliefs?

Monday, September 28, 2020

Dependent Rational Animals #1

Dependent Rational Animals is the title of a book by Alasdair MacIntyre. I had heard of him several times and knew he was a virtue ethicist, but had not read any of his books. I enjoyed reading this one. I may try others.

This post will present some key parts of the first chapter.

Two sets of facts – about our vulnerabilities and afflictions and our dependence on others – are so evident that no credible account of the human condition should avoid their importance. Yet the history of Western philosophy suggests otherwise with rare exceptions. When the ill, the injured and the otherwise disabled are presented, it is near always about the benevolence of those who are continuously rational, healthy, and untroubled. Even someone as perceptive as Adam Smith, when recognizing ill health and old age, finds reason to put them on one side. This is true of philosophy in general.

It is similar with dependence. Dependence on others is most obvious in childhood and old age. Philosophers have recognized it in a general way, but the full extent of it is generally absent. When Aristotle discusses the need for friends in times of adversity and loss, he insists that manly men differ from women in being unwilling to have others saddened by their grief. They do not want to share it or let it affect others. Aristotle says the magnanimous man is forgetful of what he has received, but remembers what he has given.

Thus Aristotle anticipated Adam Smith and others the standpoint of those who feel self-sufficiently superior. Modern moral philosophy has understandably and rightly placed great emphasis on individual autonomy and making independent choices. MacIntyre will argue that the virtues of independent rational agency need accompanied by the virtues of acknowledged dependence and a failure to understand this is apt to obscure some features of rational agency.

MacIntyre only mentions the dependence of children in Chapter 1, but does cover that in later chapters. He says little about dependency in the workplace – which one might prefer to call interdependence – anywhere. 

Saturday, September 26, 2020

A socialist’s view of the self-employed

I don’t know if this article is typical for a socialist. I suspect it is at least common. Anyway, the author has a low opinion of the self-employed. He calls them the “petty bourgeoisie” who “exploit themselves.” Socialists are obsessed with “exploitation,” i.e. victimhood. Socialists ignore entrepreneurship almost entirely.

The initiative, courage, grit, risk-taking, and exercise of thought needed to succeed in self-employment have no place in the author's narrative. The thought needed to decide what products or services will attract customers, the time and expense spent on marketing, getting and satisfying customers, and the riskiness of being self-employed are all ignored. 

Suppose SE is an excellent young tradesman (electrician, carpenter, etc.) who works for someone else. His employer pays him a steady income, keeps him busy finding work for him, and provides “fringe” benefits like health insurance and paid vacation. Of course, per a socialist he is only an “exploited wage slave.” Yet SE believes he could do better in the long run by becoming self-employed and maybe in a few years employ others. He knows what his employer charges customers for his work significantly exceed what he gets paid. He might wish to specialize in specific sorts of work or customers. There could be other reasons. In any case, SE would like to “be his own boss.”

If he chooses to do so, then SE will incur the time and expense of finding customers himself and/or pay somebody for this. He might get a few among customers he did work for with his ex-employer; maybe not. He will have to buy his own health insurance and he foregoes paid vacations. If he doesn't have enough savings, he will have to rely on some financial help from others for a while until he attains a steady supply of customers.

This is not to say all who become self-employed do so for the same reason as SE. They may do so while in more desperate circumstances, like being laid off during a tight job market.

All this is totally ignored in the socialist’s narrative Little joy in being your own boss. I have never seen an advocate of socialism acknowledge any worker's choice between (1) a more certain, reliable income as an employee and not having to spend time or money to find their own customers, and (2) an iffy income that comes with being self-employed. And of course, if the time comes when SE employs others and pays them wages, a socialist will regard SE as a “despicable” capitalist “exploiter.”