Friday, April 30, 2021

"What About Timmy? You DIdn't Get This Mad At Him!"

There's "whataboutism" that's meant to highlight hypocrisy and unequal treatment (such as what about the number of whites NOT shot by police), and then there's this playground version.

This is the kid who got caught red-handed complaining that his brother/sister/friends didn't get in as much trouble as he is, and they did WAY worse, believe him!  In other words, conduct unbecoming a 10 year old.

Giuliani is a grown man, right?  I hope he has a better defense than this for the judge.  I'm also reminded of my one criminal defense client, who was taken from the courtroom insisting he wasn innocent.

His excuse was, he didn't understand the law he was convicted under (felon in possession of a firearm).  He legitimately didn't understand the legal term "possession."  It's pretty much the same idea as the cop finding pot in the car you're driving, and you insist it's not your car and not your pot.  It's still possession, though.

What's Giuliani's excuse?
Yeah, I wanna see him seek a motion to exclude evidence based on that argument. Tucker Carlson's dumb enough to asccept that. No federal judge is, though.*

*(You only have to show probably cause to believe there is evidence available that could relate to the commission of a crime.  It really doesn't matter if it's going to be destroyed or not, if you don't know what it is but you think it's important for a possible criminal case.  Because without the evidence, how do you present probable cause for an arrest or arraignment?  One wonders if Giuliani believes this, or if he just likes the sound of it.  Either way, it's not helping his defense at all.)

And What Have The Wealthy And Business Enjoyed At The Expense Of The People?

The questions have changed, not just the resident in the White House.

Future's (almost) so bright I gotta wear shades.

Be Afraid. Be VERY Afraid.

Or, you know, not.
Trump is still hoping to play a pivotal role in Republican politics, but his political operation at Mar-a-Lago is reportedly consumed with backstabbing and finger pointing. 

"Right now, it's like a daycare if you took all the adults away," one person familiar with the operation told Politico. "There's virtually nobody with organizational skills left."
No kidding:

Those rants are not going to provide any political strength much longer. For example: 

Anybody really expect Caitlin Jenner to emerge from the chaos of the California gubernatorial recall like the hero driving out of the smoke of the conflagaration, alone alive of all who are left behind?

Yeah, I don't either.  This problem is by and large the GOP's problem.  The primary purpose of a political party is to provide organizational skills.  If it can't do that, what power does it have?  And if it's Trump's party, who's organizing it?

Grab A Shovel

A) "Eat the Rich and Help The Rest Of Us" is a good political strategy:

Wallace, around 10:16 p.m. eastern time, told his Fox colleagues, "I think this is going to be a popular speech with the American public. He offered a lot of stuff…. from millions of jobs to child care to community health centers. All kinds of stuff. Community colleges. And the other thing that's pretty popular is he said: You're not going to have to pay for it. Big corporations are going to pay for it. People making more than $400,000 are going to pay for it, but the vast majority of people watching tonight aren't. So, offering a lot of stuff and saying you aren't going to have to pay for it is pretty popular." 

Wallace, who has interviewed Biden on his Sunday afternoon show, continued, "I think they're made a calculation that after COVID, that people have come to have a different feeling about government — that they now feel more trusting and more in need of government. And so, where this might have turned a lot of people off —and probably still will— they believe the majority of people are going to say: the government's here, and they're here to help."

B) The GOP's idea of unity is still “Do what we want to do.”

Ben Domenech, who co-founded the Federalist and is married to Meghan McCain, didn't like hearing a nuanced critique of Biden's speech. Taking a shot at Wallace on Fox News, Domenech complained, "The last time I was on air talking the same time as Chris Wallace about a Joe Biden speech he waxed eloquent about — how it was so powerful and unifying — I don't think that that turned out to be true at all. I think it turned out to be a complete tissue of lies that Republicans rejected. It's not something that actually led to any kind of bipartisanship. I expect the same result from this speech."
Yeah, I think Domenech is going to be disappointed:

Wallace was making a Ronald Reagan reference. In the early 1980s, President Reagan famously said that "I'm the government, and I'm here to help" were words to be afraid of. Government, Reagan argued, was the "problem" and not the "solution" — and that philosophy ushered in the era of Reaganomics and trickle-down economics.

Reaganomics and Bill Clinton’s “The era of big government is over” are being buried in the same grave.  Joe Biden is shoveling the dirt in even as we speak. 

Everything New Is Old Again

This is a pretty inevitable return to form (George Conway retweeted this, which is where I found it.  Conway is a reliable critic of Trump, but he’s no liberal.). What's fascinating is how intellectually bankrupt it is.

I don’t mean an intellectual argument is necessarily persuasive in politics, but even Gingrich dressed up his nonsense in some reasoning.  There’s no reasoning here at all, just shibboleths.  “Bureaucratic speak,” “hard left policy,” the presentation of “the Left” as a dangerous and invalid alternative to...well, something. (Which, yeah, is all Gingrich ever did. But 30 years later, it’s worn out.) The status quo?  Trump?  The GOP, which is now Trump for all intents and purposes?

Granted, it’s a tweet, not a treatise.  But it doesn’t really say anything; not unlike Tim Scott’s response to Biden’s address to Congress.  The most Scott could come up with was that Biden hadn’t “unified” the country, and the only way to understand that term was that Biden wasn’t acting like a Republican.  If that’s all the GOP has now, they really don’t have anything.  Even Politico wants to play: But again, empty phrases substituting for argument.  Robin Hood, after all, is a folk hero; not a symbol of dangerous government overreach. Robbing from the rich to give to the poor, or more accurately, to re-establish justice, doesn’t really have a downside; except for the rich. This is not going well for GOP, and I don’t think Trump alone is their problem:
I honestly don't need to know what Mr. Pierce said in his post to agree with that tweet. Especially because of this: Or this: Boebert and Greene are the face of the GOP, not Tim Scott. And any GOP opposition to Biden's plans faces the question put to Greene: "Tell the people in your district (or state, for Senators) why child care doesn't help them." Or the GOP could try this:
Yeah. Good luck with all of that.

Yesterday Provided A Lot Of Examples Of A Thesis

That nature is healing. And that the GOP is in a round room, trying to find the corner.

We’re Gonna Miss Him When He’s Gone

And his little dog Toto, too! (I remember Giuliani's son (Andrew?) when Rudy was Hizzoner and his kid was prancing about for the cameras at his swearing in or some such occasion, acting just like a privileged brat. The more things change...)

And yes, why didn’t they take a laptop Giuliani said he gave the FBI last year, but now says he still has in his possession?

Like father, like son....

America? Or A Third-World War Zone?

We report; you decide.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

I Blame Biden For Failure To Unify The Country

Well, I Opened The Door...

So I'll walk through it. So there's where the technology matters:  "..more potential for off-campus speech to interfere with on-campus."  Why?  Because adults are aware of it?  I guarantee there was all manner of student gossip on and off campus that the adults were only vaguely aware of, if they were aware of it at all.  We knew who to talk to, and who the snitches were.  It wasn't air-tight, but off-campus speech had as much ability to interfere with on-campus then as it does now.

Indeed, this argument reminds me of the reactions you get when information about a criminal investigation is revealed publicly, and everyone chews over what it means and, more importantly, why aren't the authorities burying the person being investigated under the jail already?  And it's not just that the system doesn't work that way, but that the public doesn't have all the information the investigators have, and may not even understand what's really being investigated.  But has technology really made us more likely to interfere with prosecutions than newspapers did before?  Or just plain old gossip, which has always been with us, and always will be?

And then we back up to Kagan's hypotheticals.  Is email on-campus speech that the school can regulate?   A lot of people use technology (not just e-mail) to contact schools about things they don't like about the schools.  Is all of that subject to school discipline?  If a student tells her friend "school sux," in the privacy of her home (or on a phone call), is that okay?  But if she says it via e-mail, it's not?

What difference does communications technology make here?  Again, gossip spread like wildfire for millenia before social media came along, so don't tell me technology has fundamentally changed the game.  Just because you know about it now (you adults no longer in the loop of what kids are telling each other on or off campus without technology), doesn't mean it is a brave new world.  It is a slightly more public world, but isn't that what the First Amendment protects?*

Turns out Justice Sotomayor was asking my questions:
And Justice Breyer makes my other point: As I said: is it disruptive because the adults know about it? Because if I'd flipped the bird at my school with my friends about to laugh at me and cheer me on, but no adults were present, did I make a sound? Did I disrupt anything? An adult present would say I did; no adult present, so did I?

I remember an event from high school that bears on this.  The band drove across town to practice in the municipal football field.  On the way back, each of us driving our own cars, a friend and bandmember popped the clutch on his 289 Mustang (overpowered for it's size, IOW) and smoked his tires at a green light.  No one saw him but us kids.  Was that disruptive?  We talked about it for days. Indeed, we all drove so insanely back to school the police got involved and we barely escaped being cited by them.  Again:  disruptive?  We all knew about it.  I doubt our parents ever learned about it, at least until many, many years later.  If we'd put it on social media, would that make it disruptive?  Why?  Because now the adults knew about it?

What standard is that?

I haven't read Tinker, but the Justices think that's the guiding precedent here:
Not much here, admittedly, about on-line classes creating a "virtual campus" that extends as far as the student's location/access to the internet reaches, but I think it's still lurking behind the argument for the school's position.  If the argument is simply that students are on-line and that extends the school's reach, it also extends the school's burden.  Be careful what you wish for, in other words.  I can imagine many schools hoping the school loses this case, because a win would mean parents demanding punishment of students for what they say on-line.  It already happens now, but erase any ability for the school to refuse to get involved in the personal life of students, and bad results could flow.

I'm relying on this summary rather than the opinion proper in Tinker, but some of the argument from the Justices here does not comfort me:

The Court also held that the students did not lose their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech when they stepped onto school property. In order to justify the suppression of speech, the school officials must be able to prove that the conduct in question would "materially and substantially interfere" with the operation of the school. In this case, the school district's actions evidently stemmed from a fear of possible disruption rather than any actual interference.

So the students could lose their First Amendment rights when not on school property if flipping the bird and swearing about the cheerleading squad can be shown to potentially "materially and substantially interfere" with the operation of the school, or just the cheerleading squad?  Because Tinker involved students wearing black arm bands at school to protest the Vietnam War in 1965.  The school, the Court found, was only fearful of a disruption; one did not occur. Fear of an outcome is not enough to abrogate First Amendment rights.

How are those facts distinquishable from these?  Or are some of the Justices hinting they just want to gut Tinker, because schools rule? Tinker said fear of a bad outcome was not enough; is it now?

*I've since read this whole kerfluffle started because the daughter of a coach showed her the offensive Instagram posting.  This is all technology has changed:  that adults can't dismiss gossip about what their kids say another kid said so easily.  But is gossip off-campus a public school concern?

The "Cyber Ninjas" Wanted To Keep Their Recount Process A Secret

It's certainly mysterious.

After the ballots were counted, they went to an inspection table with three people. There are many questions about what the workers there were doing and what they were looking for, but here is what we know about what each one was doing:

The first person lines up the ballot under a Canon camera hooked onto brackets.

The second person lines up the ballot under a device that displays a portion of the ballot onto a computer screen. One of the images displayed on the screen is a filled-in bubble, and it is magnified and examined.

The third person holds the ballot inside a box set up on the table. The person takes a UV flashlight and shines it on particular areas of the ballot. As The Republic observed, the ballot was being examined on one side in particular, and the middle.

Rumors have spread about the workers checking the ballots for watermarks, but the paper that Maricopa County uses for ballots does not have a watermark. Shortly after the November election, QAnon conspiracy theorists claimed that former President Donald Trump and others secretly watermarked mail-in ballots to prove fraud.

A USA TODAY fact check and others found the claims false because mail-in ballots are designed by local governments and ordered from private printers. 

Another rumor was that workers were checking the ballots for fingerprints, but that has not been confirmed, nor has the idea of why fingerprints would be significant.

Asked about the purpose of workers examining ballots with lights, Bennett said, “I personally don’t know.”

Here's the fun part about all this:

The Arizona Democratic Party sued last week to stop the audit. The party contends the hired auditors are violating state elections law in their handling of ballots and other voter information. 

Lawyers for the Senate argued their client's audit wasn't bound by state election laws or regulations. 

If the audit is not bound by laws and regulations, of what force and effect is it?  Sure, the Arizona GOP can use the results to scream about "voter fraud" and other non-existent problems.  But beyond that?

Besides, it looks to be an incomplte count; what then?

Ken Bennett, the Senate's liaison for the audit, spoke to the media in a news conference outside the state Capitol for the first time since Friday, but he said he did not know how many ballots had been counted.

“I have an estimate of what the number is,” he told reporters, offering that just shy of 100,000 ballots had been tallied. 


While Bennett was unable to provide an exact number of the ballots counted, it was clear looking at the pallets that auditors had hardly made a dent. Of about 46 pallets of boxes, five had been opened, and the boxes on two of the pallets were nearly emptied.

The counting began in earnest about noon Friday. It got off to a slow start as procedures were finalized on the fly and training happened on the spot. Counters had looked at about 150 ballots by 1:30 p.m. that first day.

If the auditors have counted almost 100,000 of nearly 2.1 million ballots as of Tuesday afternoon, that's nearly 5% in more than three days of counting. The auditors have about 19 total days in the coliseum that they plan to work, since they are not scheduling shifts on Sundays.

Bennett said the companies are looking to expand counting hours if possible, potentially moving to three five-hour shifts instead of the original two shifts.

Let's see what Channel 12 has to add to that report:

We learned that just days into a planned three-week audit, there is already a "monumental race against the clock" to complete the hand recount of all 2.1 million ballots.

The stress was so acute that an executive with the company overseeing the hand count collapse, according to Cyber Ninjas' attorney.

"In order to complete this audit in the limited time remaining," attorney Alexander Kolodin told the court, "Mr. Kern has been working back-to-back 20-hour days … even passing out on the floor." 

Roopali Desai, representing the Arizona Democratic Party, later responded:

"Mr. Kolodin is admitting that the workers are sleep deprived and rushing to meet an artificial deadline. That ... does not instill confidence in the voters of Maricopa County." 

The source of the stress became clearer later in the day, at Bennett's news conference.

The audit has hand-counted almost 100,000 ballots, he told reporters. 

Putting the current rate at 50,000 ballots a day, the audit volunteers would have to count more than 140,000 ballots a day every day through May 14 to finish the hand count.

The Senate's rental of the Veterans Memorial Coliseum audit site ends May 14. The venue is booked for high school graduations the following week.  

Working 20 hour days, they can manage to count (and do what else?  That part is still weird) 50,000 ballots a day.  They need to triple that rate to finish by May 14.  So, will they work 60 hour days?  Or will they end up counting just 900,000 ballots, or only 43%?  And what will that tell them about the Maricopa County vote? 

"Eat The Rich"

Besides party affiliation, what do former Senator Loeffler and former President Trump have in common? Oh, that's right: they're both rich white people who've never held public office before and don't understand how the democratic electoral process works. Stephen Fowler has a complete response to each of the points Loeffler makes in her letter (which Raffensperger, the SOS of Georgia, calls "laughable").  I recommend the entire thread, if you're interested.

Me, I wanta see "Fox&Friends" respond to any criticism of Sen. Loeffler by calling it "Socialism!"

It would be worth it.

Nightingale I and II


I made pretty much the same point on "NextDoor" (until the thread was shut down). Nobody responded.

In that context (school board elections) it was also worth pointing out that public school curricula is regulated by the Texas Education Agency state-wide.  It is not overseen nor approved by the school boards.  That would actually violate the role of the school board, something every board member learns in the extensive orientation sessions each new member has to go through to take a seat on the board.  (Contrary to the opinions of the most frightened people on that thread, the school board is not just flinging poo at each other.  And the school board doesn't run the schools.  Administrators do, following rules and regulations set down by TEA.  There are rules and laws the board has to follow, apart from what administrators have to follow.  Again, TEA steps in if you don't.  Another school district in Houston is on the verge of being taken over by the state because the board is, basically, flinging poo at each other in their public meetings.).

But nobody knows what Critical Race Theory means, either.  As for teaching it to high school kids, think of it as trying to teach deconstructionism as a literary critical theory (it is) in English class.  By the time you'd adequately explained deconstructionism, the school year would be over. 

And the students would be none the wiser.  Some things have a place in public schools.  Some things simply don't.

Under The Stitches

I'm a fairly plugged in political observer, which is to say there are certainly things that slip my notice. But what in the hell is James Carville talking about?

A janitor at Smith College?  The English faculty at Amherst?  What?  Who? I haven’t a clue what he means, and I’m critical of all the navel-gazing that happens on the internet, where most commentary is about how a tweet is going to affect an election.  True, people are getting insanely stupid ideas from Facebook, et al., but those people are a vocal minority whose influence is ebbing as Trump rants about the Oscars telecast and spends his time planning to flee Florida for the summer (didn’t he move there?).  What Carville is ranting about is somewhere beyond the fringes of even QAnon.

It’s not only Biden who’s staying out of whatever it is Carville is upset about.  I think even AOC is not associating herself with whatever Carville’s talking about.

And then there’s his agreement with Kristol that the Democrats somehow play into the criticisms of the GOP.  American politics has always been based on misrepresenting the postures of the opposing party.  The only new thing is how the GOP has weaponized lies since the Gingrich era.  But the success of that approach reached its apotheosis under Trump, and the only reason Biden is “staying out of it” is because those attacks have proven ineffective at the national level.  They still work, to some degree, at the state level, but that’s always been true, and it has more to do with state politics than national politics.

The question is:  is the FoxNews/OAN/GOP kind of thinking alive and well at the local level? Or is it going to be shaken out there, too?  FoxNews recently ran a graphic that presented Gov. Absent as a “trailblazer.”  Well, maybe to FoxNews, but not to anybody in Texas.  The Lege is ignoring him, he’s absolutely leaderless on the issue that concerns most Texans now (electricity and whether we’ll have enough of it this summer), and the entire GOP is determinedly ignoring the availability of federal funds to help those with no health insurance.  After Covid and business shutdowns and even business failures, I think that’s going to bubble up as more of an issue than cries of  “socialism!” can tamp down.

I think, in other words, Biden is the tip of the spear of change.  We would do well to remember LBJ came out of Texas, and wasn’t ever that far removed from Texas politics or culture, despite how “liberal” he was.  That strain of Texas politics could be recovered, and may well be.

And if it is, it will have nothing to do with the English faculty at Amherst college that nobody’s heard of.

Some Days Just Call For A Celebration


Now If I Can Just Work This Into My Masthead


Wednesday, April 28, 2021

In Which I Agree With Mitch McConnell And Tim Scott

Clearly Buden has failed to unite the country that government is bad, not good. Or address why government should serve rich people. And no love for the former guy? What kind of Presidential Address is this? Why won't the President act more like a Republican? After all, he said he’d unite the country; Republicans didn’t.

Nosiree bob, they didn’t.
Only 85%? Why can’t Biden unify the country? With an attitude like that, he’ll never unify anybody!

So, Not Rudy, But...

We got Andrew? And what does this mean? And, you know, since this is also true: So screw Andrew. 

Oh, and Rudy isn't (yet!) telling us what the DOJ is looking for; but his lawyer helpfully did (without helping Rudy otherwise): (That attorney-client privilege argument can be sorted out in court. That is a reason for the high-level approval of the search warrant, though.) The "wild claims" have a legal nomenclature: it's called "pounding on the table." Works, sometimes, with juries; but there isn't a jury yet. Just pisses off judges. And giving away the game? Really not the mark of a top-flight criminal defense lawyer.
(Goldman was majority counsel in Trump's first impeachment trial.) (We lost so much in November.) (He rescued children from a burning building! He gave a gunshot victim his own blood, right there on the street! He opened the vein with his teeth! He kissed babies! He petted dogs!) (Yeah, this is kind of a Big Deal.)

It’s A Representative Government

That's always been the problem.

On The Taxpayer’s Dime

In case you, like Rep. Boebert, hadn't heard (what does her staff do all day?): Why do I think Boebert wasn't part of these discussions? And a timely reminder that the wages of covid are not "death or complete recovery." Somthing that is true of almost every infectious disease for which we find we need a vaccine. In conclusion, a couple of interesting headlines. "Eat the rich, help the rest of us" sounds like a pretty good political platform to me.

Michael Collins, Requiescat In Pace

Fun With Stuff Other People Have Written

(No reason.  Just wondering if I'm the only person around here who...)

Thought Criminal quotes:

Now, you may complain that this is not what you mean by “existence”. You may insist that you want to know whether it is “real” or “true”. I do not know what it means for something to be “real” or “true.” You will have to consult a philosopher on that. They will offer you a variety of options, that you may or may not find plausible.

 A lot of scientists, for example, subscribe knowingly or unknowingly to a philosophy called “realism” which means that they believe a successful theory is not merely a tool to obtain predictions, but that its elements have an additional property that you can call “true” or “real”. I am loosely speaking here, because there several variants of realism. But they have in common that the elements of the theory are more than just tools.

 And this is all well and fine, but realism is a philosophy. It’s a belief system, and science does not tell you whether it is correct.

 Sabine Hossenfelder: Does The Higgs Boson Exist*

I would not equate philosophy with a "belief system," especially since most people think of belief and faith as synonyms, and faith, as William James quoted the apocryphal school boy defining it, is "believing something you know ain't so."  Yes, realism is a philosophy.  So is science, as Kuhn pointed out (nothing Hume hadn't already said, and his philosophy was empiricism, the philosophy that is the very framework and construct of science).  But don't tell a scientist that.  It makes them as upset as pointing out to a "believing Christian" that their Christianity is a theological construct.  I got tired of having that conversation, and finally figured out it's really not up to me to change minds on the subject. Or even to explain myself.

And no, science doesn't tell you a philosophy is "correct," for the same reason Godel's theorem of incompleteness established that Russell and Whitehead's Principia Mathematica couldn't establish a set of mathematically based equations which would answer all philosophical propositions:  because a formal system (like science) can always generate questions to which that system cannot provide answers.   So philosophy can't answer all of your questions, either; but it can answer questions science cannot.  But that doesn't make philosophy a "belief system," either.  And belief is not contrary to science.

I heard an interestingly simple (probably too simple) explanation of the multiple-universe theory of phsyics, the one from which popular culture drew the idea that every action, every decision, creates a new universe in which that decision was not taken, or was made another way.  I can't do the physics justice at all, or the math; and I may even have the details of the explanation (this was on "This American Life") completely correct as read, either.  But basically mathematics has established that, at the quantum level, particles (something, anyway) go in two directions at once.  Let's say opposite directions.  So let's say the particle is in motion, strikes an object, and that collision redirects the direction of the particle.  But the same particle goes in two directions, at the same time; without splitting or reproducing or fragmenting or any change in the physical state of the particle.  That part is key:  the particle is unchanged, but the particle goes in two directions at once. This, you understand, is established by the mathematics of quantum mechanics.

So, the story continues, a particle accelerator was set up, and particles hurled at the speeds necessary to observe this quantum level phenomenon, but the particles didn't cooperate.  They went in only one direction; not two.  One way, or the other; not both/and.  A small group of physicists (not a majority, reportedly) decided the solution was that, in another universe, created at the moment the particle struck, the particle went in the opposite direction.  It was, it seems, the only way to preserve the math.  Which had to be right, so something wholly apart from human experience must have happened.

Which sounds like a faith claim to me.  Indeed, I can't find an argument that distinguishes it from one; well, not a sound argument, anyway.

 Back to the Eddington, Section IV

 The mathematical theory of structure is the answer of modern physics to a question which has profoundly vexed philosophers.

 "But if I never know directly events in the external world, but only their alleged effects on my brain, and if I never know my brain except in terms of its alleged effects on my brain, I can only reiterate in bewilderment  my original questions:  "What sort of thing is it that I know"  and "Where is it?"

 C.E.M. Joad, Aristotelian Society,  Supp. vol IX, p 137

What sort of thing is it that I know?  The answer is structure.  To be quite precise, it is structure of the kind defined and investigated in the mathematical theory of groups.

 It is right that the importance and difficulty of the question should be emphasized.  But I think that many prominent philosophers, under the impression that they have set the physicists an insoluble conundrum, make it an excuse to turn their backs on the external world  of physics and welter in a barren realism which is a negation of all that physical science has accomplished in unraveling the complexity of sensory experience.  The mathematical physicist, however, welcomes the question as one falling especially within his province, in which his specialized knowledge may be of service to the general advancement of philosophy.

The phrase "if I never know my brain except in terms of its alleged effects on my brain" vividly, if not altogether accurately,* describes the conditions under which we labour.  But it is not very alarming to the physicist, whose subject abounds with this kind of cyclic dependence.  We only know an electric force by its effects on an electric charge;  and we only know electric charges in terms of the electric forces they produce.  It has long been evident that this is no bar to knowledge;  but it is only recently that the systematic method of formulating such knowledge in terms of group-structure has become a recognized procedure in physical theory.  

 * A more accurate form would be:  if I never know any brain except in terms of its alleged effects on a brain."  [N. B. Eddington's footnote, not mine.]

The bewilderment of the philosophers evidently arises from a belief that, if we start from zero, any knowledge of the external world must begin with the assumption that a sensation makes us aware of something in the external world - something differing from the sensation itself because it is non-mental. But knowledge of the physical universe does not begin in that way. One sensation (divorced from knowledge already obtained by other sensations) tells us nothing; it does not even hint at anything outside of the consciousness in which it occurs. The starting point* of physical science is knowledge of the group-structure of a set of sensations in a consciousness. When these fragments of structure, contributed at various times and by various individuals, have been collated and represented according to the forms of thought that we have discussed, and when the gaps have been filled by an inferred structure depending on the regularities discovered i the directly known portions, we obtain the structure known as the physical universe.

Eddington is going after empiricism, specifically Hume's empericism, though he may not know it.  Hume posited what I call, living in the 21st century and not the 18th, the TV set theory of consciousness.  That is, Hume says since we cannot directly observe consciousness, we cannot really know what it is.  And since empiricism won't allow of the 'ghost in the machine' (a criticism of Cartesian dualism, not an explanation of it), how can the input of the senses be observed?    Hume says the input of the senses themselves are human consciousness, because those inputs are sent to the brain where they are...well, received.  And being received they are turned into knowledge; they are understood; simply by being received (perceived) in the brain.  Which seems to be like saying the TV is running in the empty room with no one there to watch it, but still the signal translated into sound and pictures is perceived by....what, exactly?  How does the room know what is on the TV?  How does it understand?  Where is the interplay of memory and sensation that empiricism (going back to Locke) argues is the source of our knowledge and understanding (trying to abandon the original dualism of Plato, to whom Cartesian dualism is indeed just a footnote).

Eddington, I have to point out, sidesteps Hume by going back to Descartes, essentially.  "I think, therefore I am" requires a pre-existing consciousness which can do the thinking.  How that consciousness is able to think, what materials (I use the term metaphorically) it uses to build knowledge, was a problem that vexed both Plato and Locke (and Hume).  Plato posited a soul that had the knowledge but, in another 21st century metaphor, had its hard drive fragmented by existence (i.e., birth) and lost access to the data stored there.  It's still there, but education is a process of recovering it (this does lend itself to ideas about reincarnation, but we don't need to go there).  Locke tried to throw that out, and posited a tabula rasa (a metaphor but also a construct; a floor wax and a dessert topping) upon which experience writes, and the collection of these experiences becomes consciousness.  But if that were so, babies would take decades to learn language (where would they start to understand those sounds were words, were ideas, were language with a vocabulary and a grammar?).  Instead, they do it in a period of months.  (Plato would say they can do this because they recover the knowledge, but that hardly seems satisfactory.) The analogous process is music:  a rare few children can play music from a very, very young age.  Others, introduced to music, take to it like a duck to water.  Still others have no musical ability at all, or what they do have takes immense training to bring them barely to competence.  But any child, absent physical impairment, can take up language in very short order, and while music is complex at one level, simple at another, there is no known human language any less or more complex than any other.

So how do we learn it so quickly?  Especially when only some of us are good at math, or music, or science?  But all of us can communicate (the fundamental purpose of it) in a language?

The starting point of physical science is knowledge of the group-structure of a set of sensations in a consciousness. 

Eddington avers he means the "logical starting point," but his logic presumes a fact not necessarily in evidence.  What is consciousness?  How do we define it?  Must it be apparent to us?  It is, in common parlance, something we can lose; but when we say that, we expect it to be soon regained.  What, then, of coma patients?  Until we had a concept for them, an idea of the comatose state (which science defines, but not that well.  Heartbeat?  That was one.  Now it's "brain activity."  But we only mean electrical activity.  And science doesn't get the final word.  Recall the poor young woman who, 20 years ago, was in a vegetative state.  Science said her brain had liquefied. Her family insisted she was still alive, still had "consciousness".  It was a heartrending case, but the legal issues were real:  who gets to decide?  You may say she didn't want to live that way.  But without consciousness, did she have any wants?  And is consciousness lodged in the brain?  Where?  What is it, from what does it arise, where does it come from, where does it go?  Aren't we back to the "ghost in the machine"?) was impossible to imagine.**  Rather, I suppose, like understanding how a particle can be driven into going in two directions at the same time.  If a comatose patient  never regains "consciousness" (this time the state of being awake, responsive, able to at least respond to verbal stimuli), have they lost it forever?  We don't know in every case, which is why we keep comatose patients "alive" for as long as possible (by 'alive' I mean do what is necessary to sustain physical life functions).  To do otherwise would be to destroy their consciousness; and by that we mean kill them.

What, then, of Alzheimer's patients?  I've seen them in such a state they cannot respond to any stimuli, except apparently the stimuli of being alive.  Do they still have consciousness?  It is not one we can reach, by any means.  But we do not kill them, either.  We care for them.  We let them reach a natural (as opposed to induced) death.  Maybe we even stave that off as long as possible; maybe not.  But do they still have a consciousness?  Or is it merely a by-product of brain function, and a brain so severely impaired by the physical processes of Alzheimer's is incapable of creating  or sustaining it?  If so, the mystery is not solved:  how does this 'consciousness' come to be so complex, so fundamental to human existence?  How does it acquire language?  People rendered unconscious have been known to babble in languages they have studied, if they are multi-lingual; or to recite familiar prayers automatically.  Are consciousness and language inextricably linked?  Well, how else do we know consciousness, except through language?  And yet we don't consider those shorn of language, or who were never able to develop it, as having lost consciousness and therefore identity, humanity, even knowledge.  I've known severe autism patients who display knowledge of a sort, even though they have no language skills at all.

When these fragments of structure, contributed at various times and by various individuals, have been collated and represented according to the forms of thought that we have discussed, and when the gaps have been filled by an inferred structure depending on the regularities discovered i the directly known portions, we obtain the structure known as the physical universe.

Do we?  And how do we know that? I mean in the philisophical sense of what knowledge is; I mean in terms of epistemology.  Because frankly, even in Eddington's description, I can't separate it from a description of a belief system.

It's not just the philosophers who are bewildered.

*I am aware I've jumped past the question of existence that begins this quote.  You don't even want to get me started on the question of existence, though

**Is consciousness even lodged in the brain?  We say so, but we also speak of the heart (the Greeks thought it was the liver) as the place where emotions reside.  That's metaphorical, of course; we know better than that.  But we think consciousness is in the brain because if we damage the brain, the individual can lose the ability to communicate.  If you can't communicate, do you still have consciousness?  Are you trapped in your body, then?  That was a popular vision of some story telling (Trumbo's Johnny Got His Gun springs to mind), and the fear of being "trapped" in your body prompted a lot of support for euthanasia.  Certainly death is the final loss of consciousness, and beheading is the ultimate separation of body and brain.  But is death because the seat of consciousness is lost, or because of the physical shock and inability of the body to sustain functions after such a trauma?  If we don't know what consciousness is, how can we be sure where it is?

Change The Technology, Change The Outcome?

Responses to this case will be the usual either/or focused on the ability of students to speak in public, and the ability of public schools to respond to that speech.  What won’t be considered is the effect of a ruling in the school’s favor, on other schools.

The case is fairly simple on the facts.  After failing to make a select cheerleading squad, the failed candidate and her friends posted pictures of them raising a middle finger and using a number of choice Anglo-Saxon four letter words (a tradition we must uphold!) to express their support for their friend, and her disappointment.

The school was not amused, and banned her from all teams and extracurricular activities.  Which is an interesting response.  In the old days this kind of thing passed among friends; maybe other students heard about it.  And that was that.  Does technology really change that?

The school says it does, despite the fact the student was not on campus when she made the pictures or when she posted them.  Their argument, basically, is that on-line classes (thank you, Covid!) mean “artificial” distinctions based on physical boundaries/presence are now irrelevant.

Well, whatever.  That argument doesn’t interest me as much here as this question:  what will a ruling in favor of the school mean to other schools?

Consider:  today students all over the country are posting foolish and nasty things on the internet, and some parent somewhere is demanding the local school do something about it.  The school’s defense (the ones that want nothing to do with it, they have enough on their plates) is basically:  it didn’t happen on our property, and we can’t control students activities after school or not on school trips, etc.  Consider the student is arrested for drug possession, or reckless driving, or charged for a car crash they caused?  Is the school somehow responsible, somehow required to add to whatever punishment the law metes out?

No, of course not.  But this is using the school, or allowing the school, to provide extra-legal remedies.  Why stop at social media postings?  Why not punish the student for bad driving, or underage drinking?  And if schools do punish students for such actions, why not punish them for what they say to their friends, or about each other?

Bit of a slippery slope here, but school districts can face pressure from upset parents to punish students for being human beings.  And how far does “student” extend to persons obligated to attend public school, but who don’t reside on the campus of the school or have to meet certain standards to attend the school.  Private schools can expel students for misconduct off campus; so can public universities, who can restrict access to their schools just like a private school or university does.  But public schools are explicitly public.  And the question of this case is not only what authority does the state gain over the student because they are a student, but what responsibility does the school acquire over its students.

If the student is not on school property but is taking classes on-line, does that extend the “campus” to wherever the student and/or their phone is?  That puts quite a burden on schools to police the behavior of their students, far beyond banning them from extracurricular activities.  Is that what we want the schools to do?  If on-line teaching extends the school’s responsibility far beyond what they would have without on-line teaching, how long is it before schools abandon offering such classes?  It’s been a controversial response to the restrictions imposed to defeat Covid, but it has benefited some students across the country, and it should be a tool available to schools and students who find it helpful.

But if it creates a massive new responsibility for schools and students, or even a distinction between the responsibility for students who are in on-line classes and those who aren’t (and how is that policed?), what then?  Schools might quite reasonably decide not to take on assumed responsibility for what their students do anytime, anywhere.  (If the student posts objectionable material while on a family vacation in another state, does the school’s responsibility extend that far?  What if the student is overseas at the time?). And the only way to avoid that responsibility is to eliminate on-line teaching.

Would that be worth it, in order to uphold the punishment of this student in this case?  Would it be worth it just to add another burden on schools, a burden imposed solely because technology lets us all know what students have known for...well, since there have been schools?

The War On Culture

I mentioned the local school board election yesterday. Early voting ended that day, and turnout so far is probably 3 times what it was 2 years ago.  It seems to be Trump supporters (or that type), urged on by fears of Critical Race Theory and unions, but mostly driven by the loss in November, and a need to recover some of their power in a county that has gone blue.  The school board is a race they can control, or at least agitate turnout over.

But for how long?  Three seats open in 2 years.  Will they be back, screaming about electoral fraud and teaching American history the "right" way and teacher's organizing (against, as I say, explicit state law which forbids any government agency from negotiating over collective bargaining)?

I doubt it.  They don't know what the school board does now.  They don’t even know school curriculum is largely set by the state. Indeed, this success (if it is one) will likely galvanize the voters who have maintained the status quo in this district for decades.  It's a cultural thing, a very specific and localized culture, and any threat to it will wake the sleeping giant that will ensure stability is restored.

Which ain't necessarily a good thing, either.  But the quality of education here is important to many people who do vote (too many don't), and that issue will trump (sorry!) any fears of teaching "critical race theory" or any other curricular issue.

The other issues are just eyewash.  If they win, the supporters of the "conservative" candidate will take their prize and go back to their cable TeeVee, secure in the knowledge the elephants have been kept away once more.

I still predict much the same thing for the country, for the foreseeable future.
This stuff is shaking out at the extremely local level, which means it won’t last much longer.

If A Tree Falls In the Forest, Do We Have To Listen To The Recording Of It?

Now do Tucker Carlson. I honestly believe more people know what Carlson says because of Twitter than because of cable TV.  I'm glad he didn't quote Trump's statement, which really doesn't bear repeating nor is it worthy of any publicity.  But Carlson is still happy that you spell his name right.

(And no, it isn't driving Carlson's ad revenues up.  I saw an excellent Twitter thread that pointed out nearly the only sponsor Carlson has is My Pillow.  But, as the thread pointed out, Murdoch doesn't care.  FoxNews collects a larger percentage of the cable fees subscribers pay than most other cable networks.  Murdoch makes his money whether anyone watches Carlson or not.  All Twitter is doing (or rather, the people on Twitter) is giving Carlson the audience cable doesn't.  What's up with that?)

The Curse Of Hemingway

(Well, and TR, whom Hemingway wanted to emulate.)

As if the NRA weren't disgusting enough under Wayne LaPierre, now comes this.  And it isn't his wife cutting off the elephant's tail and brandishing it that disgusts me, or LaPierre's complete lack of marksmanship:

After LaPierre’s first shot wounded the elephant, guides brought him a short distance from the animal, which was lying on its side, immobilized. Firing from point-blank range, LaPierre shot the animal three times in the wrong place. Finally, a guide had the host of “Under Wild Skies” fire the shot that killed the elephant.

It's the complete "WHAT THE HOLY FUCK???!!!??? ELEPHANT HUNTING???!!!??? ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME????!!!???"

This video was shot as an NRA promotional, but never used because, per the New Yorker, some thought it would be a publicity fiasco. 

For three decades, LaPierre has led the N.R.A.’s fund-raising efforts by railing against out-of-touch “élites” and selling himself as an authentic champion of American self-reliance and the unfettered right to protect oneself with a gun. But the footage, as well as newly uncovered legal records, suggest that behind his carefully constructed Everyman image, LaPierre is a coddled executive who is clumsy with a firearm, and fearful of the violent political climate he has helped to create. 

I don't think most people would get past the idea of shooting an elephant to get to how badly LaPierre did it. 

Honestly.  I hope the court rejects the NRA's bankruptcy petition and the vultures pick at the carcass for years to come. It’s the least these monsters deserve.