27 August 2018

Overcomplicated Link Sausage Platter

Also overdue, overaged, and over the 'net.

  • As I've been arguing for decades, the courts by their very nature are not equipped to deal with disputes that even moderately approach science. The ABA's recent misguided "ethics" opinion on judges attempting to self-educate themselves is revealing; so, too, is the hoary old chestnut Palsgraf v. Long Is. R.R. Co., 162 N.E. 99 (N.Y. 1928), which reaches fundamental principles of tort law and responsibility by getting both the facts and accepted practices flagrantly wrong. (For starters, no one who handled fireworks or other explosives even occasionally would have accepted the handling of the stuff that went boom, even under 1920s norms, and it goes downhill from there.)

    But those are generic problems not tied to anything in front of any court at the moment, or at least not obviously so. Let's take a step back to methodology instead of factual or doctrinal sophistication, though, and see the impending problem facing the Supreme Court in multiple matters on its 2018 docket. Hint: What is the mathematics requirement for acceptance to Harvard Law School… both now and when the present justices were law-school applicants? <SARCASM>It's the same mathematics requirement for any other federal constitutional office, which explains a lot.</SARCASM>

  • Those problems are, however, tied to the various conceptual flaws in economic policy decisions. It's bad enough that there's criticism of the basis for behavioral economics (criticism, I should add, that appears at first glance to have corresponding flaws of its own, beginning with the distinction between designed-laboratory conditions and the messiness of the real world — and descending from there into the distinctions between means and medians, the very definition of the behavior in question, mixed motives…).

    Reaction profile diagram from Michigan State University, Chemistry 251–53 (Organic Chemistry)Time is also a problem. So are multiple pathways, multiple reactants, multiple products, activation energy, and most particularly capture of energy released. Economists don't ever ask the questions about capture, or even ask why long-distance runners don't just light a match and burn pure glucose to more "efficiently" release more profitenergy. Or, for that matter, ask what it takes to get that match in the first place, or how much "activation energy" it takes to light it… <SARCASM>Surely if it was as simple as mainstream economic thought implies — especially, but not only, various "trickle down" theories — nature and evolution would have gravitated that way. Instead, though, more complex organisms have more complex energy storage and usage systems.</SARCASM>

  • A more-recent piece in The Speculatator displays the usual problems with that publication's engagement with complexity. Mr Coville asks what we know about Shakespeare's wife, using that as a jumping-off place for…

    A third option is to try to glimpse him through the people he interacted with. Drawing on old biographies, novels and plays, Katherine West Scheil documents how for more than 200 years Anne Hathaway has been used as a keyhole through which to spy on the playwright as husband and lover. Her review of these varying interpretations demonstrate that Anne has been distorted to fit the Shakespeare each writer or era wanted to see.

    Alex Coville, How do we envisage Shakespeare’s wife?, The Spectator (18 Aug 2018, online ed.). Which rather assumes its conclusion: That there is complete unity between the individual William Shakespeare and the playwright known to us now as "William Shakespeare." I've long held that rather than looking for "the" Shakespeare — particularly since there are no writings at all, but only after-the-fact transcripts of what the oft-illiterate actors said their lines were, sometimes months or years after playing the parts — we should be looking for a Renaissance-era Edward Stratemeyer (or, perhaps, Franklin W. Dixon or Carolyn Keene … or, just because I like picking on him for deceptive sales practices, former marketing executive James Patterson). It's not like there aren't any precedents, even in the late sixteenth century; just take a look at the "authorship" of Amadis of Gaul, even as recounted in the famous library scene in Don Quixote! More to the point, take a look at what the "publishing industries" actually looked like under the 1566 Licensing Act.

  • Personally, I'm of the devil's party, too. Like that's a surprise. But at least it beats learning useless foreign languages; the foreign languages I've studied are useful (in contrast to most Americans who don't even try).