15 September 2021

Eyeless Link Sausage Platter

…because every link sausage on this platter is seriously marred by blind spots.

  • We'll start with this bit of inexcusable ignorance from The Atlantic. It's a promising topic, but the writer is so far off base that almost none of the analysis is worthwhile. For now, I'll just focus on… what he overfocused on.

    Did you notice the missing element of his screed? Device choice. The entire piece is premised on all readers using single-purpose electronic reading devices, and that — in turn — refers back to walled-garden acquisition systems. Not once in that article does the writer consider those of us who use general-purpose devices; or reader applications on phones; or must read in multiple formats, and therefore cannot use dedicated e-reading devices that through either intent or ineptness cripple their non-native-format capabilities (the real downfall of the KindleDX was that its ability to read PDFs was, umm, problematic at best; for example, one could not read wide-margin documents that also had footnotes without either accepting the margin width or readjusting every page). That's before getting to philosophical or economic rejection of walled-garden acquisition of passive content (as distinct from programs or interactive content), for which there is only a non-Ricardian rent — that is, an inherently inefficient transactional basis not resulting from either scarcity or distinctiveness of the actual resource, but only of its transactional channel.

    For the first paper of the semester, this isn't too bad, but it definitely gets a "needs improvement" with lots of marginal annotations and an imperative to ensure that the stated context reflects reality.

  • Which sure beats the flabbergastery of lawyers trying to do math. But it's actually even far worse than Professor Avraham makes it seem. His analysis runs into the quantum-mechanical divide (also reflected in the classical inductive fallacy): The assumption that individual-instance determinations and general policy determinations proceed in a mathematically identical fashion with no exceptions or boundary violations. This necessarily presumes that (among other things, none of which is beyond the scope of first-year algebra):

    • All quantities have the same units
    • At least one direction of additivity has no boundary
    • The result of each instance is simply and linearly additive to every other instance
    • All instances fall within the scope of the asserted function (mathematically, no "divide by zero" errors; in the real world, no variance in the actual net value of each life ended by a Ford Pinto gas tank, even before considering the accuracy of the value-setting function)
    • All variables that might affect the equation are actually internal to (and explicitly considered in) the equation… and that they are the same ones in individual instances as in policy determinations, with the same orders of magnitude

    Bluntly, law is application of spreadsheet models to reality assuming perfect first-order linearity… and never, never contemplating cotan(0) or tan(π/2) as possible issues (not to mention the units of π/2). That's… not good mathematical practice, and was inveigled against by at least two of the Founders in their various writing on subjects other than law and government. (And the hint that "spreadsheet models" are at best close approximations of calculus results hasn't made it into the awareness of darned near anyone, yet statistical functions are all special-case approximations of calculus themselves that create not just inaccurate, but invalid, results outside those special cases.)

  • One of my longstanding gripes with reviews in, across, around, and through the arts — even their neighbor, in academia — is that reviewers tend to be far too nice. I've been railing against this for decades; George Orwell wrote several essays taking the review system to task.

    At the content level, how can I tell if praise is merited if I don't know what that reviewer doesn't approve of? The dislikes are often far more revealing of unstated assumptions, of overt agendas, and of attention to detail than are the (cringing slightly at this antisocial-media corruption) likes. That's especially true when considering both "unfamiliar" and "celebrity" reviewers — to pick on someone who's safely dead, Pauline Kael's ardent disdain for the non-DAR view of 'murika needed to be kept very firmly in mind when evaluating her reviews of, say, Platoon and Apocalypse Now! (the theatrical release, not any of the vastly lesser undedited cuts), let alone Brazil. But without seeing the negative and lukewarm reviews, and their rationales, we can't know. Any reviewer/review source who is putting forth less than about one in three negative or lukewarm/damning-with-faint-praise reviews is not reliable…

    …but that's precisely what the "reviews as marketing and publicity mechanisms" meme that has dominated criticism since the late 1960s demands. "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all" — an intellectually dishonest meme itself — has given way to "Find something nice to say even if you hate it, because if you don't our supply of freebies will be cut off and promotion potential will be eliminated."

  • Then there's "theology's invisible hand" (which all too often is only one finger, and you can guess which one). Where both this article and the extensions of Smith's work to "modern economics" go astray is that they neglect the word that comes in front of "self-interest." Contrary to many understandings, the "profit motive" is not merely a softening of "greed" from a sin to an — perhaps the — acceptable motivational tool for all governance of man. Without the word "enlightened" in front of "self-interest" (because, as the article notes without nearly enough emphasis, Smith's The Wealth of Nations is at its core a work of moral philosophy), one gets results in only one dimension and presuming "scarcity" of at least something as the relevant constraint.
  • The somewhat more-amusing blind spot considering tea-brewing is the unstated assumption of brewing method and time. Not to mention "bags versus loose." Or "black versus green versus white," without even considering tisanes ("herbal teas" and infusions).

    I think I may have just instigated another English Civil War.