BREAKING: Michael Cohen's perhaps non-existent Prague spring!

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 18, 2018

Which was said to have happened that summer:
Did Michael Cohen ever go to Prague, the way the Steele dossier said?

We've been wondering about that lately. Cohen had been moving through the sentencing phase of his interactions with Robert Mueller, and nothing had surfaced about that alleged, once-ballyhooed, nefarious journey to Prague.

In this new post, Kevin Drum puts a fairly cheerful face on the accuracy of the Steele dossier, to the extent that its accuracy can be assessed at this point. We'll only say this:

If you watch MSNBC, you've been endlessly propagandized and brainwashed about the way various parts of the dossier have allegedly been confirmed. It's all been part of the tribal political porn that is dispensed on that tribal channel, most egregiously now on the embarrassing 4 PM Eastern show, Deadline: White House.

(It's the program with the "liberal hero" host who used to push all the anti-same sex marriage initiatives for President George W. Bush. Any hack in a storm!)

Drum puts a fairly cheerful face on the current state of play concerning the accuracy of the dossier. That said, his final assessment is this:
DRUM (12/18/18): All things considered, then, the dossier has held up pretty well. There are a couple of sensational claims (Prague, pee tape) that are unproven and, at this point, seem unlikely to be true, but the fact that they got lots of media coverage doesn’t mean they were critical to the overall integrity of the dossier. Taken as a whole, it looks like a pretty solid report that’s probably provided lots of good leads to follow up.
The only claims anyone cared about were the highly peculiar "pee tape" claim and the claim about Cohen's subversive Prague summer. Drum says those claims are likely untrue, but the dossier looks pretty good otherwise.

We looked back through the dossier in recent weeks. The claims about Cohen's activities in Prague are detailed and quite expansive. Essentially, they involve Cohen in treasonous conduct with Russkies. It was exciting stuff!

Drum says those claims are likely untrue. There's a basic lesson to be learned here, but given our status as Harari's "great apes," our tribe may not stampede off to learn it.

FOOLS FOR PARADOX: Lies and the lying Cretans who tell them!

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 18, 2018

The ancient Cretan's tale:
According to Rebecca Goldstein, Kurt Godel—he of Godel's astonishing incompleteness theorems—was "the greatest logician since Aristotle."

Goldstein is hardly alone in that assessment. And since Godel was born in 1906, that assessment covers a lengthy time span of well over two thousand years.

A tiny irony lurks here. According to Goldstein (and everyone else), Godel's greatness leads us back to the realm of "ancient paradox"—specifically, to an ancient saying in which an outspoken Cretan was said to have said that all Cretans are liars.

From this ancient formulation, Godel is said to have spun his logical gold. In the passage shown below, Goldstein compares the fame of Albert Einstein with the relative obscurity of his friend, the great logician Godel:
GOLDSTEIN (page 65): We know a great deal about the preoccupations that led Einstein to his special theory of relativity. It is all part of the public record of the scientist who performed the role of the professional genius in the collective imagination of the world...

But Godel's genius was never put on public display the way Einstein's was. The sources of [Godel's] inspiration, the play of mind, revealing how ancient paradox could be transformed into a proof for conclusions shot through with meta-overtones, are unknown. He must somehow have glimpsed the metamathematical potential of logic, even when logic was, as it was then, far less mathematically respectable than his own work would render it.
In Godel's hands, "ancient paradox" was the fuel which produced the greatest advances in logic in over two thousand years. This helps explain why Goldstein's favorably-reviewed 2005 book carried this title:
Incompleteness: The Proof and Paradox of Kurt Godel
Godel ran on paradox—ancient paradox at that. Paradox was the fuel which drove the greatest advance in logic in well over two thousand years.

So the story is told. But if Godel actually is that "greatest logician since Aristotle," his use of paradox may help us answer our own basic questions—our questions about the role of the elite logician in the affairs of the suffering world.

Our questions run like this:

Why do our elite logicians seem to have so little to say about the everyday logic, or lack of same, which defines our clown-like public discourse?

Also this, as incomprehensible as it may seem:

Is it possible that our greatest elite logicians have never been all that sharp? Is it possible that the world of elite logic resembles a house of cards?

So the later Wittgenstein may possibly have seemed to suggest. At any rate, we'll continue to consider that trio of questions, today and all through the week.

According to Goldstein (and everyone else), how astounding were Godel's achievements in logic? What made him the greatest since Aristotle? What made him a figure whose genius can sensibly be placed alongside Einstein's?

What made Godel so great? In the passage shown below, Goldstein starts to define the ancient paradox which lies at the heart of his astonishing work.

As we move through additional text from Goldstein, we'll see the esteem in which she holds the great Godel—but we'll continue see the outline of the "ancient paradox" which lay at the heart of his work:
GOLDSTEIN (page 49-50): Paradoxes, in the technical sense, are those catastrophes of reason whereby the mind is compelled by logic itself to draw contradictory conclusions. Many are of the self-referential variety; troubles arise because some linguistic term—a description, a sentence—potentially refers to itself. The most ancient of these paradoxes is known as the "liar's paradox," its lineage going back to the ancient Greeks. It is centered on the self-referential sentence: "This very sentence is false."
"This very sentence is false!" Goldstein describes that as a "self-referential sentence." Dating its lineage back to the Greeks, she says it creates a paradox—a "catastrophe of reason."

As she continues, Goldstein starts fleshing out this idea. We were amazed the first time we read the short passage which follows:
GOLDSTEIN (continuing directly): ...It is centered on the self-referential sentence: "This very sentence is false." This sentence must be, like all sentences, either true or false. But if it is true, then it is false, since that is what it says; and if it false, well then, it is true, since, again, that is what it says. It must, therefore, be both true and false, and that is a severe problem. The mind crashes.
"The mind crashes," Goldstein says. In essence, that's the point we plan to make concerning the apparent lack of competence of the modern elite logician, who tends to break down in these ways.

We first read Goldstein's book somewhere around its publication in 2005. We were amazed to see a ranking philosophy professor making these presentations some 52 years after the publication of the later Wittgenstein's seminal work, Philosophical Investigations.

"This sentence must be, like all sentences, either true or false?" It was the essence of the later Wittgenstein's work to say that many sentences are neither true nor false. According to Wittgenstein, that's especially true of the kinds of sentences we generate "when doing philosophy."

Must every sentence be true or false? According to Wittgenstein, many (apparent) sentences are simply incoherent.

These sentences are neither true nor false. Instead, these sentences don't make any definable sense, no matter how they may appear.

This is a very basic idea; it's hardly unique to Wittgenstein. But in the year 2005, there was a major philosophy professor cruising along as if this elementary notion had never been unloosed on Earth!

On its dust jacket, Goldstein's book was favorably blurbed by a trio of ranking scholars. It was well reviewed in the New York Times, as is required within the guild for work done by the elect.

(We'll look at that amazing New York Times review in the weeks ahead.)

Goldstein's book was widely praised within the tents of the clan. (For the New Yorker review, click here.) Along the way, readers were asked to dance around the maypole of the silliest "paradox" of them all, a construct on the approximate level of the (chestnut) tree which falls in the forest when no one is around.

This part of Professor Goldstein's book seemed amazingly silly to us. But as she continued, she oohed and aahed about the brilliance of the logical work to which the silly "ancient paradox" was brilliantly put by Godel.

How brilliant was Godel's use of this paradox? According to Professor Goldstein, his work was as brilliant as this:
GOLDSTEIN (continuing directly): Paradoxes like the liar's play a technical role in the proof that Godel devised for his extraordinary first completeness theorem. Godel was able to take the structure of self-referential paradoxicality, the sort of structure that causes our minds ot crash when considsered "This very sentence is false"—and turn it into an extraordinary proof for one of the most surprising results in the history of mathematics. This itself seems almost paradoxical. Paradoxes have always seemed specifically designed to convince us that we are simply not smart enough to take up whatever topic brought us to them. Godel was able to twist the intelligence-mortifying material inot a proof that leads us to deep insights into the nature of truth and knowledge and certainty.
Deep insights into the nature of truth! It also purees and dices!

"This very sentence is false?" To Goldstein, this intelligence-mortifying construct causes our minds to crash. That said, leave it to Godel! In his hands, this silliest of all the paradoxes "leads us to deep insights into the nature of truth and knowledge and certainty," and what's not to like about that?

"This very sentence is false!" According to Goldstein, such paradoxes seem designed to convince us that we're "simply not smart enough" to deal with the problems they cause.

Goldstein said it first! Essentially, though, that's the possibility we plan to float about the elite logician and his or her puzzling work.

Is it possible that our elite logicians have never been all that sharp? Could this raise the ultimate question about Aristotle's original assessment of our kind, at least as it has been interpreted down through the ages?

We humans are "the rational animal," Aristotle is said to have said. Is it possible that this assessment has always been fundamentally wrong, perhaps even comically so? Is it possible that we've been "seeing ourselves from afar" when we praise ourselves in that way? Is it possible that Professor Harari's gloomier view may turn out to be more nearly right?

Are we really the rational animal? Or could it be that, in the end, we're more about "gossip" and "fiction?" Tomorrow, we'll consider the silliness of that tired old Cretan's tale, the ancient paradox which has long caused our greatest elite minds to crash.

Tomorrow: Sillily silly all the way down

Coming: Lord Russell's "set of all sets!"

BREAKING: Rutenberg gets it majorly right!

MONDAY, DECEMBER 17, 2018

The power of the Enquirer:
If it's sheer stupidity you enjoy, we recommend a news report in this morning's New York Times.

The report was written by Trip Gabriel. In hard-copy editions, it appears beneath this headline:
Iowa Poll Gives Biden an Edge Over Sanders
On-line, the headline's even dumber.

Truly, it doesn't get much dumber than that. That said, they love to write about the horse race. They love it so much that they start to do it long before the race has even begun.

That report is defiantly pointless. That said, similar piddle was being discussed all over "cable news" this weekend. This kills time and lets corporate "journalists" avoid what their handlers abhor—discussions of matters of substance.

That report is characteristically dumb. But also in this morning's Times, Jim Rutenberg gets it very much right in his Mediator essay.

Rutenberg writes about the deeply unfortunate, corrupt and corrupting power of one of our dumbest, most dishonest institutions. We refer, of course, to the National Enquirer.

Forget the way the Enquirer played "catch and kill" in the last campaign, an act for which we think they ought to receive a major award. Instead, Rutenberg focuses on the Enquirer's ability to corrupt the minds of us the people through such garbage can conduct as this:
RUTENBERG (12/17/18): The Enquirer’s power was fueled by its covers. For the better part of the campaign season, Enquirer front pages blared sensational headlines about Mr. Trump’s rivals from eye-level racks at supermarket checkout lanes across America. This stroke-of-genius distribution apparatus was dreamed up by the man who made The Enquirer the nation’s biggest gossip rag: its previous owner, Generoso Pope Jr.

[...]

The Enquirer spread false stories about Hillary Clinton—illnesses concealed, child prostitution, bribery, treason. Each cover trumpeting these tales was arguably more powerful than a tweet from an account with millions of followers.

[...]

[T]he company pulled up files on the Clintons that it had collected over decades—some two dozen cardboard boxes filled with promising material.

A.M.I. began a painstaking effort to sort through the old clips and tips concerning “pay-for-play” deals, rumors of affairs and Vince Foster conspiracy theories. But as the campaign wore on, The Enquirer’s covers favored stories similar to those coursing through Infowars, Russian trolldom and, increasingly, your uncle’s Facebook feed.

According to one headline, Hillary was “Corrupt! Racist! Criminal!” In another, she was “Eating Herself To Death!”

The Enquirer also reported—make that “reported”—that she had suffered “three strokes,” had “liver damage from booze,” and was prone to “violent rages.”

A couple of weeks before Election Day, as Russian bots pushed a narrative into Facebook of a “Clinton body count,” an Enquirer cover line screamed: “Hillary Hitman Tells All.”

The false narratives built to a frenzy
that included an appearance by the A.M.I. chief content officer Dylan Howard on Infowars and a cover promising that Mrs. Clinton and her aide Huma Abedin were “Going to Jail” for “Treason! Influence Peddling! Bribery!”
It's time to ask why supermarket chains are willing to take part in this assault on the public interest. If progressive groups want to stage a fight which could actually matter, they'll start to picket these famous stores until this garbage can conduct is brought to a halt.

The Enquirer is an evil force within American life. But even as we read Rutenberg's report, we couldn't help thinking of the way his own newspaper, along with many other mainstream orgs, has taken part in this garbage can culture over the past thirty years.

From 1992 on, the New York Times played an extremely active role in the promulgation of crazy claims about Clinton, Clinton and Gore. In the realm of corporate cable, no one has peddled more of this garbage than Chris Matthews, with Rachel Maddow telling the world that he's her favorite pundit.

How pitiful has the New York Times been in coming to terms with this garbage? Citizens, please!

On Sunday, July 3, 2016, the Times ran a front-page report about Donald J. Trump's long, disgraceful history as king of the nation's birthers. That said, the Times was so eager not to offend that it shied away from asking the obvious questions:

Isn't it true that Trump was lying all along when he claimed that he'd sent investigators to Hawaii to check on the status of Obama's birth? Wasn't he lying all along when he said his gumshoes were absolutely shocked, just shocked, by the various things they learned there?

Had Trump been lying all along? The New York Times wasn't willing to ask! A few months later, they were back on the front page with silly, garbage can pseudo-reporting about the ways Hillary Clinton was alleged to have assaulted her husband's sex accusers.

Indeed, the Times was stuck so deep in EnquirerWorld that they even rehabbed Gennifer Flowers for that tabloid pseudo-report. Among three million other offenses, Flowers had pimped the "Clinton body count" claims—the claims which Rutenberg finds offensive when peddled by Russian bots.

(In response, Matthews spent half an hour telling Flowers how smokin' hot she was.)

Minor omissions to the side, Rutenberg's essay takes where we've long needed to go. He takes us to the place where corporate criminals set out to corrupt the public's understanding of even the most basic facts.

Safeway and Giant take part in this scam. But so does the New York Times.

The liberal world has tolerated this rank corruption every step of the way. Indeed, most of the people who invented crackpot claims about Clinton, Clinton and Gore came from the "mainstream" or "corporate liberal" camps.

We liberals! We're lazy and gullible and nobody likes us. Will we picket those National Enquirer racks in our supermarket chains?

Actually, no—we won't. At present, we're complaining that the Enquirer didn't feed us more of this dreck during the last campaign!

We're silly, and we're easily conned. In these ways, we elected George W. Bush, then moved to the harder stuff.

Trembling in their boots: Donald J. Trump was king of the birthers from 2011 on. That said, here's the headline the timorous Times put on its front-page report:
Inside the Six Weeks Donald Trump Was a Nonstop ‘Birther’
The Enquirer is a pernicious force in American life. That said, the deranged, influential food store rag isn't working alone.

THE ELITE LOGICIAN FILE: Digest of reports!

MONDAY, DECEMBER 17, 2018

New chapter starts tomorrow:
What's up with our elite logicians?

What sorts of topics consume their interest? Why do they provide so little help with the basic issues of everyday logic within our public discourse?

You're asking some very good questions! Below, you see links to last week's reports from the elite logician file:
Tuesday, December 11: The look and feel of professional logic! We present a technically competent excerpt from Professor Hart's 2010 book, The Evolution of Logic.

Wednesday, December 12: Aping Wittgenstein's tics! Professor Goldstein's comical portraits suggest that Vienna's greatest logicians may not have been all that sharp.

Thursday, December 13: "Don't jump, Mr. B.," we wanted to cry. "It's only 7 plus 5!"

Friday, December 14: The "paradoxicality" rules! Paradox rules as Professor Goldstein reviews the great Godel's great work.
Tomorrow, we'll start a new report. We'll begin with the silliest paradox of them all, the one on which Professor Goldstein, and everyone else, says the great Godel traded.

Tomorrow: Elite logician, please! ("This very sentence is false!")

BREAKING: Are we humans even conscious?

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 15, 2018

Ruminations on two fact-checks:
Are we the self-ballyhooed "human beings" even conscious at all?

The overwrought question popped into our heads in the wake of our perusal of a pair of fact-checks. The first such presentation—it's actually a fact-check of a previous fact-check!—appears in a letter to the editor in today's Washington Post.

You can see that letter at this link. It appears under this heading: "Geppetto has a lot of work ahead of him."

The writer is complaining about this perfectly valid Washington Post Fact Checker report, in which Glenn Kessler gave a Democratic congressman two Pinocchios for a highly misleading, selective statement about the effects of Donald J. Trump's tax cut.

Kessler's fact-check included lots of information. The letter writer, who disapproves of the Trump tax cut, voices all sorts of complaints about the measure without addressing the specific claim under review in Kessler's piece.

The letter ends with this piffle:
LETTER TO THE WASHINGTON POST (12/15/18): In addition, lowering corporate taxes, curtailing the alternative minimum tax and reducing estate taxes produced major additional benefits for the upper tier of taxpayers. In both the short run and over the years, these extra dollars help the upper-tier taxpayers accumulate more of the country’s income-producing assets, widening the economic divide between the top tiers and the rest of us. Cicilline’s percentages might be overstated, but they are much closer to reality than the fiction that the tax plan benefits us all equally.

Three Pinocchios for the Fact Checker.
"Three Pinocchios for the Fact Checker!" How brave, how stirring, how bold!

Admittedly, the writer's conclusion will stir the partisan soul. Unfortunately, as he closes his letter, the writer acknowledges the accuracy of Kessler's assessment—the congressman's claim was overstated—and he attacks a straw-man "fiction," one Kessler never advanced.

So we humans tend to reason, especially at times like these. The letter is massively underfed work. We're not sure why the Post would have chosen to publish it.

In fairness, that letter is an amateur effort. Earlier, though, we'd perused Linda Qiu's latest attempt at a fact-check, in today's New York Times.

Qiu is the Times' official fact-checker. We've often been puzzled by her work. Today, she starts like this:
WHAT WAS SAID

Kellyanne Conway: “Christopher, in April of 2018, Donald J. Trump, the president, and everybody else were told about the payments.”

Chris Cuomo, CNN anchor: “He knew about it from its inception. He came up with the plan.”

Ms. Conway: “No, no, no, hold on. You’re saying incontrovertible based on the testimony of people who are trying to get a better deal and a lighter sentence for themselves. Be fair here. Don’t call incontrovertible because you imbue credibility on individuals——”

Mr. Cuomo: “I have a tape of him discussing what to do with Michael Cohen.”

—in an interview with CNN on Thursday

False.
Strange. Qiu presents a range of statements by two different people, then states her verdict:

"False."

Qiu's verdict gave tribal subscribers a thrill. But which of the various statements by Cuomo and Conway has been judged to be false?

Oddly, Qiu's initial presentation doesn't make that basic point clear. We have to stumble ahead in her presentation if we want to try to puzzle that out.

Which of those several statements was false? Qiu's presentation starts like this:
QIU (continuing directly): Mr. Cohen, Mr. Trump’s former personal lawyer, pleaded guilty in August to breaking campaign finance laws when he arranged payments to two women during the 2016 presidential campaign to keep them from talking about affairs they said they had with Mr. Trump.

Ms. Conway is a counselor to Mr. Trump. Her suggestion that the president did not know about these payments until this year is not credible, given the audio recording, news reports and statements from Mr. Trump’s current lawyer...
Qiu's presentation wanders on from there. Presumably, though, the statement which has been declared "false" is Conway's "suggestion that the president did not know about these payments until this year."

(Please note: In Qiu's presentation, the verdict has perhaps been bumped down a bit. The statement, which is now a "suggestion," has gone from "false" to "not credible.")

We hate to undermine tribal pleasure of the type the New York Times tends to provide. That said, we went back and looked at the transcript of the full exchange between Cuomo and Conway, and Qiu's account of what Conway was "suggesting" at that point strikes us as inaccurate.

That said, this sort of thing goes on all the time when Qiu attempts to do fact-checks.

We've often been amazed to think that the New York Times can't find a more skillful fact-checker than the remarkably youthful Qiu. In the larger sense, this calls attention to the remarkably limited role played by such entities as accuracy and logic when we modern "great apes" stage our attempts at debate.

At present, the mainstream press is on a stampede. In this latest manifestation, they're chasing a generally guilty party. But it's a stampede all the same.

In the current stampede, they've taken to insisting that we the people need to know who the various candidates may have sex with ten years earlier before we can pick a president. The sheer insanity of this idea only adds to the zeal with which the cable and corporate apes will rise up to advance it.

The children are staging a highly peculiar stampede. This raises the basic question we've been asking this year:

Aristotle is widely said to have said that we're "the rational animal." Professor Harari, who has called us "great apes," has said that our species runs on gossip and fiction.

Which of these two vaunted figures is perhaps more nearly correct? More and more, when we follow the press, we get a certain feeling, gestalt- or paradigm-wise:

We get the feeling we're secretly watching gaggles of well-dressed, pre-rational apes. But then, it's all anthropology now, as we charismatically told you back at the start of the year.

The younger the better: Qiu graduated from the University of Chicago in 2014. In a rational world, it would be amazing to think that the New York Times couldn't find a more skillful fact-checker.

That would be in a rational world. In our world—it's a Hamptons-based world—it isn't surprising at all.