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.

THE SOUL OF THE LOGICIAN: The "paradoxicality" rules!

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 14, 2018

Children of paradox:
Did it make sense for Europe's great minds to imitate Wittgenstein's tics?

In her well-received 2005 book about Godel's incompleteness theorems, Rebecca Goldstein rolls her eyes, at considerable length, at the way this aping went down. (See yesterday's report.)

In fairness, Goldstein draws her material from published sources, and the conduct does seem absurd. That said, Professor Von Wright saw this phenomenon in a kinder, gentler light in his Biographical Sketch of Wittgenstein, a portrait which is part of Norman Malcolm's 1958 book, Ludwig Wittgenstein: A Memoir:
VON WRIGHT (page 19): Because of the depth and originality of his thinking, it is very difficult to understand Wittgenstein's ideas and even more difficult to incorporate them into one's own thinking. At the same time the magic of his personality and style was most inviting and persuasive. To learn from Wittgenstein without coming to adopt his forms of expression and catch-words and even to imitate his tone of voice, his mien and gestures, was almost impossible. The danger was that the thoughts should deteriorate into a jargon...

Wittgenstein's most characteristic features were his great and pure seriousness and powerful intelligence. I have never met a man who impressed me so strongly in either respect.
Von Wright was a friend and admirer of Wittgenstein. Writing roughly five decades later, Goldstein sounded a bit like a detractor, perhaps and possibly of the type Professor Horwich would later describe.

Whatever! Moving along to a central concern, why has Wittgenstein's later work tended to wither on the vine? Why has his later work proven hard to be quite hard to explain and apply?

We'll add one important point to Von Wright's explanation. It isn't just "the depth and originality" of Wittgenstein's later work which has made it hard to employ and apply. It's the fact that his seminal later work, Philosophical Investigations, is in fact extremely jumbled and extremely hard to follow.

Simply put, Wittgenstein didn't "produce a good book," an unfortunate fact to which he confessed in his preface to the Investigations. In truth, the basic ideas of the book were quite poorly expressed, while his mannerism and his "mien"—"the magic of his personality and style"—were apparently quite compelling and easy to imitate.

Question! Was Mr. NAME WITHHELD, our freshman year teaching assistant, aping Wittgenstein's famous intensity when he tore his hair at a third-story window, tortured by the maddening logic of 7 plus 5 making 12?

We can't answer your question! But should all that foolishness have transpired over the question of 7 + 5? And what might that foolishness have to say about the smarts of our greatest logicians extending all the way back through the annals of time?

Is it possible that our greatest logicians have never been all that sharp in any significant sense? To us, the aping of Wittgenstein's tics does seem relevant to this question. Then too, there's the work by Professor Goldstein herself on the power of paradox and "paradoxicality."

The full title of Professor Goldstein's book is this: Incompleteness: The Proof and Paradox of Kurt Godel. Perhaps because Goldstein is also a highly-regarded novelist, she pushes the role of "paradox" hard as she seems to struggle to make her book readable for the non-specialist.

In the following passage, she's discussing one of Godel's peculiar beliefs—the belief, in Goldstein's words, "that there was a vast conspiracy, apparently in place for centuries, to suppress the truth 'and make men stupid.' "

In fairness, anyone who has read a major newspaper or watched a "cable news" show will perhaps be tempted to join Godel in this gloomy belief. Conceivably, enrollment in an introductory philosophy course could trigger similar musings.

For today, ignore all that! As she continues, Goldstein is direct enough to attribute Godel's peculiar belief to "paranoia." But so believed our greatest logician. Goldstein further reacts:
GOLDSTEIN (page 48-49): That the greatest logician since Aristotle should have followed reason so unwaveringly to such illogical conclusions has struck many people as paradoxical. But, as I hope will become ever clearer in the chapters to come, the paradoxes in Godel's personality were at least partially provoked by the world's paradoxical responses to his famous work...

[T]he metamathematical import of his theorems, which to Godel was their most important aspect, was disregarded. Even more paradoxically, the racier currents in the culture, hawking postmodern uncertainty and the false mythology of all absolutes, scooped his theorems up...reinterpreting them so that they precisely negated the convictions that Godel...had so passionately wanted to demonstrate.
Paradox was everywhere as Goldstein surveyed the scene. But then she turned to "technical paradoxes," entities which lay at the heart of Godel's stupendous 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."
"Paradoxes like the liar's play a technical role in the proof that Godel devised for his extraordinary first completeness theorem," Goldstein goes on to say. "Godel was able to take the structure of self-referential paradoxicality...and turn it into an extraordinary proof for for one of the most surprising results in the history of mathematics."

Yes, paradoxicality! According to Nexis, the word last appeared in the New York Times in July 1990—in an "On Language" column in an "On Language" column criticizing the use of such terms.

That's a mere aside. A bit later in her book, Goldstein turns to "Russell's paradox," the formulation which lured Wittgenstein back into philosophy when he was still rather young:

"Russell's paradox concerns the set of all sets that are not members of themselves," Goldstein correctly if murkily says.

When we first encountered Goldstein's book, we were surprised, perhaps amazed, by some of what we found. Citing one key example, we were amazed to find that a ranking philosophy professor could still be treating these paradoxes in the reverential way Goldstein does some 52 years after the appearance of Philosophical Investigations.

How hard has it been to integrate Wittgenstein's later work into the realms of elite logic? Apparently, it's been very hard, and this leaves us asking our basic questions:

How sharp have our ranking logicians been? How sharp are we great apes at all?

Next week: Goldstein on the liar's paradox and on "the set of all sets"

BREAKING: Bernie Sanders gets it right!

THURSDAY, DECEMBER 13, 2018

Harari's great apes get it wrong:
Last evening, speaking on CNN, Sanders got it right.

He spoke with Erin Burnett about the war in Yemen. Midway through the 7 PM hour, she started it off like this:
BURNETT (12/12/18): New tonight, defying President Trump, the GOP-led Senate voting against the president, moving forward to end American support for the Saudi crown prince's war in Yemen. It is an unprecedented vote and it's a major rebuke of Trump's full-throated constant support of the Saudi crown prince...
Manu Rajuexplained that this had been a preliminary vote. Then, Burnett brought Bernie Sanders on, and he got it right:
BURNETT: Outfront now, one of the cosponsors of the Senate resolution rebuking Trump today, Senator Bernie Sanders. And Senator, I appreciate your time.

Look, the vote overwhelming, 60 to 39, bipartisan, defiance of the president and his personal repeated embrace of the Saudi crown prince. Are you confident you have enough votes for this Yemen resolution to ultimately be passed?

SANDERS: Well, I am not much into speculation, but I think we're in pretty good shape. We have, as you indicated, a bipartisan support, and the reason for that is that Democrats and Republicans and the American people are thoroughly mortified by what we're seeing in Yemen, which is now the worst humanitarian disaster on earth.

We're talking about 85,000 children having starved to death over the last three years, according to the United Nations.
Millions of people in that country are now facing imminent starvation. 10,000 cholera cases every single week.

And I think what the Congress is now saying is that we do not want to continue participating with Saudi Arabia in that war as a result—which the famine came about as a result of the Saudi intervention. We want out.

[...]

But the main thing right now is that the United States has got to end its participation in the war in Yemen, instead of supporting more and more bombs falling onto that horrific situation. What we have got to do is bring the warring parties together, stop the war, and start working with the United Nations on humanitarian help for a very -- a country which is suffering terribly.
And so on. This morning, Nicholas Kristof's column makes way for a photograph which shows the ways of the world. To consider that photo, click here.

We bring you this news for a reason. The word "Yemen" wasn't mentioned on Rachel's TV show last night.

The word wasn't mentioned on Lawrence's show, nor on Brian's program. At 6 PM Eastern, the word "Yemen" wasn't mentioned on The Beat.

Chris Hayes did a full segment on Yemen. One hour earlier, Yemen was fleetingly mentioned on Hardball just once. If you blinked, you missed it.

We're calling the roll for a reason. In these ways, we learn about the actual values of the grinning, smiling chimps and baboons who serve us our tribal porridge each night on our favorite corporate channel.

They're selling us the chase after Trump. They're too empty to develop an actual politics, and so, instead of that, they're yelling this:

"Lock him up!"

In the twenty-one years we've been doing this site, we think the current chase after Trump is the only stampede we've ever seen which begins to rise to the level of the 20-month War Against Gore which sent George Bush to the White House. For sheer inanity, we'd say this chase has almost reached that level.

In our view, Donald J. Trump is a deeply disordered and dangerous person. He's always had terrible values, including back in the day when the networks were happily making big bucks off his terrible values.

We assume he may be mentally ill. We assume he may have cognitive problems. We assume he could start a foreign or domestic war. But we also think the current chase is about as fake as it gets.

The current chase strikes us as insane. Consider what's at stake in this brain-damaged chase, all summed up in this chunk from a front-page report in today's Washington Post:
ELLISON AND FARHI (12/12/18): Prosecutors also allege that Pecker and AMI played a key role in the effort to silence Daniels. One month before the election in 2016, after an agent for Daniels informed National Enquirer editor Dylan Howard that Daniels intended to tell her story publicly, Pecker and Howard contacted Cohen. Soon after, Cohen negotiated a $130,000 deal to buy Daniels’s silence.

Theodore Boutrous, a First Amendment attorney at Gibson Dunn who briefly represented McDougal, said the relationship between Trump’s associate and the tabloid publisher “was a shockingly creative plan meant to change the way American citizens voted. That is an important and serious violation of the law.”

Boutrous, who began looking into the National Enquirer’s role in protecting Trump in October 2016, said he always believed the tabloid “had teamed up with Donald Trump and his campaign to stop Ms. McDougal from speaking out, solely to protect Mr. Trump and help him get elected president. That seemed outrageous and illegal.”
Try to understand the braindead way this story is being told:

First, no one ever "silenced" Daniels or McDougal. No one "bought their silence." Either one could have "spoken out" any time she chose.

Here's the problem. Neither Daniels nor McDougal wanted to "tell her story." Each of these soulless hustlers wanted to tell her story for a big pile of cash.

One says she had a love affair with a married man with a new baby. She even told Anderson that she paraded through the new mother's bedroom at one point.

The other one says she had sex with Trump on one occasion, back in 2006. It's blindingly obvious that she did so in hopes of landing a spot on The Apprentice.

People don't go to jail in this country for doing things like that. But these two slimeballs engaged in this conduct, then wanted to get majorly paid for telling the world about it.

More to the point, they wanted to "tell their stories" in the middle of a White House election. And all those great apes on your cable screens think this is a good, noble thing!

(This includes all the former thugs from the Southern District of New York who now drawl all over the cable screen all night.)

Just look what the great ape Boutros says in that Post excerpt. He says the attempt to buy these two idiots off "was a shockingly creative plan meant to change the way American citizens voted."

He actually wants the American people casting their votes around bullshit like this! But this is who and what these great apes are. It's what they've always been.

They wanted to discuss Bill Clinton's ten acts of oral sex. After that, they wanted to discuss the stupid claims they invented about Al Gore's deeply troubling wardrobe, along with the stupid, invented paraphrased comments they pretended he'd actually said.

It's how these apes actually think! They wanted to talk about Hillary's emails. They wanted to drag Gennifer Flowers back onto the front page again.

Professor Harari has called them "great apes," and that's what they've always been. He says they run on "gossip" and "fiction." Does it look to you like he's wrong?

Our tribe's alpha ape was grinning last night. She didn't mention Yemen, not once. In fact, she hasn't said the word on her TV show all year.

Instead, she chuckles and grins and cons you good. As we've said, she's exceptionally skilled at the one key task—she's skilled at selling the car.

We liberals are playing this game like great apes. It's who and what we've always been, and there's no way this pursuit of impeachment will end well.

Take a look at Kristof's column. On the bright side, we can turn to our darling Rachel tonight knowing that child won't be there.

THE SOUL OF THE LOGICIAN: "Don't jump, Mr. BLANK," we wanted to cry!

THURSDAY, DECEMBER 13, 2018

It's only 7 plus 5:
How sharp have our greatest logicians been over, let's say, the past hundred-plus years?

How sharp have our greatest logicians been? In her 2005 book, Incompleteness: The Proof and Paradox of Kurt Godel, Rebecca Goldstein provides a tiny hint of an unfriendly idea, perhaps without knowing she's done so.

Goldstein focuses on Kurt Godel, who she explicitly describes as "the greatest logician since Aristotle." Along the way, she lets us know that this second greatest logician in history cited Stalin as a source for his disbelief in evolution; said he didn't believe in the natural sciences; believed that numbers and circles live "a perfect, timeless existence independent of the human mind" (we're quoting Jim Holt's review of Goldstein's well-received book); and devoted time to trying to plumb the logic of 2 plus 2.

That's an impressive resume, but Godel was the greatest logician in more than two thousand years. How solid were the logicians and thinkers who ranked one step behind him?

How solid were Europe's greatest thinkers? Goldstein develops a lightly mocking portrait as she describes their reaction to Ludwig Wittgenstein, a somewhat controversial figure whose jumbled, confusing later work we'd strongly recommend.

Wittgenstein was once considered a major logician too. According to Professor Horwich's 2013 essay, that view has largely disappeared among "professional philosophers" (his term).

As of 2005, Professor Goldsetin seemed to think that Wittgenstein was still highly influential inside the academy, though she seemed to perhaps be rolling her eyes at this state of affairs. At any rate, the portrait by Goldstein to which we refer concerns Wittgenstein's standing in his native Vienna back in the late 1920s and early 1930s.

Let's recall the earlier history. In 1921, at the age of 32, Wittgenstein had published the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, an instant classic in which he believed that he had solved all philosophical problems. (The book had been written several years earlier.)

Wittgenstein retired from philosophy at that point—but before long, he returned. By the late 1920s, he was meeting with the group Goldstein describes as "the legendary Vienna Circle," the "most prominent" of the intellectual circles then active in Vienna.

The very young Kurt Godel was also part of this circle. Goldstein offers an amusing portrait of the way Vienna's most prominent thinkers and logicians reacted to the already-famous Wittgenstein's presence. Her portrait starts like this:
GOLDSTEIN (page 89): By far the most influential figure connected with the Vienna Circle was not even a member of it, and in fact steadfastly refused membership. This was the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein...Wittgenstein's almost mystical influence on the members of the Vienna Circle, the esteemed thinkers among whom the young logician [Godel] first came to think rigorously about the foundations of mathematics, must have struck a person of Godel's persuasion as highly dubious.
Goldstein will side with Godel over Wittgenstein throughout, as is her perfect right.

At any rate, that reference to Wittgenstein's "almost mystical influence" constitutes the start of Goldstein's amusing portrait. Briefly, she flashes back to the earlier Wittgenstein's arrival at Cambridge in 1912, when his "tormentedly dramatic" demeanor helped produce a "cult of genius."

Wittgenstein arrived in Cambridge at age 22. Here's part of the way it went down:
GOLDSTEIN (pages 95-96): Wittgenstein's tormentedly dramatic way of pursuing his field, the cult of genius that he propagated, was also highly Viennese. He had read in his youth, and always retained a high respect for, the strange Viennese writer Otto Weininger, "a quintessentially Viennese figure" who had argued that the only was for a man to justify his life (for a woman there is no way) is by acquiring and cultivating genius. Weininger had chosen to shoot himself to death in the very house in which Beethoven, the genius he revered above all others, had died. Wittgenstein himself was suicidal for nine years (his three older brothers committed suicide, also a quintessentially Viennese act), until he came to Cambridge and was declared a genius by Russell.
Eventually, Lord Russell would change his mind (or something like that) concerning Wittgenstein's genius. But even as a very young man, Wittgenstein's "tormentedly dramatic" manner had been turning heads in the academy's loftiest precincts.

Years later, the giants of the Vienna Circle fell victim to this "almost mystical influence." In these passages, Goldstein is referring to some of Europe's most highly-regarded intellectuals and logicians:
GOLDSTEIN (page 104): Schlick and Waismann were permitted to meet with Wittgenstein in person on a regular basis...Waismann was, perhaps, of all the Wittgenstein-enchanted Circle, the positivist who suffered the deepest from philosophical infatuation. He changed his views every time Wittgenstein did, and, like some of the equally impressionable Cambridge students, [he] began to mimic the philosopher's behavioral tics.
He even began to mimic the tics! A few of those distinctive mannerisms will be described below. Goldstein's lightly mocking portrait continues:
GOLDSTEIN (page 105): Just as in Cambridge, Wittgenstein's effects on the logical positivists, particularly Schlick and Waismann, almost defies explanation. Schlick's wife recalled her husband leaving the house to go see Wittgenstein for the first time as if he were setting off on a religious pilgrimage. "He returned in an ecstatic state, saying little, and I felt I should not ask questions."

Feigl, in later life, reported, "Schlick adored him and so did Waismann, who, like others of Wittgenstein's disciples, even came to imitate his gestures and manner of speech..."
For the record, these fellows were all "logical positivists," the most hard-headed logicians then in existence. But even though Wittgenstein tended to reject the views of those in the Vienna Circle, "they mostly responded with adoration," Goldstein writes. When he visited Vienna for a few months in 1933, A. J. Ayer sent a mocking note back to England about the foolishness of it all.

Foolish it may have been, but Goldstein quotes Rudolph Carnap concerning the way they were. Once again, we get a glimpse of Wittgenstein's "tormentedly dramatic" demeanor:
GOLDSTEIN (page 108): Even the most sober-minded of the positivists, Rudolph Carnap, admits, in his autobiographical notes to the Schilpp volume in his honor, to a measure of near-religious awe:

"When he started to formulate his view of some specific philosophical problem, we often felt the internal struggle that occurred in him at that very moment, a struggle by which he tried to penetrate from darkness to light under an intense and painful strain. When, finally, sometimes after a prolonged arduous effort, his answer came forth, his statement stood before us like a newly created work of art or a divine inspiration...The impression he made on us was as if insight came to him through a divine inspiration, so we could not help feeling that any sober rational comment or analysis of it would be a profanation."
Have we mentioned the fact that these were the reactions of some of Europe's allegedly greatest thinkers?

Eventually, Goldstein returns us to Lord Russell, writing a letter to Lady Ottoline about Wittgenstein's reverence for the "cursing, howling and singing" that were the marks of high genius. Finally, Goldstein describes a few of the tics:
GOLDSTEIN (page 113): And Wittgenstein was that sort of man, acting out the high drama of genius, so that Russell, when he was still enthralled, described him to Lady Ottoline as "...perhaps the most perfect example I have ever known of genius as traditionally conceived, passionate, profound, intense, and dominating."

He was the sort of genius to attract disciples so fanatical they took to wearing their shirts unbuttoned at the top as he did and aping his tics and mannerisms, such as clapping their hands to their foreheads when struck a by a philosophical insight or its lack. They may have disagreed with each other on the correct interpretation of Wittgenstein, but agreed that the correct interpretation, if only it could be attained, would almost of necessity be true.
Wittgenstein's eccentric mannerisms have been described by others. The same is true of the depression and torment with which he was tragically afflicted during the bulk of his life.

Norman Malcolm, his student and friend, described his difficult personality and his eccentric personal style in his 1958 book, Ludwig Wittgenstein: A Memoir. In the Biographical Sketch which accompanies Malcolm's memoir, Professor Von Wright says this of Wittgenstein:

"It is probably true that he lived on the border of mental illness." Stating the obvious, that was a tragic report.

Wittgenstein seems to have struggled throughout his life on the personal level. But we're speaking here of the cultish reactions he engendered among the greatest thinkers of Europe—they who aped his mannerisms and treated him like a god.

Should great logicians behave like that? Goldstein's comical portrait reads to us, at least in part, as an attempt to undermine Wittgenstein himself and his later work, in which he declared that much traditional "philosophical" work had been built on conceptual confusion.

(College freshmen had suspected as much down through the annals of time.)

That said, Goldstein's portrait of the aping of tics floats an intriguing idea. How sharp have our sharpest logicians been if they were inclined to behave in the ways Goldstein describes?

Godel, the second greatest in history, was a fount of nutty ideas. Those who ranked one level below him treated Wittgenstein like a god, and took to mimicking his tics.

Indeed, we've begun to wonder if we ourselves once observed a small part of this aping of tics. We return to our freshman year introductory class, Problems in Philosophy, in which we were asked to wonder how we could possibly know that 7 plus 5 equals 12.

How could we possibly know such a thing? Whatever the answer, our teaching assistant, Mr. BLANK, was plainly taking it hard.

He would stare out the third-story window of our classroom, tormentedly running his hands through his thick, wavy hair as he agonized over the greatness of this puzzling philosophical problem.

Had some small part of the aping of tics possibly found its way to him? We'd never heard of the tics at that time, so the question never arose.

Instead, we worried about Mr. BLANK and his rather obvious torment.

"Don't jump, Mr. BLANK," we wanted to cry. "It's only 7 plus 5!"

Tomorrow: Puzzled by paradox

BREAKING: Did Donald J. Trump "defraud democracy?"

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 12, 2018

Fascinating letters to the Times:
Yesterday morning, the New York Times published three letters concerning the claim that Donald J. Trump "defrauded democracy" when Michael Cohen paid Stephanie Clifford to refrain from "telling her truth."

To read those letters, click here.

Clifford says that she and Trump had sex on one occasion, in 2006; Trump says they didn't. After trying to score a big sack of cash for years, Clifford finally accepted $130,000 from Michael Cohen to keep her truth to herself.

Did Barrister Cohen "defraud democracy" when he arranged this payment? Did Trump commit the same offence? The first letter, from Beverly Hills, chose to keep it "plain and simple" and said that they certainly did:
LETTER TO THE NEW YORK TIMES (12/11/18): Plain and simple, Donald Trump violated campaign finance laws meant to ensure full disclosure of campaign contributions and expenditures to hide from public view two extramarital affairs. If this information had become public during the final phases of the 2016 campaign, it is likely that Mr. Trump would have lost the election. And that’s how he defrauded the American public.

This is not a victimless crime.
American democracy, American spirit, the fabric of our country and the American people are the victims, as are the poor, immigrants, the environment and longstanding relationships with historical allies. As Mr. Trump might tweet, “Shame.”
If you have sex with someone once, have you had "an affair" with that person? We'd be inclined to view that as a special case of "the power of pluralization." Given the fact that a stampede's on, your results may differ.

Whatever! The writer assumes the truth of Clifford's claim; assumes the accuracy of claims by Michael Cohen; and, perhaps most significantly, uncritically accepts the legal judgments of Southern District prosecutors.

On this familiar basis, he declares that the American people are victims of a crime. As we tried to select the president of the United States, we were kept from knowing that Donald J. Trump may have had sex, on one occasion, with Clifford some ten years before!

Forget the legalities here. That strikes us as one of the most insane political and cultural judgments we've encountered in twenty-one years at this mind-numbing post. That said, it's now the defining political/cultural judgment of the liberal and mainstream worlds.

The second writer, from the calmer climate of Toronto, said we should maybe hold on:
LETTER TO THE NEW YORK TIMES (12/11/18): If the Democrats push for impeachment in the House and if the House does impeach, with the Republicans controlling the Senate, that will be as pointlessly distracting and destructive as the Republican-controlled House’s impeachment of President Bill Clinton was. Nothing will be gained. The country will suffer.

The House, and hence the Democratic Party, will be shooting itself in the foot. President Trump’s crimes, if they are proved, will speak for themselves. Whether they have an effect on his ability to be re-elected will be determined by the electorate, which is where it should be determined.
This Canadian is withholding judgment, at this time, about Trump's possible crimes.

He doesn't specifically mention the "crime" in which we voters were kept from learning who may have had sex with whom on one ten-year-old occasion. He further suggests that the system is meant to run on elections, not on impeachment, except where necessity calls.

The third letter came from Manhattan Beach, CA. In our view, this writer makes a sound overall point:
LETTER TO THE NEW YORK TIMES (12/11/18): In your reporting on the latest from the special counsel, Robert Mueller, you say the prosecutors wrote that Michael Cohen, the president’s onetime lawyer, “deceived the voting public by hiding alleged facts that he believed would have had a substantial effect on the election.”

If our election laws criminalize that, then we have criminalized politics.

All politicians push good news and hide the bad.
Have we made our political process any better from this labyrinth of laws? No. And calling it a fraud on voters is more evidence of lawyers going wild.
According to the prosecutors, Cohen “deceived the voting public by hiding alleged facts that he believed would have had a substantial effect on the election.”

The writer says all politicians hide unflattering facts. We think he has a solid point. Consider:

According to a wealth of whispers, the recently canonized George H. W. Bush had an affair along the way with a particular aide who we won't name in this place. If that suspicion was correct, did Candidate Bush "deceive the public" in 1988 and 1992 by failing to inform them about this exciting fact?

According to Carl Bernstein's 2007 book, A Woman in Charge, Bill Clinton had a substantial, heartfelt love affair with an Arkansas woman who Bernstein names during his years as governor. If that's true, did Candidate Clinton "deceive the public" in 1992 and 1996 by failing to share this exciting news?

Is the public being "deceived" when it isn't told about such matters? Does this make us "victims?" This notion strikes us as insane, as the sort of judgment which tends to merge from our unbalanced species' "cultural revolutions."

That said, we're currently watching a stampede unfold. In the course of our tribal stampedes, we tend to make the darnedest judgments.

Tribes devise the darnedest claims! We're strongly inclined to function this way, and we always have been.

THE SOUL OF THE ELITE LOGICIAN: Aping the genius Wittgenstein's tics!

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 12, 2018

Vienna's greatest minds:
Yesterday, when we left off, we were ruminating about a bit of modern upper-end logic.

Granted, it was only a footnote. The footnote is found on the first page of Chapter 3 of W. D. Hart's 2010 book, The Evolution of Logic.

Hart's book is part of the "Evolution of Modern Philosophy" series published by the Cambridge University Press. His footnote, which we basically picked at random, goes exactly like this:
Perhaps more generally a quantifier is a second-level function whose value at an (n + 1)-ary first-level concept is an n-ary concept, unless n is zero, in which case its value is a truth value, an object. In that case, quantifiers would be second-level functions sometimes having first-level concepts as values and sometimes objects as values. When the value of a first-level concept at an object is truth, Frege says the object falls under the concept. Perhaps the concept:falls-under is a binary second-level concept whose first argument is an object and whose second is a first-level concept. In that case, second-level concepts could also have arguments of different levels.
Not that there's anything wrong with it! But that may give you some idea of what modern elite "logic" looks like.

Meanwhile, how about the logic of everyday public discourse—the logic of paraphrase, let's say, or the bungled logic which lay behind the endlessly bungled mid-1990s Clinton-Gingrich Medicare debate?

How about the logic (the semantics) of lies, false claims, errors, mistakes and misstatements? Such charges dominate the current debate. Has any logician ever stepped forward to address the logic of that?

Alas! When it comes to everyday logic, we the people (we the rubes) are pretty much left on our own. Rather, we're left to the mercies of the modern journalistic elite, who mainly like to talk about who may have had sex on one occasion with someone ten years in the past.

(In the end, it's what they care about.)

Our modern journalists enjoy discussing topics like earth tones and sex. They'll speculate, from morning to night, about who may end up in prison or jail, and of course for how long.

They'll quickly find ways to stop discussing the separation of kids at the border, or the deaths of children around the world in U.S.-linked wars. Much as Professor Harari has said, they seem to run on "fictions" and "gossip," and perhaps on little else.

That's the fuel on which our modern elite journalists run. By way of contrast, our elite logicians like discussing whether "the concept:falls-under is a binary second-level concept whose first argument is an object and whose second is a first-level concept," and other topics like that.

Not that there's anything wrong with it! Unless you think that something's been wrong with our public discourse for at least the past three decades—something which won't be fixed by the entertaining, exciting dreams of the Milbanks, the Lemons and the Dowds, or even by the O'Donnells and the Maddows.

We take it as obvious that something is wrong with the world of our elite "journalists." But how about our elite "logicians?" What can we say about them?

What about our elite logicians? Despite the deference we tend to display toward authority figures of various kinds, is it possible that our greatest logicians since Aristotle have possibly never been "all that?"

Ignore their flight from public service! Is it possible that our elite logicians just haven't been especially insightful or sharp, even on their own terms? In the next two days, we'll chuckle at two suggestions to that effect, suggestions drawn from Rebecca Goldstein's 2005 book, Incompleteness: The Proof and Paradox of Kurt Godel.

Goldstein focuses on Kurt Godel, who she explicitly describes as "the greatest logician since Aristotle." Rather plainly, she draws a picture of a man who was mentally ill throughout his life, leading to a tragic death by self-starvation at the age of 71.

She also focused on Godel's array of weird ideas, weird ideas which isolated him within the Princeton community. When Jim Holt reviewed Goldstein's book for The New Yorker, he referred to other peculiar ideas, perhaps without realizing that he was doing so:
HOLT (2/28/05): Gödel entered the University of Vienna in 1924. He had intended to study physics, but he was soon seduced by the beauties of mathematics, and especially by the notion that abstractions like numbers and circles had a perfect, timeless existence independent of the human mind. This doctrine, which is called Platonism, because it descends from Plato’s theory of ideas, has always been popular among mathematicians. In the philosophical world of nineteen-twenties Vienna, however, it was considered distinctly old-fashioned. Among the many intellectual movements that flourished in the city’s rich café culture, one of the most prominent was the Vienna Circle, a group of thinkers united in their belief that philosophy must be cleansed of metaphysics and made over in the image of science. Under the influence of Ludwig Wittgenstein, their reluctant guru, the members of the Vienna Circle regarded mathematics as a game played with symbols, a more intricate version of chess. What made a proposition like “2 + 2 = 4” true, they held, was not that it correctly described some abstract world of numbers but that it could be derived in a logical system according to certain rules.
Do numbers and circles actually "have a perfect, timeless existence independent of the human mind?" More to the point, does anyone have the slightest idea what such a claim might mean?

Meanwhile, how about the mysteries of 2 plus 2? Should the greatest minds in Vienna have spent their time arguing about how we can know that it adds up to 4?

We'll say the answer may be no. In Vienna, the argument raged. To appearances, it was still being taken seriously in Goldstein's well-reviewed book.

In that chunk from Holt's review, an interesting part of Goldstein's book makes a brief appearance. Along the way, Goldstein spends a good chunk of time discussing the "thinkers" of the Vienna Circle, and especially "Ludwig Wittgenstein, their reluctant guru."

Eventually, the later Wittgenstein would try to leave the work of these elite logicians in the dust. Goldstein describes an earlier version of this guru, and she describes the comical way the greatest "thinkers" of Vienna let themselves be drawn under the spell of his "almost mystical influence."

Tomorrow, we'll run through Goldstein's eye-rolling account of the way these greatest thinkers responded to the eccentric mannerisms of this reluctant guru. Though we don't agree with Goldstein's overall stance, we'll agree with her on one point:

Forget their concerns about 2 plus 2! Goldstein's comical portraits suggest the possibility that these lofty Viennese thinkers may not have been "all that," despite their high academic standing.

Tomorrow, we'll look on as Europe's greatest minds ape Wittgenstein's various tics. We'll even wonder if we ourselves saw a version of that as the teaching assistant in our first-year "Problems in Philosophy" class agonized at a third-story window over 7 plus 5 making 12.

Tomorrow will be the aping of tics. Then, on Friday, well touch on a point from Professor Hart's book, at least as the book is described by the Cambridge University Press:
CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY PRESS: Examines the relations between logic and philosophy over the last 150 years. Logic underwent a major renaissance beginning in the nineteenth century. Cantor almost tamed the infinite, and Frege aimed to undercut Kant by reducing mathematics to logic. These achievements were threatened by the paradoxes, like Russell's. This ferment generated excellent philosophy (and mathematics) by excellent philosophers (and mathematicians) up to World War II...
During the evolution of logic, Cantor and Frege achieved great things. But their achievements were "threatened by the paradoxes, like Russell's." What in the world does the publisher mean by that?

How in the world were achievements in logic threatened by paradoxes? On Friday, we'll establish the field of play. Next week, we'look at Goldtsein's treatment of this embarrassing part of the modern history of upper-end, high detached elite "logic."

Goldstein seems to buy this history all the way down. Somewhere, Professor Harari is mordantly chuckling as we see a major way in which our greatest "great ape" minds have never been all that sharp.

Tomorrow: Aping the tics

BREAKING: A nice play by the Washington Post!

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 11, 2018

Glenn Kessler uses his words:
The Washington Post makes a nice play on this morning's front page.

It's based on the famous "bottomless cup." Glenn Kessler explains it like this:
KESSLER (12/11/18): Trump’s willingness to constantly repeat false claims has posed a unique challenge to fact-checkers. Most politicians quickly drop a Four-Pinocchio claim, either out of a duty to be accurate or concern that spreading false information could be politically damaging.

Not Trump. The president keeps going long after the facts are clear, in what appears to be a deliberate effort to replace the truth with his own, far more favorable, version of it. He is not merely making gaffes or misstating things, he is purposely injecting false information into the national conversation.

To accurately reflect this phenomenon, The Washington Post Fact Checker is introducing a new category—the Bottomless Pinocchio.
That dubious distinction will be awarded to politicians who repeat a false claim so many times that they are, in effect, engaging in campaigns of disinformation.
At the Post's Fact-Checker site, a pol will receive a "bottomless Pinocchio" if he repeats a false claim at least twenty times. That's a whole lot of faux repetition.

According to Kessler, "The Fact Checker has not identified statements from any [pol] who meets the standard other than Trump." No one else has misstated that much. But the Post has already placed fourteen different false statements by Trump on this creative new list.

While we have you here, we'll suggest you take a look at something Kessler does in his essay. He goes on at great length about Trump's false statements, but he never employs the term "lie."

Given the nature of his presentation, we would have advised Kessler to consider the term "apparent lie." But in this report, Kessler shows how many ways there are to identify misstatements without dropping the once-forbidden L-bomb, a term which routinely creates distracting side discussions which let the misstater escape.

For decades, journalists didn't say "lie." On balance, that policy made good sense.

Kessler follows the old ways today. As he accepts this discipline, he clobbers Trump over the head.

THE SOUL OF THE ELITE LOGICIAN: The look and feel of professional logic!

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 11, 2018

The chains of Marley's ghost:
Where have all the logicians gone? We asked that question last week.

Our society has badly needed their help over the course of the past thirty years. But every time we waited for rescue, no logician arrived on the scene.

"Hold on!" the voices angrily cry. Academic logicians, those in the academy, don't waste their time on the trifling disputes which form the public discourse!

People die all over the world when our "public logic" fails. But our elite logicians are occupied with loftier concerns, such as the ones which emerge in a passage from Professor Hart's 2010 book, The Evolution of Logic.

We're basically quoting this passage at random. It appears at the start of Chapter 3, Expeditions: Which Sets Exist?

One more point should be made clear. We've selected Hart's book, not because we think it's lousy work, but because we assume it's technically competent, good:
HART (page 59): Frege layered functions. A first-level function assigns objects to objects: doubling is a first-level function that assigns six to three; and the concept:green is a first-level function that assigns truth to all and only the green things. The derivative of the square function is the doubling function, while that of the sine is the cosine, so differentiation is a second-order function. In another example, Frege reads "There are carrots," so its subject is the concept:carrot and its predicate is the concept:existence. Existence is thus a second-level concept whose value is truth at all and only the first-level concepts under which something falls. This allows Frege to refine Kant's criticism of the ontological argument for the existence of God. Kant said that existence is not a predicate, which is heroic, or even quixotic, grammar. Frege could say that since existence is a second-level predicate, it is at the wrong level to be a defining feature of an object like God.
There! That's a taste of what "logic" is like on the modern professional level. Involved in lofty discussions like this, the elite logician has little time for the minor errors which may decide presidential elections and with them the use of deadly force against children all over the world.

Professor Hart's book is part of a six-volume series, The Evolution of Modern Philosophy. The series is published by the Cambridge University Press, the world's oldest publishing house.

As noted, we chose Hart's book because we assume it represents a competent example of modern high logic. The publisher describes the book like this:
CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY PRESS: Examines the relations between logic and philosophy over the last 150 years. Logic underwent a major renaissance beginning in the nineteenth century. Cantor almost tamed the infinite, and Frege aimed to undercut Kant by reducing mathematics to logic. These achievements were threatened by the paradoxes, like Russell's. This ferment generated excellent philosophy (and mathematics) by excellent philosophers (and mathematicians) up to World War II. This book provides a selective, critical history of the collaboration between logic and philosophy during this period. After World War II, mathematical logic became a recognized subdiscipline in mathematics departments, and consequently but unfortunately philosophers have lost touch with its monuments. This book aims to make four of them (consistency and independence of the continuum hypothesis, Post's problem, and Morley's theorem) more accessible to philosophers, making available the tools necessary for modern scholars of philosophy to renew a productive dialogue between logic and philosophy.
According to that blurb, mathematical logic became a recognized subdiscipline in mathematics departments. As an unexplained consequence, philosophers lost touch with its monuments.

That said:

Especially at this time of year, we typically try to stress the distinction between Morley's theorem and Marley's ghost. The distinction tends to be lost on those who lack interest in logic as well as literature.

Is something gained from modern high logic as practiced down through all those years? We're not sure how to answer your thoughtful question.

Plainly, something is lost when a society's logicians ignore the failed logic of daily life, focusing solely on loftier topics. Then too, a question arises when we review the sweep of the upper-end work the Cambridge University Press blurb describes:

Is it possible, just perhaps ever so slenderly possible, that our greatest logicians have never been all that sharp? We can't stop ourselves from asking such questions when we read a book like Rebecca Goldstein's favorably-blurbed 2005 volume, Incompleteness: The Proof and Paradox of Kurt Godel.

As we've noted in the past, Goldstein is a highly-regarded novelist, but she's also a ranking philosophy professor. Her book was favorably blurbed by a trio of ranking figures—by Stephen Pinker, by Brian Greene, and also by Alan Lightman.

After that, the book was favorably reviewed by Jim Holt in The New Yorker.

Writing with a novelist's flair, Goldstein discusses the work of Godel, who she describes as "the greatest logician since Aristotle." She also describes Godel's interactions with Ludwig Wittgenstein, whose later work was very hot until, according to Professor Horwich, the professional world whose work he critiqued decided to turn him out.

How sharp have our greatest logicians been? We'll scan Goldstein's portraits all week.

Tomorrow: Aping Wittgenstein's tics

Also this: A footnote is appended to the part of Hart's text which we've highlighted. The footnote reads like this:
Perhaps more generally a quantifier is a second-level function whose value at an (n + 1)-ary first-level concept is an n-ary concept, unless n is zero, in which case its value is a truth value, an object. In that case, quantifiers would be second-level functions sometimes having first-level concepts as values and sometimes objects as values. When the value of a first-level concept at an object is truth, Frege says the object falls under the concept. Perhaps the concept:falls-under is a binary second-level concept whose first argument is an object and whose second is a first-level concept. In that case, second-level concepts could also have arguments of different levels.
We selected this book because Hart's fully competent. This is high order "logic" at work.

BREAKING: The soul of the new stampede!

MONDAY, DECEMBER 10, 2018

"Lock him up" versus "move on:"
We start today with a front-page report from yesterday's New York Times.

The report, by Baker and Fandos, seems accurate and well reasoned. It's the content of this accurate report that pretty much blows our weak minds.

The report concerns "the latest revelations" by special counsel Robert Mueller and by federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York. It concerns "the portrait" those officials are currently sketching.

The headline goes like this:
Prosecutors Effectively Accuse Trump of Defrauding Voters. What Does It Mean?
Since claims of felonies are involved, that question needs to be answered. In the following passages, Baker and Fandos start to describe the claims those prosecutors are making—claims they're advancing with the help of tiny violins:
BAKER AND FANDOS (12/9/18): In the narrative that the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, and New York prosecutors are building, Mr. Trump continued to secretly seek to do business in Russia deep into his presidential campaign even as Russian agents made more efforts to influence him. At the same time, in this account [Trump] ordered hush payments to two women to suppress stories of impropriety in violation of campaign finance law.

The prosecutors made clear in a sentencing memo filed on Friday that they viewed efforts by Mr. Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, to squelch the stories as nothing less than a perversion of a democratic election—and by extension they effectively accused the president of defrauding voters, questioning the legitimacy of his victory.

[...]

In the memo in the case of Mr. Cohen, prosecutors from the Southern District of New York depicted Mr. Trump, identified only as “Individual-1,” as an accomplice in the hush payments. While Mr. Trump was not charged, the reference echoed Watergate, when President Richard M. Nixon was named an unindicted co-conspirator by a grand jury investigating the cover-up of the break-in at the Democratic headquarters.

“While many Americans who desired a particular outcome to the election knocked on doors, toiled at phone banks or found any number of other legal ways to make their voices heard, Cohen sought to influence the election from the shadows,” the prosecutors wrote.

“He did so by orchestrating secret and illegal payments to silence two women
who otherwise would have made public their alleged extramarital affairs with Individual-1,” they continued. “In the process, Cohen deceived the voting public by hiding alleged facts that he believed would have had a substantial effect on the election.”
The lawmen sawed on their violins concerning phone banks and door-to-door visits by unpaid campaign workers. Their complaint against Cohen (and Trump) was this:

Through his payments to two women, Cohen "hid alleged facts that he believed would have had a substantial effect on the election.”

We agree with the lawmen in one way. It's possible that the "alleged facts" in question could have had an effect on the way voters decided to vote.

It's precisely for that reason that we have suggested that Michael Cohen receive highest national honors for what he did in this instance. (He could still be sent to jail for the tax evasion in which he engaged, and for his shady conduct in running his taxicab business.)

Why should Cohen receive highest honors? Why do we feel a bit contemptuous of the portrait painted by the high-minded prosecutors in the Southern District?

Again, you're asking good questions! As we start to answer, consider one of the "alleged facts" lying at the heart of this brain-dead sex chase.

Stephanie Clifford alleges that she had consensual sex with Donald J. Trump on exactly one occasion, back in 2006. (He says it didn't happen. That explains the word "alleged.")

Not too long after Clifford did or didn't engage in this one consensual act, she began trolling about, looking for ways to acquire cash for telling the exciting story of her exciting adventure.

Eventually, a presidential election was under way, thus raising the presumptive value of Clifford's exciting story about this exciting act. As Election Day neared in 2016, she tried to score some cash from Slate, then ended up taking $130,000 from Barrister Cohen.

Can we talk? We're among the laypeople who don't understand why Clifford isn't being charged with extortion. There may be a very good legal reason, but we don't know what it is, and the question will never be raised on our own tribe's corporate cable channels.

That said, it's hard to avoid being scornful of those high-minded prosecutors in Gotham. Apparently, they actually want American citizens to cast their votes on the basis of pointless slimy bullshit like this, rather than on the more substantial considerations our culture's elites love to downplay and avoid.

In 2016, Stephanie Clifford was saying that she had had sex, on one occasion ten years before, with Candidate Donald J. Trump. According to the Southern District, this is what we should be thinking about when we select our presidents.

In our view, it's hard to have sufficient contempt for the mindset which pimps such conclusions. To which we'll only add this key point:

It's all anthropology now!

This brings us to something which happened on yesterday's Kasie DC program. To watch the segment in question, click here, then click again on "Court filings reveal Trump as key figure in federal investigation."

Steve Kornacki was guest hosting for Kasie Hunt. At one point, breaking every rule in the book, he asked a skeptical question as he spoke with MoveOn.org's Karine Jean-Pierre:
KORNACKI (12/9/18): Let's take the Cohen campaign finance piece of this.

MoveOn.org—the foundation of MoveOn as an organization was twenty years ago when the president of the United States, at that time Bill Clinton, was accused of committing a felony, of lying under oath, committing perjury to cover up a politically damaging extramarital affair. And MoveOn.org came into being by saying, "You should not be impeached over this. You should not be impeached over committing a felony to cover up an affair. You should be censured and we should all move on from that."

...I'm just asking specifically about Cohen, campaign finance violations, Trump and women. Does that apply here as well?
Uh-oh! If we were supposed to "move on" when Clinton covered up an affair, why should we call out the dogs when Trump does something similar—in the case of Clifford, concerning one consensual act?

So Kornacki surprisingly asked! And in a brilliant non-response, the wonderfully presentable Jean-Pierre spoke for roughly 50 seconds, addressing every conceivable question except the one her host had raised.

At home, we tribals weren't supposed to notice the fact that Kornacki's question had been completely avoided. As for Kornacki himself, he simply "moved on" to a different question. Such behavior is required by Partisan Cable Law.

Every scripted liberal journalist is now jumping up and down about the felony Trump is said to have committed by shutting up a bald-faced hustler who was trying to hijack a White House election. We're expected to be as excited as Charles Blow is at the start of his new column:
BLOW (12/10/18): It is very possible that the president of the United States is a criminal. And it is very possible that his criminality aided and abetted his assumption of the position. Let that sink in. It is a profound revelation.

Last week, prosecutors made clear in a sentencing memo for Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, that Trump himself had directed Cohen to break campaign finance laws.

[...]

[W]e now have an actual, and one assumes provable, crime. A federal crime. And the president is its architect.
Please note: Like all good liberals, Blow now takes allegations by federal prosecutors and treats them as established facts. This is one of the things we "humans" do when we stage a stampede.

Do we now have "an actual federal crime," as Blow thunders today? It's true that Cohen has pled to a crime in this matter. But that's where Alan Dershowitz's recent statements come in.

As everyone knows, violations of campaign finance laws have rarely been prosecuted as felonies. It's also true that Al Capone was pursued on a highly convenient income tax rap.

Blow goes on and on and on, thundering about this "actual crime" and assuming the accuracy of everything any prosecutor has ever said anywhere on earth. This brings us back to the fact that Cohen has pled guilty to a felony in this matter.

Here's what Dershowitz would probably say. And no, this isn't crazy:

Cohen was seeking leniency in his sentencing. For that reason, he pled guilty to the crime the prosecutors wanted him to plead to.

The fact that Cohen pled to that crime doesn't mean that any jury would ever convict that behavior as criminal. As everyone knows (but Blow doesn't say), when John Edwards was prosecuted in a similar way, the jury refused to convict.

That said, we liberals are on a stampede, chasing convenient sex acts. In truth, we're trying to get Donald Trump locked up because we we're too lazy, uncaring and unattractive to create a winning politics.

Have 28,000 children starved to death in a U.S.-linked war in Yemen? As Rachel Maddow proves every night, we liberals don't care about that. We like to chase The Others around. Our species had always been like this.

(Are children being starved to death in your name? See Nicholas Kristof's Sunday column, "Your Tax Dollars Help Starve Children." And no, we won't see this column discussed by our favorite stars tonight. Despite our tribe's famously lofty ideals, it simply isn't done.)

At present, we're trying to reward a two-bit hustler like Clifford for trying to hijack a presidential election. Trust us:

If we keep playing the game this way, before too long our federal elections will be about nothing except the candidates' sex acts, actual or alleged. Beyond that, our system will cease to run on elections. It will run on impeachments instead, and soon it won't run at all.

Men and women will come forward talking about consensual sex acts with Candidate X, Y or Z. Some of these people will be lying and some will be telling the truth, but you can forget those starving children. We'll be entertaining ourselves to death with this excitement instead, much as we're doing today.

Our species is strongly inclined to be silly, unintelligent, fatuous, tribal and low. Within the realm of the mainstream press, we've been proving that for at least thirty years. (In 1987, top journalists literally hid in the bushes to try to catch Gary Hart.)

How silly can our species get? We give you the Dimmesdales of the Southern District, conning us good as they play their silly sad though high-minded songs on their small violins. They care about those phone bank folks, or so they may even believe.

Extra-credit assignment: Our prisons are full of innocent people. Making reference to the current excitement, compare, contrast, analyze, dice, puree, dissect and discuss.

THE MISSING LOGICIANS FILE: Digest of reports!

MONDAY, DECEMBER 10, 2018

New chapter starts tomorrow:
Where have all the logicians gone over the course of the past thirty years? Why haven't logicians stepped forward to help as our discourse has floundered and failed?

You're asking some very good questions! Below, you see links to last week's reports from the missing logicians file:
Tuesday, December 4: A la recherche des logiciens perdus! When 7 plus 5 equaled 12.

Wednesday, December 5: Russell and Wittgenstein, up in a tree! An anecdote runs through it.

Thursday, December 6: Acolytes aped Wittgenstein! Years later, the Horwich Conjecture.

Friday, December 7: He built upon the logic of Frege and Russell! But what kind of "logic" was that?
Tomorrow, we'll start a new report. We'll call it the paradox file.

It will take us back to Professor Goldstein's book about "the greatest logician since Aristotle." We won't talk much about Godel himself. Instead, we'll review Goldstein's work.

None of this will actually matter, of course. It seems to be maybe too late for that—and we humans don't seem so inclined.

BREAKING: The anthropology of public discourse!

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 8, 2018

The way our minds tend to work:
Just how "rational" are we humans? How do our minds seem to work?

It's all part of the anthropology of the modern public discourse! Two basic questions are involved:

What sorts of topics do we choose to talk about? And when we talk about those topics, what kind of sense do we make?

Answers! In the journalistic realm, we often talk about topics which are inane—about pork rinds, earth tones, broccoli, personal notes and such. Then too, when we talk about serious topics, our efforts are often quite feeble.

On balance, just how "rational" are we? We'll look at three current examples.

Colbert King on the state of the schools:

Is his weekly column in today's Washington Post, Colbert King discusses a serious topic—the state of the D. C. Public Schools. But when he discusses Lewis Ferebee, the mayor's nominee to be the new chancellor, he very weirdly says this:
KING (12/8/18): Which gets us back to Ferebee and the challenges he faces should he get the post. He would be the city’s sixth permanent school leader since 2000, The Post reported. There’s a reason for the turnover. The job’s a killer. Not only must the chancellor tackle the daunting problem of the wide achievement gap between students from affluent households and low-income families (a problem that remains unsolved in the Indianapolis public school system that Ferebee led for the past five years), he also will encounter a governance structure so indirect and complicated that it only could have been designed by a Rube Goldberg devotee.
According to King, "the daunting problem of the wide achievement gap" between affluent kids and low-income kids "remains unsolved in the Indianapolis public school system that Ferebee led for the past five years."

That's a very strange thing to say. It's also typical of the way our upper-end journalists have talked about low-income schools for at least the past fifty years.

King seems to suggest that Ferebee should have solved that daunting problem during his five years in Indy. In fact, that daunting problem has "remained unsolved" all over the United States for as long as anyone has bothered to track such matters.

That daunting achievement gap has been a deeply intractable problem. Despite this blindingly obvious fact, cosseted journalistic elites love to pretend that the problem exists because people like Ferebee have weirdly failed to wave their magic wands at it.

(This was the full platform of former chancellor Rhee. By her reckoning, she would stamp her feet and yell at the teachers about this problem and they would magically fix it.)

Remarks of this type make no earthly sense. They betray a deeply detached insouciance which dates to the court of Marie Antoinette.

Despite this fairly obvious fact, uncaring journalistic elites love to offer such "analyses." This low-IQ posturing has dominated upper-end journalism for the pats fifty years.

Quinta Jurecic spots the collusion:

Quinta Jurecic is managing editor of Lawfare, the high-profile legal affairs blog of the Brookings Institution. As such, she writes from the top of the legal pile within Insider Washington.

Last Sunday, Jurecic offered a puzzling analysis piece in the New York Times Sunday Review. Could her reasoning have been any fuzzier? All the way down, we'd say no.

Alas! A stampede is currently under way, and when we humans stage a stampede, we tend to abandon our intellectual standards, such as they were to begin with. Jurecic is looking for guilt in the warrens of Trump, and so, she reasons like this:
JURECIC (12/2/18): From the day the Mueller investigation began, opponents of the president have hungered for that report, or an indictment waiting just around the corner, as the source text for an incantation to whisk Mr. Trump out of office and set everything back to normal again. The evidence that the special counsel has so far made public is damning enough. Yet even as the investigation seems to gather momentum, it has become increasingly clear that whatever findings Mr. Mueller reaches will be only a small piece of a much larger political puzzle.

The special counsel's office has already produced a hefty pile of evidence. The indictments of a Russian ''troll farm'' called the Internet Research Agency and of Russian military intelligence officers involved in the hacking of Democratic Party emails told a detailed story of a Russian effort to stir up American political passions. The documents revealed by Mr. Corsi suggest that he and Mr. Stone—who was in regular contact with Mr. Trump at the time—might have known in advance of planned releases by WikiLeaks of hacked documents.

Not enough collusion for you? Consider Mr. Cohen's latest plea agreement...
To what extent is intellectual rigor thrown away when public stampedes occur? Consider what Jurecic says there:

Jurecic says that some documents suggest that Corsi and Stone might have known in advance of planned releases by WikiLeaks of hacked documents. At this point, she blows right past the words "suggest" and "might" to say this constitutes "collusion."

By the way, collusion in what? Jurecic doesn't say.

Without forgetting "suggests" and "might," let us ask a question. Would there be anything legally wrong with foreknowledge of the type which might have occurred? Jurecic doesn't address that point.

Instead, she acts like this state of affairs, which might obtain, would constitute major collusion. It seems to us that she reasons in similar slipshod ways all the way through her piece.

This comes from the top of our legal elite. But so we humans tend to behave when one of our stampedes is on.

Brian snarks again:

Last evening, Brian Williams gave us liberal viewers something we very much like. He aimed some pleasing snark at The Others—in particular, at one such man.

Brian had his snark pants on. He spoke with legal analyst Joyce Vance:
WILLIAMS (12/7/18): Hey, Joyce, on all of this, the sum total of all of this, I'm not trying to get you in a tussle with a Harvard law professor whose back may be sore after the water weight from carrying the water for this president, it`s been observed of late. But here now we`ll talk about on the other side Alan Dershowitz on his view of the sum total of today.

DERSHOWITZ (videotape): Well, I think we`re seeing a coming attraction to what the report will be. And I think the report will set out a circumstantial case based on all the lying that's taking place. A circumstantial case for arguably political sins. But I don't see any crimes.

WILLIAMS: Joyce, he doesn't see any crimes. Do you?
So cool and so utterly pleasing! Instead of debating this Harvard professor in person, Brian decided to open a big can of snark and shoot it all over the place.

Helping things along, he edited down what the offensive Trump-lover had said.

For what it's worth, we watched Dershowitz's entire segment with Tucker Carlson last night. All in all, we thought the professor's varied remarks made fairly decent sense.

By the way, has Dershowitz been "carrying water" for Trunp? As part of that varied presentation, Fox viewers were actually allowed to hear this:
CARLSON (12/7/18): We may be losing perspective of this. I just want to remind our viewers on our way out that you are not a figure on the right, you were not a Trump voter, you're merely defending what you think is our tradition of law. And, and I appreciate that.

DERSHOWITZ: And I've been saying the same thing for 55 years. I—

CARLSON: Yes. I've noticed.

DERSHOWITZ: I've been saying the same thing for 55 years. I've expressed the same criticism of prosecutors whether they go after Democrats or Republicans.

CARLSON: Amen.
Elsewhere, Dershowitz has routinely said that he didn't vote for Candidate Trump; that he donated money to Candidate Clinton; and that he approves of virtually none of President Trump's policies or behaviors.

Dershowitz doesn't have many good things to say about Donald J. Trump. But when we humans stage a stampede, we like our demons undiluted, the flavor Brian served.

Just for the record, back in 1999 and 2000, Brian kept playing these reindeer games against the psychiatrically shaky Candidate Gore, who was said to be wearing too many polo shirts out on the trail. This was said to be a fiendish play for female voters and a sign of a disordered mind.

That's what Brian's owner wanted back then (GE CEO Jack Welch). Last night's snark was what the new owners want from Brian now.

By the way, this is the way Vance responded to Brian:
WILLIAMS: Joyce, he doesn't see any crimes. Do you?

VANCE: You know, I disagree with him very strongly. I think that there are all sorts of crimes here, including a crime that lands at the president's doorstep.

And this issue of well, there's only circumstantial evidence is absolutely silly, because prosecutors rely on circumstantial evidence all the time...Prosecutors use circumstantial evidence all the time. You don`t have to have a smoking gun in every case.

Here, where you've got witness after witness lining up, and where you've now got evidence that there wasn't just suddenly a Trump Tower meeting out of the blue with Russians in 2016 but rather a course of conduct between folks in the Trump campaign and the Russian government, or at least government-linked, that spanned years, it's not so much smoke and mirrors. It's looking like hard evidence.
"It's looking like hard evidence," Vance said. But hard evidence of what crime? For whatever reason, Vance didn't say, and Brian didn't bother to ask.

This is the kind of cable product you're served after a stampede starts. The low-IQ conduct is so common that viewers will rarely notice.

For ourselves, we'd love to see Brian interview Dershowitz and Vance at the same time. Instead, you were given a barrel of snark last night, just like the snark this big baboon aimed at the wardrobe of Candidate Gore so many times in the past.

Children are dead all over Iraq. In his service to CEO Welch, Brian worked hard toward that end.

That said, it's all anthropology now. What kind of animals are we really? What sorts of things do we do?

BREAKING: Tiffany Kapanda goes to college!

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 7, 2018

How much can you see in a face?
We were lucky enough to see the last segment of last evening's The Last Word. After a bit of videotape, Lawrence started as shown:
VIDEOTAPE (12/6/18): My name is Tiffany Kapanda and I'm 18 years old. Now I have a chance at college, studying bachelor of arts in political science.

O'DONNELL: I met Tiffany two years ago when she was in high school in Malawi. Tiffany was attending one of the best high schools in Malawi, a boarding school where I also met Joyce Juzali, who recited a poem for us that many of you might remember.

Joyce also came to the United States earlier this year and joined me here on the set in New York. I saw Joyce again on my recent trip to Malawi during Thanksgiving week.

Joyce is still doing very well in high school thanks to the scholarship that you have helped provide with your generous contributions to the K.I.N.D Fund,
the partnership that I created with MSNBC and UNICEF to provide desks to schools in Malawi and scholarships for girls to attend high school in Malawi, where the girls' graduation rate is much lower than the boys'.
To watch the whole segment, click here.

We strongly suggest that you watch the videotape of Tiffany Kapanda. Also the tape of her grandmother, Rose Nathenda, by whom she's being raised.

What can you see in two people's faces? We'll suggest you'll see things you won't often see over here in the States.

Be sure to watch all the way to the end: Be sure to watch all the way to the end. It's hard not to like what you'll see there:
O'DONNELL: I asked Tiffany what it feels like now to be a role model for students back at her high school who are hoping to go to college.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KAPANDA: It feels great, and they also motivate me. I feel like I can do better so that I can encourage them much better, much greater than just being a college student. I can go to work and tell them that here I am.

O'DONNELL: Yes. Do you think a lot of girls don't realize that this is possible if they work hard enough?

KAPANDA: Yes, there are a lot of them out there. You know, in Malawi, there is the issue of women not being able to do well at college. So most of them, they look down on themselves. They think they cannot do it. They think they don't deserve going to college. They just want to get married and move on in life.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'DONNELL: Tiffany is on her way, thanks to her hard work in high school and thanks to her grandmother, who made her a dedicated student.
You'll see exceptional faces during last evening's segment, reflecting the fuller range of the possibilities of our planet-wide human life.

WHERE HAS ALL THE LOGIC GONE: He built on the logic of Frege and Russell!

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 7, 2018

But what kind of logic was that?
In yesterday's report, we reintroduced The Horwich Conjecture—a naughty claim by Professor Horwich, he of NYU.

Oof! According to Horwich, Wittgenstein has fallen into disfavor among "professional philosophers" (Horwich's term) because of the inconvenient conclusions he reached.

According to Horwich, Wittgenstein voiced "extreme pessimism about the potential of philosophy—perhaps tantamount to a denial that there is such a subject" at all.

According to Horwich, Wittgenstein came to believe that "the whole idea of" philosophy, as traditionally practiced and understood, was "based on confusion and wishful thinking."

The field's traditional problems were actually "mere pseudo-problems, the misbegotten products of linguistic illusion and muddled thinking." Or so Wittgenstein is said to have said.

According to Professor Horwich, Wittgenstein basically said that the traditional field had never really existed at all, except inside the muddled minds of its traditional giants, a group which included an earlier version of himself. In the passage shown below, Horwich completes his conjecture:
HORWICH (3/3/13): Given this extreme pessimism about the potential of philosophy—perhaps tantamount to a denial that there is such a subject—it is hardly surprising that “Wittgenstein” is uttered with a curl of the lip in most philosophical circles. For who likes to be told that his or her life’s work is confused and pointless?
According to Horwich, Wittgenstein said their work was confused and pointless. And so they turned him out.

Horwich lives inside the academy; here on our own sprawling campus, we don't have that type of access. That said, we'd long wondered if some such syndrome helped explain Wittgenstein's apparent declining visibility and influence within the professional guild.

More significantly, we think Horwich is basically right in his account of what Wittgenstein came to allege. And we're inclined to think that Wittgenstein was basically right in saying goodbye to all that in the way Horwich describes.

Key point! Horwich is speaking here of "the later Wittgenstein," the author of the posthumous Philosophical Investigations (1953). He isn't speaking of "the early Wittgenstein, author of the briskly titled Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, the 1921 text which established him as an international star when he was still quite young.

(By most accounts, Wittgenstein finished writing the Tractatus in 1918, the year he turned 29.)

If Horwich is right, it's the later Wittgenstein the academy has dispatched, not the early version. Meanwhile, concerning that lone text by the earlier Wittgenstein, we'll offer a possibly comical point:

When Professor Kenny wrote his 1973 book, Wittgenstein, it had been twenty years since the appearance of Philosophical Investigations. That was the later Wittgenstein's definitive text--but as he started his book, Kenny described the way Wittgenstein's views were being aired in philosophy departments worldwide.

Through a quote by Professor Ryle, Kenny even alluded to the comical way Wittgenstein's eccentric mannerisms were being widely aped by acolytes within the field. The later Wittgenstein was still very hot. Today, Horwich says that has all changed.

Today, we want to call your attention to a tiny, possibly comical paradox concerning the early Wittgenstein's famous book. We'll start with some of the eccentric conduct which always set Wittgenstein apart.

In the first chapter of his 1973 text, Kenny notes that the early Wittgenstein thought he had solved all philosophical problems when he published the Tractatus in 1921. This seems like a peculiar idea, but it seems fairly clear that that's what Wittgenstein thought.

"With perfect consistency, once he had completed the book he gave up philosophy," Kenny notes, echoing what Professor Von Wright had written in his 1958 Biographical Sketch.

(Von Wright: "The author of the Tractatus thought he had solved all philosophical problems. It was consistent with this idea that he should give up philosophy.")

Wittgenstein gave up philosophy. Kenny writes that, after leaving Cambridge, Wittgenstein gave away his (very) large inheritance and worked as a village schoolteacher for six years. After that, he "gave up schoolteaching to work for a while as a monastery gardener."

He then spent two years designing a house for his sister in Vienna. (Apparently, she hadn't given away her inheritance.) But uh-oh! Here's what happened next:
KENNY (page 9): During this period he was introduced to Moritz Schlick, Professor of Philosophy at the University [in Vienna] and future founder of the Vienna Circle. With him, and with Rudolf Carnap, Friedrich Waismann and Herbert Feigl, he began once again to discuss philosophy...

Wittgenstein had by now grown dissatisfied with some of the doctrines of the Tractatus, and in 1929 he returned to Cambridge to continue his philosophical work as a research student. He submitted the Tractatus–already internationally recognized as a classic–as a Ph.D. dissertation; and after a unique viva voce examination conducted by Russell and Moore he was awarded the degree.
As of 1929, the Tractatus was "already internationally recognized as a classic." This could perhaps be seen as odd because of something Kenny had already said about the book:
KENNY (page 4): The twenty thousand words of the Tractatus can be read in an afternoon, but few would claim to understand them thoroughly even after years of study. The book is not divided into chapters in the normal way, but consists of a series of numbered paragraphs, often containing no more than a single sentence. The two most famous are the first ("The world is all that is the case") and the last ("Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent"). Some of them have proved easier to set to music, or to illustrate in sculpture, than to paraphrase. The style of the paragraphs is concise and economical, devoid of decoration, sparing in examples. By comparing the text with the Notebooks and the Prototractatus we can see how Wittgenstein refined and refined his thought to the essential elements. The result is austerely beautiful, but uncommonly difficult to comprehend.
As of 1929, the book had already been recognized as a classic. But as of 1973, when Kenny wrote his book about Wittgenstein, the Tractatus was still "uncommonly difficult to comprehend."

Even in 1973, some parts of the Tractatus were still "easier to set to music...than to paraphrase," Kenny said. But so what? Forty-four years earlier, the world of professional philosophy had agreed on the greatness of the text. This might suggest the possibility that there's a tiny kernel of truth to the naughty things Horwich has said.

In fairness, we're proceeding from two characterizations by Professor Kenny. That said, Kenny goes on to say that "the central doctrine [the Tractatus] conveys is the famous picture theory of meaning"—a famous doctrine he proceeds to describe in a manner which takes us several leagues beyond the realm of complete total incoherence. Within the realm which Horwich describes, this is how the greats tend to roll.

(How incoherent is Kenny's account? For details, just click here. After that, just click this.)

Question:

What kind of establishment hails as a "classic" a text which no one can understand or paraphrase even some forty years later? Based upon the pair of portraits offered by Professor Kenny, a skeptic might suggest there's a hint of truth to the picture Professor Horwich painted in 2013, in which the world of professional philosophy is built upon "the misbegotten products of linguistic illusion and muddled thinking"—and is willing to settle for "classic" texts it can neither paraphrase nor comprehend.

Is it true, what Horwich says? Have the bulk of professional philosophers come to regard the later Wittgenstein as a bit of a joke? Have they adopted this view because he wanted to throw their work away? Because he renounced his own earlier work, puzzling work the philosophy world had seen as a "classic" text?

Answers to these questions lurk in Rebecca Goldstein's 2005 book, Incompleteness: The Proof and Paradox of Kurt Godel. Justifiably, Goldstein mocks the Wittgenstein acolytes who began imitating his eccentric mannerism as early as the 1930s.

That said, Goldstein seems to adopt a lightly mocking tone toward Wittgenstein himself. As she does, she frequently buys into the puzzling types of work his later efforts tended to undermine.

That early work was built upon the efforts of Frege and Russell. But dear lord, we have a question:

What kind of "logic" were they constructing? Was there ever any good reason to build upon Frege and Russell?

We're telling this story with a sigh many years hence in the age of Trump. For thirty years or more, we've badly needed the help of logicians as our mainstream journalists have cavorted and played and created a reign of misstatement, confusion, inanity.

Our discourse has been sliding toward the sea, but here have all the logicians been? Out here in the public realm, we've badly needed the help of such figures. But they've been off in their own tiny worlds, discussing "the set of all sets" and the logic of 2 plus 2 magically equaling 4.

Where have all the logicians been as we've slid into the era of Trump? And when we consider the muddled work from which the later Wittgenstein finally departed, is it possible that our greatest logicians were never especially sharp?

Coming: "The set of all sets not members of themselves" and other peculiar concerns