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How smart should a President be?

I have been thining about this Washington Post column for the past couple of days.

In order to get to be a presidential candidate a person must be considerably above average in intelligence, but does a really smart person have an advantage as president?

The numbers are too small to be determinative but a clue should be found in history. I do not feel qualified to say much on the intelligence of 19th century presidents, but some 20th century presidents were intellectually brilliant. The ones who were clearly brilliant are T. Roosevelt, Wilson, Hoover, Nixon, Carter, and Clinton. However, far from being the best presidents they are among the worst ever. The reason may be that always being the smartest person around gives you an overly inflated view of your abilities. Thus really smart presidents overreach and leave things worse than if nothing had been done. Roosevelt, Wilson, Hoover, and Carter seem to have fallenl into this trap of overconfidence. Nixon and Clinton seem to have thought they were too smart to ever get caught, so they took stupid risks. Something to think about as election season nears.


Pan Critical Rationalism

A few of us have been having a contentious debate in the comments section after I claimed that it wasn't true that everyone uses induction in their lives.

I do hold that some people might use philosophical induction with the intention of achieving absolute truth but that this is invalid. There are people who say, "The sun rose in the past so it must rise today."

It certainly is a method you could use to take a stab at the truth but it is so prone to error that it is likely to fail. Popper called this psychological induction. I say it's likely to fail because it is prone to error. Just because the sun rose yesterday and the day before does not mean it will always rise. I'm sure most people who would agree with this solar statement are smart enough not to use the method in this case although they may be mistaken in thinking they are in fact using it anyway. This is the error that Popper believed Hume made.

Now I feel the opposition has so far even failed to understand my position. I cannot even get him to the point where he understands Popper. Sometimes I'm just not sure how to get another person to see things correctly. I'm not saying that he must see that I'm right but that he at least understands my position. Then I might accept his claims as valid criticism, true or not.

In that spirit I went out to try and find a worthy opponent. Someone who I feel understands Popper and has a criticism I accept as valid. I had heard arguments in the past that were, I thought, acceptable criticisms of Popper. I thought I'd show one to move the argument up to the point where I am, and not remain stuck on the failure to even understand Popper.

So why then do I still maintain my position? The answer is that I didn't. I'm not a strict Popperian in the sense of being a believer in everything Popper says. I never was since I disagreed with him on some issues. I was however accepting of part of his beliefs. I was a critical rationalist but had to abandon that when I found arguments that showed critical rationalism to be false. I modified my beliefs to more in line with Bartley. I'm currently a variety of Pancritical Rationalist.

Does that help? Well, yes and no. I no longer have to deal with the prior criticism that worked on Popper but there are new criticisms that work on Bartley's position. I also accept that criticism. We'll get into why I continue to believe in a modified Pancritical Rationalism later.

The criticisms of Popper and Bartley that I accept are expounded upon in an article by Armando Cíntora titled "Miller's Defence of Bartley's Pancritical Rationalism ". You can read it here. Here's a google in case that link goes bad.

Here is the criticism of Bartley that I accept:

"W. W. Bartley thought it was possible, however, to reform Popper's critical rationalism into a consistent and comprehensive theory of rationality («pan critical» rationalism: PCR, also called comprehensive critical rationalism: CCR.) Bartley claimed that it was possible to reform critical rationalism into a theory that allegedly does not lead into a fideism of ultimate commitments. Bartley proposed a new rational identity one that allegedly does not lead into conflicts of rational integrity. Bartley's pan critical rationalist can be characterized as one,

... who is willing to entertain any position and holds all his positions, including his most fundamental standards, goals, and decisions, and his basic philosophical position itself open to criticism; one who protects nothing from criticism by justifying it irrationally; one who never cuts off an argument by resorting to faith or irrational commitment to justify some belief that has been under severe critical fire; one who is committed, attached, addicted, to no position. (Bartley, p. 118; emphasis added.)

This pan critical rationalist justifies nothing and allegedly criticizes everything, even his own rational attitude or position, he is not committed to any position, not even to a belief in the value of argument. This doesn't mean that the PCrationalist is without convictions, but only that he is willing to submit his convictions to critical consideration. PCR, however, leads to logical paradox, thus consider the following argument, due to Bartley himself and inspired by a critique of J. F. Post, an argument that Bartley finds unobjectionable:

(A) All positions are open to criticism.

And because of PCR's intended comprehensiveness it then follows,

(B) A is open to criticism. And,

Since (B) is implied by (A), any criticism of (B) will constitute a criticism of (A), and thus show that (A) is open to criticism. Assuming that a criticism of (B) argues that (B) is false, we may argue: if (B) is false, then (A) is false; but an argument showing (A) to be false (and thus criticizing it) shows (B) to be true. Thus, if (B) is false, then (B) is true. Any attempt to criticize (B) demonstrates (B); thus (B) is uncriticizable, and (A) is false. (Bartley, p. 224.) (Emphasis added.)

Hence, PCR is refuted and this conclusion is a result of the self-referential character of PCR -- a theory that intends to be a theory of all theories itself included, and it recalls the logical difficulties of classical rationalism, which also wanted to be comprehensive. Bartley claims that the paradoxical nature of PCR could be dealt,

...by type and language-level solutions, Zermelo-type solutions, category solutions, radical exclusion of all self reference... (Bartley, pp. 219-20.)

But, this is too vague, mere possibilia. "

I agree with this and I also agree that Miller was not able to resolve the issue to my satisfaction.

So, you might ask, "If I accept this criticism of Bartley then why do I continue to claim to be a Pancritical Rationalist?" The answer is that I have a solution in mind that is not in this list of "possibilia".

I leave it to the reader to see if they can come up with a solution. Remember to always consider the possibility that the problem was improperly stated.

If the problem is misstated then this would not be an excuse for Bartley since he was the one who formulated the precise statement based on a critique by J. F. Post. If any error was made it was certainly Bartley's.

So what's the solution?

Also, who the heck spells Defense as Defence? Is that a British thing?


Post Defeat Iraq

While there are some in the reality based community who seem to think that the Iraq war will be over as soon as the US leaves, I think the most likely scenario is continued war. The model the terrorists have always had for Iraq is the Afghanistan war. After the Soviets left, there was a civil war for a few years and then Pakistan backed the Taliban which took over. The populace was so tired of war they initially embraced the peace of the Taliban, while the Taliban made Afghanistan into a terrorist haven.
Something very similar is likely to happen in Iraq with Iran taking the place of Pakistan. The difference is that since Iraq has oil wealth the civil war preceding the Iran backed takeover is likely to be much bloodier since the stakes will be higher. Also the fate of Afghanistan was a concern of just Pakistan, but Iraq has many more interested parties. Saudi Arabia would hate to have two huge Shiite states next door and would likely back with money and arms Sunni militias. Jordan and Israel would be very concerned about the prospect of an Islamic republic in Iraq and would at least build up their militaries to deal with the threat. Syria may continue to back Iran and the Shiite militias or it may seek to impose its will on Iraq as it has on Lebanon.
The most likely scenario is that after an initial phase of anarchy there will be a three sided civil war. The Sunni militias versus the Shiite militias versus the Government backed by Kurdish militias. The government forces will likely be defeated first, leading to withdrawal of Kurdish militias to Kurdistan. Then fighting between Iran backed Shiite militias and Saudi backed Sunni militias. The greater number of Shiites will probably lead to Shiite victory after which they will turn their attention on Kurdistan. This could pose a dilemma for Turkey which will want neither an independent Kurdistan nor an Iran client state next door. They will probably decide Kurdistan would be worse and do nothing. Conquering Kurdistan will be difficult but without help Kurdistan can not hold out forever. Iran would emerge as the big winner and a regional superpower. However, if the war goes on to long popular unrest in Iran could intensify and lead to regime change there. They are making a big gamble, but if they control the military with sufficient ruthlessness popular opinion will not matter.
After seeing the US leave with its tail between its legs, intervention by the UN to stop the killing will be politically impossible. The situation will be like that of Darfur, lots of western hand wringing while the bodies pile up. Also since the millions of deaths could be blamed on the US the rest of the world will have even less incentive to intervene.


The REAL reason there are so many conspiracy theories

I occasionally enjoy watching professional wrestling. However, since most of the great promo guys are retired and the backstage interview is a dying art, what I enjoy even more than watching wrestling is reading about it online. Likewise, many people love to read behind the scenes stories about Hollywood, or read stories by people claiming to be Washington insiders. There is something very rewarding about having inside information. I enjoy explaining to the neighborhood kids about the real reason HBK is out, and when HHH will be coming back. I also enjoy knowing that Kerry thought Edwards was weird when they first talked about the vice presidency, or that Hillary and Al Gore feuded when they first entered the White House. The same impulse that makes us pick up the tabloids in the supermarket checkout line fuels conspiracy theory. There is great satisfaction in being one of the few who knows why we really invaded Iraq, who really shot JFK, or what really happened on 9/11. Being one of the few who sees through the kayfabe, makes you an insider, which is a very powerful feeling.


The rationality of irrational belief

I was reading some forum posts about Scientology the other day, and whenever that subect comes up my first thought is always "How could people believe something so stupid?" After some thought about it, I came to the conclusion the reason is not stupidity or irrationality, but specialization. It is irrational to learn how to fix my car, since if it ever breaks I can pay a specialist to do it for me, and the cost of paying for him to do it will be less than the cost of learning how to do it myself. Likewise, knowing too much about theology or the origin of the universe is irrational. There are people who spend their lives studying these things and the price I will pay to understand these things will generally be more than the benefit I derive from the knowledge. So I just choose an expert and believe what they believe. However, there are many experts out there and many say contradictory things. So how do I choose an expert? I could read their positions and research which is better. but to do that I'd have to become and expert which I have no desire to do. Another way is to pick an expert who is part of a group I already trust. To apply this to Scientology, one expert says that the reason you are depressed is because of an imbalance in the neurotransmitter levels in the brain. The other expert says that it is because of some spirits that attached themselves to you when your mother screamed during your delivery. The second expert also said that if you hold two cans in your hands while imagining past traumas you would feel good afterwards. The second expert was right about that so you decide to trust him about the reason for depression.
Another example in the news is the creation museum. I know a couple whose baby was born with a hole in his heart. The doctors told them the baby would need surgery to survive. The couple belonged to a church which told them God could heal their baby. The hole in the baby's heart closed suddenly without surgery and the couple ascribed this to God. This couple would be rational to believe the creation museum, over the explanations of paleontologists, since God healed their baby and what has a paleontologist ever done for them? Now most people who believe creationism don't have a healed baby, but have received other things from their religion, peace of mind, purpose, feeling of being loved and a part of a community.
This also explains how most political positions are chosen. Each party has its experts, and we choose which expert to believe based on our feeling toward each party.


Obama's "injecting" again

He's wants to tax the rich to pay for the poor.

Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama on Tuesday offered a plan to provide health care to millions of Americans and more affordable medical insurance, financed in part by tax increases on the wealthy.

Bemoaning a health care "cost crisis," Obama said it was unacceptable that 47 million in the country are uninsured while others are struggling to pay their medical bills. He said the time is ripe for reforming the health care system despite an inability to do so in the past, most notably when rival Hillary Rodham Clinton pursued major changes during her husband's presidency.

"We can do this," Obama said in a speech in Iowa City at the University of Iowa's medical school. "The climate is far different than it was the last time we tried this in the early nineties."

Obama's plan retains the private insurance system but injects additional money to pay for expanding coverage. Those who can't afford coverage would get a subsidy on a sliding scale depending on their income, and virtually all businesses would have to share in the cost of coverage for their workers.

Obama didn't mention that his plan would cost the federal treasury an estimated $50 billion to $65 billion a year once fully implemented. That information was provided in a memo written by three outside experts and distributed by the campaign after his speech.

Ah, so that's what's been missing: injection! Why, I bet we could inject more money into everything - the War, NASA, my pocket... In fact, why use this indirect method at all? We should just inject more money directly into the veins of the poor!


Great Quote

TV Channel Axed In Latest Chávez Drama

The article cites two different polls reporting that 70% of Venezuelans oppose the decision. Check out the last line of the piece:

"The microphones are always open for anyone to come and speak but few people tend to disagree with the changes we are living through."

I wonder why?


Market bad, government worse

In lieu of original content, here are a couple of good recent articles by Ilya Somin over at The Volokh Conspiracy.

Political Ignorance and Libertarian Paternalism

If government policy is subject to democratic control, the key question is whether people are more irrational and ill-informed when they act as consumers than when they act as voters. [...] few consumers are likely to be as ignorant of the basic characteristics of the products they buy as the 70 percent of eligible voters unaware of the very existence of President Bush's medicare prescription drug plan, the largest and most expensive new government program voters have "bought" over the last 40 years.

Power to the Experts! - A Solution to the Problem of Political Ignorance?

Voters' choice of experts is just as likely to be compromised by rational ignorance and rational irrationality as any other electoral decision. [...]

Of course the experts could instead be chosen by nondemocratic means and insulated from political pressure. Yet, in the absence of democratic control, it will be difficult to ensure that the experts are actually serving the interests of the people as opposed to their own. [...]

[...] government coercion deprives the consumer of the right to make the final decision. If I hire an expert in the market, I retain the right to reject his advice and pursuing a different course of action. This is a vitally important option.


Sexual Orientation Affects Orienteering Skills

The results of this study are exactly what would be expected if homosexuality and map reading were both influenced by genetics and in the same direction. Sexual attraction to women apparently hones your ability to find them. The opposite and you can just let the men find you.

"For instance, in mental rotation -- a task where men usually perform better -- they found the best performance to worst was: heterosexual men, bisexual men, homosexual men, homosexual women, bisexual women and heterosexual women."

So apparently it also affects your ability to visualize different sexual positions. No wonder men spend more time thinking about sex.

Of course this post is entirely in jest and it's sad I had to write that.


No Vegans in Foxholes

From the New York Times:

WHEN Crown Shakur died of starvation, he was 6 weeks old and weighed 3.5 pounds. His vegan parents, who fed him mainly soy milk and apple juice, were convicted in Atlanta recently of murder, involuntary manslaughter and cruelty.

This particular calamity — at least the third such conviction of vegan parents in four years — may be largely due to ignorance. But it should prompt frank discussion about nutrition.

I was once a vegan. But well before I became pregnant, I concluded that a vegan pregnancy was irresponsible. You cannot create and nourish a robust baby merely on foods from plants.

Indigenous cuisines offer clues about what humans, naturally omnivorous, need to survive, reproduce and grow: traditional vegetarian diets, as in India, invariably include dairy and eggs for complete protein, essential fats and vitamins. There are no vegan societies for a simple reason: a vegan diet is not adequate in the long run.


Corporate murder

First of all I want to make sure it's clear I look at murder with disgust and find it appalling. This is not about murder as an ethical issue (a pretty consensual subject) but as en economical issue.

Some murders are due to uncontrolled emotions, passion etc. There is no pecuniary incentive here. Other murders, however, are motivated by financial concerns, from the thug in the street to the guy pushing his uncle down the stairs. But how frequent are corporate murders? What is the benefit for a company to murder the CEO of another competing company to get a market? There are various possibilities:

a) it happens all the time and no one knows about it, the accident rate is just higher for CEOs
b) people are ethical, very few people actually are morally capable of committing murder
c) police and justice are efficient, the prospect of getting caught stops people from doing it, killing a CEO may help your company but it's not profitable enough to take the risk
d) the people who would commit murder don't figure the opportunity

(a) doesn't seem likely. I don't have any data to support this, it is just a gut feeling... somehow if it were true, he'd be known.
(b) is what I want to believe, what I hope is the true reason. Yet some people do commit murder, so maybe it's a combination of b and d.
(c) is what I'll discuss now

More than ever, demand for goods is very elastic and you compete with almost every business... killing a competitor may not be very useful to you. It is also possible that CEO are disposables and don't affect company revenues, or that when they do they are extremely well guarded. However, whenever there are CEO changes, the stock market reacts. Theoretically, a CEO murderer could make very profitable trades on the market, even on smaller companies whose boss is not extremely protected. The same is true for terrorism, which can be extremely cheap. Why don't we see apolitical terrorists targeting publicly traded companies for stock speculation? A few years ago in France, a group tried to get a few millions from the government by threatening to use terror... this is extremely risky, there is a money trail, they have to make their existence known etc... and the money is pocket change to what they could have been quietly making.

It seems that crime does pay, unless smartness correlates with morality, unless I am widely mistaken about the extent of crime in society, I think there is a strange puzzle here.


Leonardo Dicaprio and the inevitability of Global Warming

I recently read an article in which Leo Dicaprio defends himself and other eco-hypocrites. He says that criticism of himself and Al Gore is just shooting the messenger and that he flies commercial as much as possible. In one sense he is right, the personal habits of people such as himself, Al Gore, Arianna Huffington, Laurie David, et al, have nothing to do with whether Global Warming is a serious problem. However, it is illustrative of the fact that whether or not Global warming is a serious problem, it will be next to impossible for anything to be done about it. Dicaprio and Gore are both fervent believers that Global Warming is a catastrophic problem that can be fixed through human action. They are also both so rich that they can comfortably afford to make large changes in their lifestyles to avoid producing any greenhouse gases. Dicaprio could only take roles that are a Prius drive away, and refuse to fly ever again. This might reduce his fees from tens of millions to merely millions, but he could still live a comfortable life. Yet he and the other eco-hypocrites are still flying around the world, and living in huge mansions. If rich people who adamantly believe in Global Warming refuse to meaningfully modify their lives, what hope is there to get skeptical people with modest means to alter their lives?


Dawkins and Instrumental Unreason

Instrumental unreason is when you say "I can't prove x, but I'm going to believe it anyway so that I can do y." The question of whether you actually need x to do y is a separate question, but it seems to me that this is an important concept to deal with in the great atheist debates of the late 2000s. Why? Well because Atheists use it just as religious people do and accordingly it's one of the few arguments that religious people make that Dawkins doesn't just demolish. As I always do when talking about this, let me say that I'm a secular atheist but not a militant atheist. I like Dawkins, am ambivalent toward Dennet (he gets credit by association from Hofstadter), and hate Hitchens and Harris with little restraint.

What is x for atheists? There are possibly a few examples, but it seems to me the most obvious one is something like the "problem of induction." That is to say, is there any principle by which we know that the floor will be there when we wake up tomorrow? Or that the Grue-Bleeners aren't right? There isn't. So why do we assume it, and why is the problem of induction really meaningless? I presume it's because we are willing to make the small leap (and it's important to stress "small") that in practice the problem of induction is only a problem of sample size and not theory. I fully embrace this, and in so doing I say "I can't prove that the floor will be there tomorrow when I get out of bed, but I'm going to believe it anyway so that I don't wake up every day scared, carefully prodding the whole floor for weak-spots using a stick." Everyone agree with this?

Well so let's take a look at a similar religious use: "If I didn't believe in God then I'd know I could never see my dead son again and I doubt I could go on living." If you say that Dawkins, he'll say two things:

1. Wanting it to be true doesn't make it true. Your desire doesn't prove anything.

2. Atheists deal with tragedies all of the time, and there is much meaning to be found in the beauty of rational life.

Did I miss anything? I think those are the two Dawkins responses, and I've listened to a lot of Dawkins. Always "that doesn't prove anything" and "There is meaning to life in a secular worldview." Well on the first point Dawkins is of course correct but he's either misunderstanding what's meant or just providing a caveat. That question doesn't say "I want to see my dead son therefore religion is true", it says "I'm willing to have an irrational belief to ease the pain from Life's tragedies." As for point 2, this is also true but the simply fact that you or I or Dawkins find consolation in secular rationalism doesn't mean that someone else will. Point two can only be an appeal to alternatives rather than some disproof. Suppose that our questioner doesn't find consolation in the secular worldview. What then?

It seems to me that we're dealing with two questions of the same type. One says "I'll believe in induction even though I can't prove it so I can continue building and admiring this tremendous edifice of science" and the other says "I'll believe in God even though I can't prove it because I want to have meaning in my life." They are both examples of Instrumental unreason. What distinguishes them then, aside from what I've already covered? It seems to me that the two major differencres are as follows:

1. Differences of goal: Is the ability to not spend 4 hours crossing 1 street because you can't be sure if you aren't stepping on illusory pavement this time superior to "finding meaning in one's life?" Possibly; I happen to think that "finding meaning" thing is rather overblown, though if not it's arguable.

2. Differences of reasonableness: This is the meat of it- is the jump from "it's EXTREMELY likely that the floor is there" to "it's true that the floor is there" much of a jump? No, especially when compared to the jump from "there probably isn't a bearded man in the sky who watches me and takes my soul to heaven" to "there is."

Okay, so it's a problem of reasonableness but... that's subjective and hard to pin down. So how do we make the distinction? I'd love to hear some thoughts. As for me, the best I have is "if possible one shouldn't have irrational beliefs." It seems to me that trying to eliminate induction from my life is not possible and yet finding meaning in my life without god is. Therefore I'm a secular atheist. However, I recognize that as a personal assessment that may be different for other people. That's why I'm tolerant of religious moderates. I'm not interested in defending religion from the militant atheist movement; I'm interested in defending pluralism.


Pernicious Perverse Incentives

How many people really think, "Gee, if only my open heart surgery were more like buying a dishwasher"? I'm guessing that's a pretty select group, butThe New York Times is betting that patients want an extended warranty on that new ticker.

Some hospitals are experimenting with a flat fee for surgery and recovery care, meaning that any unforeseen hospital visits will be gratis for the consumer. The theory here is that doctors have a perverse incentive to neglect patient care, since they get to bill for every extra problem that arises post-op. Under a flat fee system, that incentive vanishes, so doctors are more likely to give the best possible care.

It's an intriguing idea but one I don't think will work. First of all, the benefits are likely to be very marginal--better instructions with medications and so on--rather than structural. There's just no way that doctors are leaving sponges in people so they can later bill for their extraction (see the accompanying photo from the article). I can assure you that the fear of a malpractice suit is the only incentive an OR team needs to double check the sponge situation.

But furthermore, the article totally neglects the new set of perverse incentives created by the warranty system. To wit:

Since Geisinger began its experiment in February 2006, focusing on elective heart bypass surgery, it says patients have been less likely to return to intensive care, have spent fewer days in the hospital and are more likely to return directly to their own homes instead of a nursing home.

Call me a cynic, but I'm not surprised that fewer people are getting hospitalized when the cost of that stay suddenly starts falling on the doctors. What the Times reports as evidence of success could just as easily mean that these patients are receiving a lower standard of care than they would have if their insurance companies were footing the bill. Suddenly Grandpa's post-op pain doesn't seem so pressing--get some pills in him and get him out that door! Now maybe this is just good sense and a smart way to keep soaring medical costs down, but it's ridiculous that the article fails to mention the trade off being made at all.

Unintended consequences are a bitch.


Post Defeat Policy

It appears that the US will lose the war in Iraq. If this occurs what are the policy implications? Regime change for countries who fund terrorism and defy the international community will be out of the question for the foreseeable future. The deaths of Americans by muslims will have been shown to change American foreign policy and frighten the American people. Going on the offensive against terrorism will have been discredited. This will result in a boon to terrorist organization and those who fund them. To counter this new threat will take dramatic action. Government policy must be changed.
The military budget must be dramatically cut. Having a large military, but not the will to fight is a huge waste of money. The budgets of the Army and Marine Corps should be slashed. The budgets of the Air Force and Navy should not be cut as much. Since, besides the UK, there is no military on earth with a navy or air force to compare with ours, deploying those branches would not risk massive casualties. This makes them a potentially useful tool.
The budget for homeland security must be dramatically raised. We will need more scanners at ports, more security at airports, more security at border crossings, more protection of bridges, arenas, and power plants. Hopefully, most of this money can be taken from the military budget.
The gas tax should be raised by two dollars a gallon. A seventy five cent per gallon raise right away and then another the next year and fifty cents the third year. This will lead to reduced use of oil in the US and a fall in the price of oil which will destabilize Iran and Saudi Arabia. A cut in the price of oil will mean less money available for those who finance terrorism.
A crackdown on illegal immigration. The wall on the border should be built, and businesses required to document immigration status of all employees. Many more immigration workers should be hired to find and deport illegal immigrants and make sure legal immigrants do not overstay their visas. A national ID card might make this easier. Tougher screening for legal immigrants from muslim countries should also be a priority.
I still hold out hope the war can be won and these policies will not need to be implemented, but the clock is obviously ticking.