Phil Mayes

Split Infinitives

July 18th, 2014

I’ve always had a secret liking for split infinitives. Today I found a perfect example.

Therapists are trained not to tell you exactly what to do, no matter how much I ask.

I would much rather see (using brackets to indicate a sentence component)

Therapists are trained to [not tell you exactly what to do], no matter how much I ask.

To my ear, the original sentence implies a logical construction like this

Therapists are trained not to tell you exactly what to do, but to reflect your actions back to you.

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    Modern-day Feudalism

    June 14th, 2014

    Here’s what the corporate state has come to:

    1. You need a college education to get a job;
    2. You have to pay for it;
    3. You can’t escape that debt (it’s high interest, and not dischargeable in bankruptcy);
    4. Therefore you have to work for us until it is paid off.

    Ergo: Capitalism has reinvented the feudal system.

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      Five Ways America is a Faux Democracy

      June 12th, 2014

      The existence of elections, civil law and free speech gives the appearance of a functioning democracy, but in practice they are not acting as intended.

      1. Voting is not Representative

      Voting is skewed in America in many ways.

      2. Justice is Unequal

      There are very visibly two standards of justice.

      3. Political Protest is Suppressed


      The net result of these distortions can be measured, and the results show that democracy is largely an illusion:

      1. Budgets do not Match How People Want the Money Spent

      People from both left and right want a budget that is well to the left of present allocations. A Program for Public Consultation report found that Republicans would cut defense spending by $56bn and Democrats by $131bn for an average cut of 18%. The public would increase energy conservation and renewable energy by 110%, job training by 130% and college financial aid by 90%.

      2. The Wishes of the General Public are not Carried Out

      A recent study by Gilens and Page analyzed 1,779 policy outcomes and determined that when a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites and/or with organized interests, they generally lose.

      “the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.”

      The preferences of economic elites carries 15 times the weight of ordinary citizens.


      A statement like this usually ends with a call to action.
      I will leave that for another day, and instead make this a call for awareness. Tell your friends. Pass this on.
      When enough people understand how they are being fooled, change will happen.

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        Political bias measured in Supreme Court Decisions

        May 6th, 2014

        The NYTimes reports that how Supreme Court Justices vote on 1st Amendment claims depends on their political leanings. The worst liberal bias is 1.3, whereas the conservative biases range from 3 to 7.

        This is unsettling enough by itself, but even more disturbing is the implication is that conservative justices may be more biased in other areas besides 1st Amendment issues.

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          Grammar

          April 10th, 2014

          I just ran into this sentence in Six programming paradigms that will change how you think about coding

          You’re probably used to type systems in languages like C and Java

          and marveled at its ambiguity. “Used” and “type” have several different grammatical meanings. As Hobbes (of Calvin and Hobbes) said

          Verbing weirds language.

          (The article itself is very interesting, and the reddit comments are good, too.)

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            Faux Democracy

            March 8th, 2014

            The Electoral College. Disproportionate Senatorial representation. Gerrymandering. Congressional inaction on higher taxes on the rich, military spending cuts and removing marijuana’s Schedule 1 classification. All are disquieting signs that we may be living in a society that only pretends to be a democracy.

            I’m not the only person thinking this. Check out the comments to the NYT article Behind Clash Between C.I.A. and Congress, a Secret Report on Interrogations. Some excerpts:

            Is it possible America has experienced a peaceful coup via the powers of the CIA, the NSA and trade treaties?

            It is laughably sad that there are two sets of rules in the US. There are the laws and expected morals that the average citizen must follow, and then there is the “law” that the government has established for themselves.

            America pretends to be a democracy when in fact the CIA, the essence and structure of a Police State, negates its tenets of transparency and rule of law.

            If this congress and this administration cannot or will not reign in the intelligence agencies, I believe our democracy is lost.

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              Why Poor People Vote Republican

              March 4th, 2014

              Nice article in Salon suggesting that Republicans adopt a religious mantle to capture voters in the South for whom religion is so important that it trumps their economic interests.

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                A New Consciousness

                February 9th, 2014

                An idea cannot be named before it has been thought. A social movement cannot be identified until it has started to arise.

                There is a new consciousness in the world that as yet has no name. It says we are all in this together. It says that war and sectarian conflicts cannot resolve issues. It says that oppression can be countered with the moral authority of non-violence.

                It says that capitalism and free markets are failing to take care of the planet and its people. It says that fairness and caring for each other are how actions must be judged. It says we are all one world.

                So how will this come about? Just by waving a magic wand and hoping that the titans of industry repent and retire to the country to raise chickens? No, it will take time and struggle. Previously, voices of dissent were small compared to the message of conformity put out by people in power via radio, TV and the press. Yet the power of these media is diminishing, because the Internet is allowing us to see each other and talk to each other directly as never before.

                The consumer society is driven by creating dissatisfaction with last year’s products and promising that this year’s goods will offer emotional fulfillment. There is an arms race between the increasing tools of marketers and the growing awareness and selectivity of consumers. People are moving away from passive consumption to actively choosing how to live, and as education, empathy and economic security spread, the emotional satisfaction from human connections will more and more trump the pleasures of material goods.

                Anticipate a period of flux. People do not yield power gracefully. But as this new consciousness takes hold, change will come. It may take a hundred years. But it will happen.

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                  Authoritarianism

                  January 4th, 2014

                  I’ve just finished reading “The Authoritarians” by Robert Altemeyer of the University of Manitoba. He has spent a lifetime researching authoritarian personalities, of which he finds two types. I want to emphasize that his work is evidence-driven, based on a number of different surveys.

                  • Right-Wing Authoritarian followers (RWA, and he is not using right-wing in a political sense) exhibit a high degree of submission to the established, legitimate authorities in their society, high levels of aggression in the name of their authorities, and a high level of conventionalism.
                  • Authoritarian leaders strive to manipulate others, and are dishonest, two-faced, treacherous, and amoral.

                  Altemeyer discusses the influence of these two types in religion and politics, and it’s a work that connects the dots very well. He is speaking out here whereas he previously “laid low, sticking to academic outlets”, and his prognostications are unsettling. Nevertheless, he has a light, witty style that makes it enjoyable. Read it. The book is available online as a PDF file.

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                    The limits of Science

                    January 3rd, 2014

                    Let us consider what the domain of science covers. There is a hierarchy in science arranged like a tree: physics, chemistry, geology, biochemistry, biology. Each one is constrained by the rules of its parent, yet at the same time exhibits behaviors that go beyond those of the parent.

                    But physics is itself the child of mathematics, and hence mathematics is the sine qua non of science. An event that cannot be counted, weighed, timed or otherwise measured is not amenable to the procedures of science; it is a one time event, a fluke, a chance confluence of nature. Science only considers phenomena that can be treated mathematically in some way.

                    Some observers claim that mathematics is a language created by humans to describe the world around them. This seems unlikely. Mathematicians take simple starting points and construct concepts that have no connection with reality – until one day, it is discovered that they do. Eugene Wigner wrote of this in his paper “The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences“. Mathematics was not created to explain the world around us; instead, that world is found to match mathematics. This is a very peculiar state of affairs.

                    But it is not just this uncanny matching that is strange – it is the fact that there is any matching at all. Why should gravity obey an inverse square law? Why is road damage proportional to the fourth power of the axle weight? The physical universe and mathematics are inextricably intertwined, and I suggest that the two are in fact one – that the physical universe is the manifestation of mathematics. At the macroscopic level, the equations are impossibly complex, but at the level of an elementary particle such as an electron or photon, there is no difference between the particle and its mathematical description – the particle is its wave function.

                    Several conclusions follow from this. One is that the universe is, in some sense, eternal. The laws of mathematics are not going to be repealed in the future, and there was no time when they did not apply.

                    Secondly, consider Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem, which states that in a mathematical system of sufficient complexity, there are propositions which cannot be proved true or false. The system can be extended to cover these propositions, but further undecidable propositions will always arise.

                    That is to say that science is necessarily an incomplete explanation of the world.

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