Thursday, April 21, 2022


I'm behind on my posts because I haven't had much to say. The arrival of spring always prompts changes in my daily activities. I spend less time reading, less time on the Internet, more time preparing for gardening and more time outdoors. I have also been attempting to help my daughter buy a house, which is a nerve-wracking experience at the moment. All of the decent houses in good school districts that come on the market near Lebanon, New Hampshire are sold almost immediately at prices above the asking price. Buyers have no way of knowing whether they have bid high enough, and the houses are overpriced to begin with, usually $100,000 to $200,000 more than they would have cost three years ago. Higher interest rates are starting to reduce demand a little, and one can only hope that the market will stabilize within a few months. In the meantime, my daughter's situation isn't bad. They have a nice apartment, my grandson is being homeschooled, and it takes my son-in-law three minutes to get to work. They also have access to the Dartmouth library for reading material.

As you might expect, I am following the war in Ukraine, which is also a source of unease. After Donald Trump, I'm a little desensitized to idiotic political leaders, but Vladimir Putin is far worse. Like Trump, he is completely out of his depth as a leader, but he is emboldened because he has little fear of being removed. In an ideal world, he would be arrested and charged with war crimes, but that seems unlikely. He might also be assassinated, but he is prepared for that too. All of his propaganda will collapse eventually, because, with the Internet and news coverage, the rest of the world can see in real time what is going on. The Russian-speaking inhabitants of the Donbas have no particular loyalty to Russia, and Putin's arguments are pure fantasy. One Putin expert says that Putin is waging this war only to increase his popularity in Russia, a strategy that has worked for him in the past. He is actually ruining the country by damaging its economy and accelerating the brain drain that has been going on there for decades. It doesn't help that he is using a dated Soviet-style propaganda campaign similar to the one that ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union. I always wish that people like Donald Trump or Vladimir Putin would be forced to participate in an interview in which they were required to answer difficult, fact-based questions. Neither of them has ever done that, as far as I know. Though I don't think that Trump is as dangerous as Putin, they have a similar modus operandi in that they remain in power by making a deliberate attempt to appeal, with disingenuous theatrics, to the most ignorant and suggestible inhabitants of their countries. Both Trump and Putin know that their supporters are morons. They both have a peasant-like persona that works in either democracies or autocracies. Putin is worse than Trump because he has no qualms about killing people who get in his way; Trump pretends to emulate mobsters, but I don't think that he has ever ordered a killing. The widespread idealization of democracy in the West fails to take into account the weaknesses of human nature. Frankly, the political models dating from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries are completely obsolete.

Well, I won't bore you with geopolitics. I have a couple of decent books on hand and will read them one of these days.

Saturday, April 2, 2022


I had hoped to start another book by now, but the one I ordered is new and isn't currently available. I am still thinking about Vinod Goel's concept of tethered rationality and find that it could be quite useful. As I've been saying, all of the current major problems in the world are man-made, and it is easy to imagine rectifying them to some extent by taking decisions away from incompetent political leaders and transferring them to new, unbiased science-based evaluation systems. While major political errors seem commonplace these days, Vladimir Putin seems to be topping them all with his barbaric invasion of Ukraine. Whatever Putin thinks he is doing, he is acting not only against the interests of Ukraine, but against the interests of Russia. To be blunt, what Putin needs is counseling: going into this, he could not have accurately foreseen the long-term consequences. He is just a war criminal, not unlike Adolph Hitler, and will be reviled worldwide forever. In my view, the solution to this type of problem is to remove the decision-making role from incompetent dictators like Putin and, in democracies, from incompetent voters who elect incompetent presidents, senators and representatives. Where Goel's model could be helpful is in its drawing attention to the fact that rational behavior is linked to irrational behavior within all human brains. This means that it would be in the interest of humanity to develop impartial systems to evaluate important decisions before they are implemented. At some point, AI will be better at this than humans. I still find it remarkable that Donald Trump ran for office with purely selfish motives and never had any interest in fulfilling the requirements of the job or in understanding any of the issues at hand. Similarly, I think that if you took a deep dive into Vladimir Putin's psyche, you would find that it is full of hubris, misunderstanding and stupidity. Just by using basic aspects of Goel's theory, it would be readily apparent that Putin is stuck in an obsolete Cold War model, because that is what he grew up with.

I am still concerned about Xi Jinping and his implicit support of Putin. If he thinks that he is going to create a sustainable alliance between China and Russia, surely he is mistaken. Putin is no more to be trusted than Donald Trump, and Russia has a historical enmity toward China. It is still possible that Xi will emerge as a peacemaker and scold naughty Vladimir. Besides being the right decision, that would leave China on firmer footing globally.

In the absence of a book to read, I still have Scientific American, Sky and Telescope, the Times Literary Supplement and Consumer Reports magazine. The TLS has a negative review of Michel Houellebecq's latest novel, which sounds pretty bad, and I won't read it. Houellebecq is increasingly coming out as a clueless right-wing sympathizer. I also look at 3 Quarks Daily about once a week. I am tired of their philosophy emphasis, but they still have good arts and sciences content. I'm not as enthusiastic about Sean Carroll as I used to be, because, though he is a good physicist, he has some philosophical leanings. I now prefer Sabine Hossenfelder's videos, because I like the way she thinks. She gets right to the point and specifically dislikes philosophy. I will probably read her next book. As I've been saying, I think that philosophy usually does nothing more than add layers of obfuscation to whatever subject it touches. Thus, sophistry, named after the Greek Sophists, now means:

Specious or oversubtle reasoning, the use of intentionally deceptive arguments; casuistry; the use or practice of specious reasoning as an art or dialectic exercise.

In my opinion, many of the problems of philosophy are being solved by zoologists, neuroscientists and cosmologists. Today's philosophers are trying to remain relevant, but I think they're fighting a losing battle.

The number of daily views of this blog is still somewhat higher than it used to be. As an example of how Internet users waste their time on silly activities, I am getting redirect hits from There is a discussion there about whether Bertrand Russell slept with his daughter-in-law, Susan. This is hardly an important question. From the evidence described by Ray Monk, it is possible but probably unlikely. They did have tête-à-têtes, but she had so many sex partners that even Russell was put off by her, and he helped his son divorce her.

In other news, I am no longer needed for taking unwanted books from the library to the transfer station, since they've found someone who will attempt to reuse them. Also, I have placed a "We Stand With Ukraine" banner by the road. I usually don't care much about world or national politics, but what is happening in Ukraine now – in full witness to everyone – is atrocious and unacceptable by any measure.