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Russ Abbott
Applying CS concepts to questions in philosphy.
Applying CS concepts to questions in philosphy.


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Of course I'm thoroughly anti-Trump. In addition, here are some of the longer-term initiatives I support.

Civil Liberties

Climate Change
Citizen's Climate Lobby:
Environmental Defense Fund:

Electoral and Government Reform
Fair Vote:
Represent Us:

Public Banking Institute:

Also, you may be interested in this list of Think-Tanks ( You can filter them in multiple ways. Useful list.

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Net Neutrality isn't dead yet. The following is according to Tim Wu, Internet expert.

Government agencies are not free to abruptly reverse longstanding rules on which many have relied without a good reason, such as a change in factual circumstances. A mere change in F.C.C. ideology isn’t enough. As the Supreme Court has said, a federal agency must “examine the relevant data and articulate a satisfactory explanation for its action.” Given that net neutrality rules have been a huge success by most measures, the justification for killing them would have to be very strong.

It isn’t. In fact, it’s very weak. From what we know so far, Mr. Pai’s rationale for eliminating the rules is that cable and phone companies, despite years of healthy profit, need to earn even more money than they already do — that is, that the current rates of return do not yield adequate investment incentives. More specifically, Mr. Pai claims that industry investments have gone down since 2015, the year the Obama administration last strengthened the net neutrality rules.

Setting aside whether industry investments should be the dominant measure of success in internet policy (what about improved access for students? or the emergence of innovations like streaming TV?), Mr. Pai is not examining the facts: Security and Exchange Commission filings reveal an increase in internet investments since 2015, as the internet advocacy group Free Press has demonstrated.

But Mr. Pai faces a more serious legal problem. Because he is killing net neutrality outright, not merely weakening it, he will have to explain to a court not just the shift from 2015 but also his reasoning for destroying the basic bans on blocking and throttling, which have been in effect since 2005 and have been relied on extensively by the entire internet ecosystem.

This will be a difficult task. What has changed since 2004 that now makes the blocking or throttling of competitors not a problem? The evidence points strongly in the opposite direction: There is a long history of anticompetitive throttling and blocking — often concealed — that the F.C.C. has had to stop to preserve the health of the internet economy. Examples include AT&T’s efforts to keep Skype off iPhones and the blocking of Google Wallet by Verizon. Services like Skype and Netflix would have met an early death without basic net neutrality protections. Mr. Pai needs to explain why we no longer have to worry about this sort of threat — and “You can trust your cable company” will not suffice.

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Take lessons from the master.

Trump is the consummate bullshitter. Talking about the Trump tax plan he said,

“The deal is so bad for rich people, I had to throw in the estate tax just to give them something,”


What is so brilliant about this? Trump is telling you (a) that the tax plan as written but without eliminating the estate tax raises taxes on the rich and (b) to make up for the harshness of those additional taxes he will throw in what amounts to a token benefit: elimination of the estate tax.

The first part -- that the tax plan without eliminating the estate tax increase taxes on the rich -- is demonstrably false. But in his brilliance, he is not making that claim directly, he is simply stating it as if it were a given and moving on. He thereby attempts to avoid talking about how wrong that statement is.

The second part -- that eliminating the estate tax is a token -- is also demonstrably false. Yet again, Trump is not making that as a claim. He again is stating it as a given and shifting the focus to the poor suffering rich people who need his succor.

So the brilliance of Trump's statement is that he makes two false assertions by taking them as givens and then shifts the focus to something else.

Clearly Trump is not insane. He is a brilliant con man. We should all take lessons.

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Matthew Yglesias asks a good question. (See below.)

It’s obvious that if you cut a tax that’s only paid by married couples who’ve amassed at least $11 million that you are helping rich people. It’s obvious that if you enact a special discount tax rate for people who own LLCs then you are helping Donald Trump, who owns a ton of them. And it’s obvious that if part of your plan is permanent and part of it is temporary, and the part you made temporary is the part that helps the middle class, then helping the middle class wasn’t your priority.

And yet here we are. After a lead-up of more than a year — in which everyone who’s anyone in the Republican Party said they wanted to cut taxes for the middle class, and not for rich people in general or Donald Trump in particular — the Senate’s coalesced around a bill whose long-term distributional impact raises taxes on lower and middle income people and lowers them on upper income people.

So why are they lying about their plan? Republicans aren't lying about their tax plan. But they aren't telling the truth either. They are simply saying what they apparently think will go over well with the public. They apparently believe that it makes no difference what they do; all that matters is what they say. So they have decided to say what they think will make people support them.

In other words, they have constructed what's often called a wall between their PR side and their operational side -- in much the same way that news organizations construct a wall between their advertising side and their reporting side. The PR side has no effect on the operational side, and the operations side has no effect on the PR side. They are two independent functions. They probably never talk to each other.

And when the same person works on both sides -- what happens then? We know what happens then: bullshit. Donald Trump is the grand master of bullshit, the bullshitter in chief. Bullshit has nothing to do with lying. It's saying what you think will get you what you want. The Republican party is now the Bullshit party. Goodbye GOP; hello BSP.

Or now that I'm thinking about it, perhaps we should stick with GOP and re-purpose it to mean Greedy Oligarchy Party.

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Josh Mitteldorf, who is no kook, challenges antagonistic pleiotropy, the theory that genes that shorten life must have some positive function -- or they would have evolved out of the genome.

But there are multiple examples of genes, which when deleted extend life with no apparent negative effects. One of the most recent is a gene called SERPINE1, encoding PAI-1. [When mutated, and made non-functional,] the result is longer telomeres, better insulin sensitivity, protection from cardiovascular disease, and longer life expectancy. [In other words,] SERPINE1 must be regarded as an aging gene, having no purpose (we know of) except to hasten the demise of its owner.

Middeldorf discusses a number of other such instances in other animals.

Why has evolution preserved these genes? No one has come up with a satisfactory explanation.

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Quite an amazing illusion! See +John Baez's comments for background.
This is not an animated gif

This is Akiyoshi Kitaoka messing with your brain. He's a professor of psychology at Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto. He's spent a long time collecting and perfecting illusions. You can see them on his website:

where he writes

Should you feel dizzy, you had better leave this page immediately.

You can also see them on Twitter, where there is no such warning. And he has a book, The Oxford Compendium of Illusions.

I saw this picture in a post by +Alex Nelson, who shared them privately to his circle of people who don't get seasick. So, I bequeath all the +1s on this post to him!

#geometry #illusions

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In a previous post ( I suggested that one way to involve people in combatting climate change is to encourage them to calculate their carbon footprint -- individually and for their company, city, state, and country. +John Baez recommended TerraPass ( I'm glad to see that there's a tool to do this. We should encourage people to use it -- and to make the results public on a regular, say monthly, basis.

I used it to calculate my individual carbon footprint. It came out comparatively low.

As you can see below, my carbon footprint would be offset by purchasing 292 urban trees, which they say costs $125.47. I would have been willing to sign up for $10/month, but I wasn't comfortable with a one-shot $125.47 purchase. I recommend that they offer a monthly option.

For what they say is the US average, the cost would be about $319/year or about $27/month.

+John Baez, do we have an estimate of the cost of the offset for the US as a whole or the world as a whole?

Is the offset meaningful? If we spent that much money, and used it to, say, plant trees, would the net US/world carbon footprint be reduced to 0? That seems hard to believe?

It also seems to easy. How much would it cost for the US to offset its entire carbon emission production?

I belong to the Citizen's Climate Lobby. They are pushing a carbon-fee-and-dividend plan. I've always thought that was a good idea. It provides an incentive to reduce carbon consumption by increasing the price. But isn't buying offsets even better and more direct?

The carbon-fee-and-dividend plan would require federal legislation to collect a fee on all mined, pumped, or imported carbon fuels. One might do the same thing with an offset plan. Require all businesses to buy offsets to cover their carbon footprint. That would provide an incentive to reduce carbon emission by charging for it directly. What could be more direct?

How does TerraPass actually use the emission payments to reduce emissions? They don't say anything about that. They don't say that they have an arm that plants trees. So what do they do with the money?

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This TED talk, from September, talks about ways to engage people in the combatting climate change. As a talk I thought it was only so-so. But the issue raised strikes me as essential. Most people feel fairly helpless to do anything about climate change. Yes, we can decry our current administration. But then what?

One possibility is to develop ways to measure what we each are doing to reduce carbon emission. An app? How would it work? Would it be easy enough to use that people will want to use it? I don't know.

In addition, we should develop measures of carbon emission reduction at the corporate, city, state, and national levels. And we should publicize these results, -- say monthly. How is your company doing in reducing its carbon footprint? What about your city or state?

I suspect that something along these lines might actually made a difference. Of course Trump and his followers will brag about how much additional carbon they are putting into the atmosphere. But even it that happens, at least we will be talking about it. And, after what I expect will be a relatively short time, those who brag about their climate emissions will be seen by most people as being in the same category as people who brag about the number of people they killed in their latest mass shooting. I'm sure there would be people like that, but they won't feel comfortable about it.

So the question is: How do we get companies, cities, and states to measure their carbon emissions and publish the results on a regular basis? And how do we get the press to cover those announcements and treat them as important news?

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Yesterday, I wrote ( about an aspect of computational thinking that I find underappreciated: making preparations in anticipation of the application of a formal mechanism to what one had prepared.

The same mechanism is responsible for many of what are called unanticipated consequences and strategies for gaming a system. The article below illustrates.

The article discusses Michael, Shore, an intellectual property lawyer. In 2012, Congress passed the America Invents Act, which created a streamlined procedure, known as “inter partes review,” for the adjudication of patent challenges by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Shore immediately realized three things.

o A streamlined procedure would encourage many more challenges.
o The law was written in such a way that it didn’t apply to sovereign entities, such as foreign countries, U.S. states, and Native American nations.
o A patent held by a sovereign entity therefore had a greater effective value than the same patent held by an institution subject to the new procedure.

By Shore’s calculation, transferring a patent from a non-sovereign entity to a sovereign one would increase its value anywhere from four to ten times over. If he could broker such deals, everybody—patent owners, sovereign entities, and Shore himself—could make millions.

The article goes on to describe how Shore brokered a deal whereby the pharmaceutical company Allergan sold its patent on one of its own products to a tribe of Native Americans.

It worked. Everyone, including Shore, made money. The losers were those who wanted to challenge the patent -- and the public, which finds itself paying higher prices for items under harder-to-challenge patent

Maneuvers like Shore’s rarely go unchallenged. Last month, a federal judge in Texas ruled that some of Allergan’s Restasis patents were invalid. (The company has said that it will appeal.) The judge also commented that “sovereign immunity should not be treated as a monetizable commodity.” On the same basis, some members of Congress, led by Senator Claire McCaskill, are so annoyed that they’re calling for the abrogation of Native American sovereign immunity in patent-claims cases. This is theoretically possible, because the sovereign immunity of tribes, unlike that of states, isn’t enshrined in the Eleventh Amendment. But Shore points out that such a measure would penalize Native Americans without actually closing the loophole. If Congress limits tribal immunity, he could easily shift the patent portfolios to state universities. Shore says that he’s in talks with several underfunded state-run historically black colleges and universities. As long as there’s money to be made gaming the system, he figures it’s desirable (and good P.R.) for some of that money to go to those who need it most.
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