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Recent hacks and the King James Version

Saturday, August 22nd, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — the OMB and Ashley Madison hacks — and some verses to consider alongside them ]
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SPEC OMB hack

Given my interest in apocalyptic, which Wikipedia describes thus

An apocalypse (Ancient Greek: apokalypsis, from apo and kalypto meaning “uncovering”), translated literally from Greek, is a disclosure of knowledge, i.e., a lifting of the veil or revelation. In religious contexts it is usually a disclosure of something hidden.

— it is only natural that the revelation of secrets should provide a sometime theologian such as myself with scriptural memories..

SPEC Ashley Madison hack

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It has long seemed to me that “Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again” (Matthew 7. 1-2) offers an extraordinarily non-vengeful, non-violent option within the tit-for-tat, eye-for-an-eye scriptural formulation of justice.

Considering “the proper study of mankind”

Sunday, August 16th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — I am reminded also of Abraham Joshua Heschel’s great and simple book, The Sabbath ]
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Two very different styles of thinking came to my attention today. The first style (upper panel, below) is that now commonly found within the effective altruism movement:

SPEC two ways of thinking

The second (lower panel, above) comes from Oliver Sacks, physician.

Between them lies the difference between quantitative and qualitative modes of thinking — which is to say between quantity and quality as the two great vectors aloing which we align our lives and futures.

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Sources:

  • Dylan Matthews, I spent a weekend at Google talking with nerds about charity..
  • Oliver Sacks, Sabbath
  • **

    Rabbi Heschel‘s book, The Sabbath, opens with the words:

    He who wants to enter the holiness of the day must first lay down the profanity of clattering commerce, of being yoked to toil.

    The quantity of mercy is not strain’d?

    Wednesday, August 12th, 2015

    [by Charles Cameron — some remedial philosophy at age 71 ]
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    I seem to be doing remedial political philosophy this week. As it happens, I read a Chinese comedian in my youth and was admonished against “sitting down while running round in circles” and have been aerating my brain with too much conscious breathing ever since — neither leaving me much time or interest for what in Oxford in my day was known, somewhat dismissively, PPE — Philosophy, Politics and Economics.

    Which brings me today, and to grabbing lectures in just that sort of thing from Harvard’s Michael Sandel, courtesy of YouTube:

    The video shows Sandel’s lectures, “Justice: Putting a Price Tag on Life”, and “How to Measure Pleasure” — salted with some dark humor:

    Back in ancient Rome, they threw Christians to the lions in the Coliseum for sport. If you think how the utilitarian calculus would go, yes, the Christian thrown to the lion suffers enormous, excruciating pain, but look at the collective ecstasy of the Romans. .. you have to admit that if there were enough Romans delirious with happiness, it would outweigh even the most excruciating pain of a handful of Christians thrown to the lion.

    I enjoyed the two lectures immensely — maybe I should rewind fifty years, and try PPE at Harcard?.

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    All of which caused me to wonder:

    SPEC pinto and lincoln continental

    Sources:

  • Mark Dowie, Pinto Madness
  • W Michael Hoffman, Case Study: The Ford Pinto
  • See also:

  • ES Grush and CS Saunby, Fatalities Associated with Crash-Induced Fuel Leakage and Fires
  • **

    I mean, all of which made me wonder about Jeremy Bentham, I suppose.

    We had Locke at Christ Church, staring disdainfully from his portrait during dinners in the Great Hall — but Bentham? I don’t think I saw any utility in utilitarianism.

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    But then I also wondered:

    SPEC trolley problem torture

    I wondered: how close is the analogy between the trolly problem and the ticking bomb torture questionn? Do we start from numbers of likely victims in each case and decide from there, or should we instead start by contemplating torture — and recognize the abyss staring back at us?

    Sources:

  • Wikipedia, Trolly problem
  • Michael Sandel, Justice: Putting a Price Tag on Life & How to Measure Pleasure
  • See also:

  • Kyle York, Lesser-Known Trolley Problem Variations
  • **

    What Shakespeare said, though — getting back to my title — was “The quality of mercy is not strain’d” — not the quantity, the quality — unquantifiable.

    The paradox of the Repugnant Conclusion & more

    Saturday, August 8th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — two data points, one impoverished, one rich — and a redemptive (maybe) quote from Twiggy ]
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    SPEC DQ The Repugnant Conclusion

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    As I quoted in my recent post Not everything that counts can be counted, “Effective altruism is based on a very simple idea: we should do the most good we can” — which in turn suggests that “good” can be quantified, an idea I resist.

    The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article The Repugnant Conclusion, from which I drew the Parfit quote [upper panel, above], doesn’t mention Wittgenstein , though I suspect his view that we cannot sum individual sufferings to a grand total would suggest a similarposition with regard to the summation of individual happinesses..

    And as I’ve pointed out before, both CS Lewis and Arne Naess agree with Wittgenstein on this point.

    **

    Walker Percy, Ludwig Wittngenstiein and Clive Staples Lewis all being Christians, it seems appropriate to recall here the tale of Mary and Martha from the New Testament, Luke 10:38-42 —

    Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word. But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me. And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.

    I somewhat cavalierly refer to this story on occasion as the story of Mary Qualit and Martha Quant. Eh. Mary Quant, you may recall if you’re as old as I am, gave us the mini-skirt, the Dashing Daisy doll, and Twiggy .

    **

    The quote from Walker Percy’s second novel [lower panel, above] nicely illustrates high level abstraction, as we instantly see when we compare it with the personal insight (from the same novel) on which it is based [lower panel, below]:

    SPEC DQ Walker Percy x 2

    The first is philosophy, the second — if you’ll pardon my saying so — is humanity.

    Literature. Art.

    **

    All of which ties in neatly with a conversation I was having on Facebook with my long-time friend the game designer Mike Sellers. And in all of which, I am trying not to forget the heart’s reasons of which Pascal famously wrote —

    The heart has reasons Reason knows not of

    — because we need them in our gaming, in our analysis, and our understanding of what Mike Sellers describes as our world that is “far more interconnected and interactive than ever before.”:

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    Sources:

  • Julia Galef, The Repugnant Conclusion (a philosophy paradox)
  • Walter Isaacson, Walker Percy’s Theory of Hurricanes
  • **

    Hey, Twiggy — sweet — gets the main point:

    twiggy quote

    Not everything that counts can be counted

    Monday, July 20th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — not Einstein but a fellow Cameron gave me my title ]
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    I’ll admit I was uneasy when I read about the “effective altruism” movement in Peter Singer‘s Boston Review piece, The Logic of Effective Altruism, but I didn’t quite see how to phrase my unease. Here’s Singer’s explanation of the concept:

    Effective altruism is based on a very simple idea: we should do the most good we can. Obeying the usual rules about not stealing, cheating, hurting, and killing is not enough, or at least not enough for those of us who have the good fortune to live in material comfort, who can feed, house, and clothe ourselves and our families and still have money or time to spare. Living a minimally acceptable ethical life involves using a substantial part of our spare resources to make the world a better place. Living a fully ethical life involves doing the most good we can.

    That’s the gist, but there’s a lot of what I can only term “moral cost-effectiveness” in there, as though goodness were a problem in engineering.

    Today I read Michael J. Lewis‘s Commentary piece, How Art Became Irrelevant, and think I found the “why” of my unease, in the writer’s description of the German idea (“ideal”) of an architectural Existenzminimum:

    This was the notion that in the design of housing, one must first precisely calculate the absolute minimum of necessary space (the acceptable clearance between sink and stove, between bed and dresser, etc.), derive a floor plan from those calculations, and then build as many units as possible. One could not add a single inch of grace room, for once that inch was multiplied through a thousand apartments, a family would be deprived of a decent dwelling. So went the moral logic.

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  • Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.
  • The heart has reasons Reason knows not of.

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