Saturday, May 31, 2014

Bank Robbery

We earlier commented on the improvised foray into foreign policy on the part of the NYPD, backed by an unlikely alliance of local Erinnyes and the New York Post.   The result was a tremendous disruption of French politics, of which most Americans are unaware, nor do they care.
This week, another drama has been playing out, scarcely reported save in the usual bland manner of the fleeting financial bulletins (BNP stock falls on the news; meanwhile in Malaysia …), and analyzed from a political and legal perspective, almost not at all.   

In brief:  The Justice Department is demanding payment from the French bank Paribas, roughly equal to twice its annual income last year (and enough to tip it into the red for the present), for conduct that was quite legal in Europe, where the transactions in question were conducted, but which runs afoul of US regulations.   The purported legal basis for this:  the transactions were denominated in dollars (libellés en dollars).   That is rather as though we were to demand damages from some Indian pop-star, claiming jurisdiction simply on the grounds that the song in question was sung in English, over which we claim a kind of worldwise conservatorship.

Outre l'amende, BNP Paribas a fait appel aux meilleurs avocats de Wall Street pour éviter une autre sanction potentiellement lourde: la suspension temporaire de son droit à mener des transactions en dollars. Une telle limitation, outre son caractère humiliant, affecterait sérieusement nombre d'activités de la banque, pas simplement aux États-Unis. La loi de l'État de New York interdit à une banque de maquiller la documentation de transactions en dollars qui viennent se dénouer auprès de la Fed de New York, même si elles ont eu lieu hors des États-Unis. Or BNP Paribas est accusée d'avoir caché aux autorités américaines de multiples transactions en dollars, pourtant conformes au droit européen.

Adding spice to the ragout is the detail that the regulations in question, far from being an application of generally recognized ethics or equity, were pushed through by particular political lobbies, whose agendas are purely their own, and do not align with American interests save now and then by accident.   To wit:  the pariah status of Nation X (pushed through by partisans of what, during Iran-Contra, might not be named, other than as “Country A”), and of Nation Y (in obeissance to an even tinier but quite violent core of operatives bent upon restoring the Casino Culture to Country C).
Upon these narrow fanaticisms, the tip of the world’s inverted financial pyramid  now wobbles.

 “Nice little bank y’got there…
Be a shame if somefing was to happen to it.”

That this development goes uncommented at home -- a nation with a historically casual attitude towards breaking other people’s china -- is unsurprising; but foreign reporting has likewise been surprisingly muted.   We must delve into the Readers Comments section  to find opinions of the sort we might seek on the editorial page, though they be mentioned only to refute them:

Wie lange noch wollen sich die Banken der Welt von den USA vorführen lassen, und mit welchem Recht? So lange jede Bank für sich kuscht, werden die USA ihre Erpressungen fortsetzen können. Vielleicht hören wir ja aber bald mal: Banken aller Welt, vereinigt Euch...

Il y a une chose très pourri sur le fond (indépendamment que certaines transactions de la BNP soient condamnables ou non).
Les Américains nous ont imposé dans le passé le dollar US comme monnaie de référence après l'abandon du standard or (Bretton-Woods) en forçant ainsi, tous les banques de travailler en USD. Maintenant, ils prétendent que toute transaction en USD tombe sous le coup de leur justice. Le moindre chose qu'on puisse dire, que cette manipulation est extrêmement hypocrite.
Monsieur Hollande ferait bien d'annuler l'invitation officielle de M Obama pour le 6 Juin (s'il veut venir à titre privé, c'est son affaire). C'est la seule chose qui ferait réfléchir tout le monde.

There have long been grumblings about replacing the dollar as the unique reserve currency;  this sort of overreach may hasten the day.

A Suisse financial journalist comments here:

"We'd like to make a withdrawal."

~  Posthumous Endorsement ~
"Seems like I had it all backwards:
Don’t rob a bank from the sidewalk like I did;
rob it from the boardroom.
Oh well, too late now.
But never too late for an exciting mystery --  "
(My name is Jesse James, and I approved this message.)
~         ~

Ten billion big ones  is not chump change.  One reader puts it in perspective:

10 Milliarden Dollar, das entspricht dem Jahreseinkommen von 400.000 arbeitenden Otto-Normalverbrauchern.

 [Note:  "Otto-Normalverbraucher" = Joe Bloggs.]

Ah well -- A deadbeat raises the lolly however he can.  And ten billion is just about what Britain has just awarded itself, with some creative accounting:

The British Government has just announced, through the statistics office the ONS, that they will be adding around £10 billion to estimates of what the UK’s GDP actually is. This is to account for the activity going on in the drugs and prostitution sectors.

[Update]  It now appears that, in addition to a whopping fine, the U.S. is demanding that Paribas fire certain employees that have displeased their foreign masters.   The demand seems extraordinary -- what possible jurisdiction could apply? -- but a parallel does spring to mind, from the current offering of “24”, “Live Another Day”.  Here, some terrorists have hijacked a fleet of drones and have threatened to incinerate thousands unless U.S. President Heller give himself up.
Not a pleasant parallel.

[Flash update]  This just in!
The Supreme Court of China has found the U.S. banking sector guilty of doing business with Taiwan, and has assessed damages of ten trillion yuan.  Failure to promptly comply will result in an immediate cessation of Chinese purchase of T-bills, and calling-in all its loans, resulting in a swift collapse of the American economy.
In other news, OPEC has determined that the United States is guilty of commercial dealings with Israel, contrary to Islamist law.    Oil exports have been halted until the guilty parties are turned over to Hizballah for trial.

Sauce for goose, is gander-sauce

In another unexpected development, the Neighborhood Association of Monogamy Lane, Littletown USA, where Dr Justice and his bride and their companion-hamster make their home, has assessed the worldwide media the round figure of 10 quadrillion euros, for having repeatedly violated the airspace above their sylvan cul-de-sac with unauthorized transmission of electromagetic waves.  Early analysis suggests that the Association might be willing to settle for a lower figure in return for lifetime free streaming of “Leave it to Beaver”.

[Classroom assignment:  Figure out which portions of this post are satire, and which are straight news.  Harder than you might think.]

[Update 1 June 2014]  Finally, some politically alert commentary is appearing in the mainstream press, to probe beneath the lid.  Turns out the Credit Suisse shakedown was also questionable:

In Europe, people are beginning to question the continual stream of investigations, indictments and regulatory fines involving European banks. Some even go so far as to accuse US regulators of pursuing a “vendetta” against European banks to appease public anger about the banking industry without harming the US industry. The dominance of European banks on the US regulators’ hit list is indeed noticeable, and not just for sanctions-busting: European banks also feature prominently in regulatory investigations into rigging of benchmark rates.

But the US regulators don’t need to be “picking on” European banks for those banks to feature prominently in criminal prosecutions for sanctions breaking and tax evasion. Internationally, there is no consistency of law. The offenses for which these banks have been fined are not necessarily offenses in their countries of origin.

Consider Credit Suisse’s recent conviction for “conspiracy to evade taxes”. Credit Suisse helped US citizens to evade tax. Under US law, both Credit Suisse and the customers involved were guilty of a crime. But Credit Suisse is a Swiss bank, and tax evasion is not a crime in Switzerland – but disclosing customer information is.

In these two cases,  then, the United States is not merely acting as international traffic cop, but as enforcing its own local regulations abroad -- ticketing Englishmen for driving on the left, as it were.
Now, I am not arguing from any position of blanket anti-interventionism. There are indeed a few unfortunate nations that seem perennially incapable of managing their own affairs.   But France and Switzerland are not among them.

[Update D-Day]   A disparity in press coverage across the Atlantic:

Une amende atteignant 16 milliards de dollars a été évoquée dans le cadre des débuts des négociations entre BNP Paribas et les autorités américaines, rapporte ce vendredi Reuters. De son côté, la presse américaine continue d'évoquer un montant compris entre 8 et 10 milliards de dollars.

And an interesting reader’s-comment on that page:

Déjà le 16 avril 2014 ( Le "diktat" du président américain oblige Renault à cesser toute activité en Iran. Faute de quoi, l'Alliance Renault-Nissan risquerait de ne plus pouvoir commercer avec les Etats-Unis. Renault a produit à travers ses partenaires 100.000 voitures en Iran l'an dernier... Déjà, PSA avait dû se retirer en 2012 sous la pression de GM. Un manque à gagner pour l'industrie tricolore!
Après 14 ans à l’Elysée et juste avant de mourir Mittérand écrivait:
« la France ne le sait pas, mais nous sommes en guerre avec l’Amérique. Oui une guerre permanente, une guerre vitale, une guerre économique, une guerre sans mort, apparement.
Oui, ils sont très durs les Américains, ils sont voraces, ils veulent le pouvoir sans partage sur le monde.
C’est une guerre inconnue, une guerre permanente, sans mort apparemment et pourtant une guerre à mort ». 27/1/97 le dernier Mitterand de Georges Marc Benamou.


We commented here on the bizarre American mishandling of the reparations and interallied-debt question after WWI.  (Usually this issue is depicted with France as the intransigent, and Wilson as the voice of reason.  Wilson was the voice of reason on this issue, but the rest of the country was not.)  This was more than a fleeting kerfuffle;  a distinguished chronicler who worked much of his life in France and Germany during the crucial years, summarizes the matter thus:

For more than a decade, the wrangling over war debts blew ill-feeling to and fro across the Atlantic.  By the time Hitler came to power in Germany at the beginning of 1933, the great alliance of the three Western democracies, which had humbled the Nazi dictator’s predecessors in 1918, was in ashes.  It was not to be revived, so far as the Americans were concerned, until Hitler had conquered France, put Britain in mortal peril, and declared war on the United States.
-- Wm Shirer, The Collapse of the Third Republic (1969), p. 152

Have a care, gentlemen;  have a care …

Friday, May 30, 2014

Maryland man trapped in his own home !!

Right now I’d like to go out on the back deck, and begin the tantalizing book that just arrived in the mail (the philosopher Collingwood’s Autobiography), in the shaded sunshine and the wafting breeze, 
with a glass of the blushful, and a little plate of sunflower seeds,
and all the weekend before me.

But ….

right …. there, on the deck,
is the world’s most adorable smallsoft Miss Minisquirrel,
with her own little seedtreat,
tailcurled, pawposed,
nibbling, nibbling
(such tiny bites!)
and I cannot bear to scare her away.

Of course, she might take it in a nice way,
particularly if she sees my plate of seeds
(which I am willing to share).
“See?  I eat seeds, like thee.
I do not gobble squirrels.”

But more likely  she would flee,
traumatized, never to return,
breathlessly telling all her forestfriends
what a mean man lives in the house on the hill.

And so she grazes, finding evernew yummysomethings,
edging ever closer and closer to the house,

while I sit hopeless/helpless,
gazing through the glass,

thinking (now with the brain of a boysquirrel),
Will  U   mar-ry  me …. ???”

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Back of the Bus (updated)

The latest from France,  from the bobos-fachos, in their chasse au fumeurs:

Marisol Touraine, ministre de la Santé, annoncera mardi 17 juin une série de nouvelles mesures qui devrait placer la France en pointe dans la lutte contre le tabagisme.
Parmi les plus spectaculaires, la mise en place du paquet de cigarettes neutre, sans marque apparente, ainsi que la possibilité d'actions de groupe, permettant aux fumeurs malades de faire condamner les fabricants à des dommages et intérêts.
Le vapotage, quant à lui, serait banni des lieux publics. [-- Le Figaro]

“Lèche mon cul, Marisol.”

Second that, brother.

[Update 19 July 2014]   The hypocritical vindictiveness against tobacco  leads to other legal skulduggery as well.  Thus

No-one born after 1950 has any excuse for being ignorant of health hazards from cigarettes.  The guy started in chain-smoking at age thirteen and never let up.  His choice.   Appropriate damages in this case:  Zero.   But a … Florida jury  (a phrase proverbial for imbecility) decides that a Saganian figure -- biyyuns and biyyuns of dollars -- should be paid.


[Original post from January 2014]

Suppose that, in some country that vaunted itself on its record of human rights, in North America or Western Europe, there was a cardiac hospital whose waiting-list for heart-surgery numbered both black and white patients.   Now suppose that the hospital had -- not surreptitiously and shame-facedly, but quite openly and unabashedly, even as something to pride themselves on -- a hard-and-fast rule:  So soon as a white becomes a candidate for surgery, he automatically zooms ahead of all the blacks on the waiting list;  and so on forever.   Assuming that, as in most places, the demand for the surgical service always slightly outpaces the supply, the upshot is that no black could ever receive heart surgery.

This morning there appeared a radio essay by the Dutch-Moroccan academic and journalist Fouad Laroui, Je fume, donc je suis, reporting just such a case, in the north of ultra-bien-pensant Holland;  only, with one difference:   The group continually sent to the back of the bus  are not blacks, but smokers.

Tha's messed-up, man ...

And such is the climate of political correctness there reigning, that the principal challenge to this invidious rule  has come, not from the quarter of general societal welfare and logic (shall such exclusions be applied, on the same grounds of ills abetted by personal behavior, to other risk groups, such as the obese or homosexual?),  but rather, from the ranks of Identity Politics themselves!  For the Turks resident in the Netherlands have -- not opposed the rule per se, but merely demanded that they themselves be excepted, as a group, on the grounds that, in their culture, smoking is not an individual choice, but an ethnic identity badge: Among Turks, a man wears a moustache, and smokes;  un-point-c’est-tout.

Laroui regularly reports on issues affecting Muslims in his current country of residence, les Pays-Bas;  and generally to defend them.   But in this case, he twits the Turkish case for absurdity, pointing out that it is a slippery slope down which other groups can be expected to snowboard, as some already had:  Muslim Somalis in Holland demanded group exemption from Dutch anti-narcotic laws, on the grounds that qât is part of their culture.   (Such an exemption was successful in the United States, in the case of Amerindians and peyote.)   He does not, however, take explicit exception to that hospital regulation itself;  perhaps deeming such comment superfluous in the case of so evidently overweening a rule, but perhaps not.

[Update 13 Feb 2015]  ISIL dislikes smoking.  Smokers dislike ISIL

Categories and Sameness (with linguistic appendix)

The free product is a sum in the category of groups;
and the direct sum is a sum in the category of R-modules.
-- old folk saying

We earlier had some fun with (in effect) the notion of hierarchical and cross-cutting patterns of Natural Kinds, in the essay Categories for the Working Mom.  And now that the laundry is fresh and folded and tucked away, we can all relax with a cup of your favorite beverage, and take another look.

[Update -- a note to our readers.
It has come to our attention  that a number of you have reached this oft-viewed post   under perhaps a misapprehension:  not out of ontological or taxonomic curiosity, but  by searching for a jpeg of "Homer strangling Bart".   This delicious image  we do indeed offer below;  but it is by no means the meat of the essay.  For those of you whose interest runs to cartoons rather than ontology, you may consult our meagre offerings here: ]

~ Sigmund Freud  und  Sherlock Holmes: ~

“Feynman,” said Wheeler, “I know why all electrons have the same charge and the same mass.”
“Why?” asked Feynman.
“Because," said Wheeler, “they are all the same electron!”
-- Martin Gardner, The New Ambidextrous Universe (1964; third revised edn. 1990), p. 305

Less Zen:

Particles transforming in the same representation of the Poincaré group  and having the same additional quantum numbers  are said to be identical particles.
--  Matthew Schwartz, Quantum Field Theory and the Standard Model (2014), p. 207

Linguistic philosophy is familiar with the caveat that to say two things are “the same” must be interpreted under some description.  (The technical name for this:  sortal identity.)

Thus, it is commonly said that the Chevy Whatsis and the Toyota Whomever are the “same” car, because they are built on the same chassis and are mechanically identical, just differently branded.  Now imagine an automotive expert given a pile of paired photographs, each depicting one vehicle; for each pair he must give thumbs up or thumbs down as to whether the vehicles are the “same” in this sense.  He will give thumbs-up to a Whatsis/Whomever pair, though now his assessment is in two steps:  First identifying the particular vehicles depicted as a representative  each of a specific brand;  and next, assessing those two brands as being “the same” under the applicable metric.

More narrowly -- this, say, for a car-dealer rather than a mechanic -- two vehicles are “the same” only if they are in the same SKU -- a Ford Taurus now being categorized separately from the Mercury Sable, though they are the same for most practical purposes.

More narrowly still, two examples of a Ford Taurus might be accounted equivalent  iff -- we are back in the auto-repair shop -- they are both in the same set of models, these being drawn up according to which parts they require.  The sets will be relative to the part in question:  this group uses drive-train X1, this other requires X2; cross-cutting these, another group uses such&such style of alternator, another another…

Even more narrowly:  the police want to know whether this vehicle sitting here in Arthur J. Mungo’s garage  is the same as the one used as the getaway car in last night’s robbery. 

More narrowly still:  I buy a certain car from you, new, for $20,000.  Five years and many fender-benders later, I demand you buy it back for the same price -- after all, it’s the “same car”.  And indeed, in the sense immediately above, it is, and will still serve to convict you if the robbery happened five years ago rather than last night.  But as seen by the eyeshades of an insurance company, it is not the same at all.

We could keep going, until  ultimately  the only pair of photos that will pass the green-eyeshade test  is ... two identical photos.

I have my mother's eyes ... He has his father's nose

Epigrammatic reflections of the paradoxes of ‘sameness’:

The successive unstable cabinets of the 3me République, were mostly a reshuffling of the usual suspects.  Thus,

There was some truth in the quip of Clemenceau, when he was criticized by a deputy for having overthrown so many governments.  “I have overthrown only one,” he replied.  “They are all the same.”
-- Wm Shirer, The Collapse of the Third Republic (1969), p. 101

Mocking Anglo-American journalists who take the Russia tour and become pundits:

After a year  they went home … sat down at their typewriters, and hastily wrote the same book.  I have been reading that book all spring, under several different titles.
-- Malcolm Cowley, The Flower and the Leaf (misc., collected 1985)

~     ~     ~

In our discussion of “analogy” and “sameness” in the essay Consilience in Mathematics, we saw that this informal term gets formalized in various ways -- isomorphism, homeomorphism, diffeomorphism, bijection … -- that, despite the variegated terminology, are really just one central idea, namely:  detailed pairings (“maps”) between objects, which preserve structure of some sort.  Which sort, depends on the mathematical category you are working in.

Commercial Break
A private detective  confronts the uncanny;
an ecclesiastical mystery:
Murphy Calls In a Specialist
~     ~     ~

Mathematical structures being immutable and eternal, there is no problem about cross-identifying them across time.  But in the peopled world, things change all the time -- or rather, as we now are careful to notice:  change under certain descriptions, and not under others.
The following is an excerpt from an essay, “Continuity of Identity”, which I hope to post someday.

Here’s a really practical case, of current political relevance.
In the year 19xx, a group of local politicians, and a state or municipal employees union, agreed to keep current wages at a specified modest level, against the promise of lavish pensions in the future:  the latter to be paid by “the taxpayers”.
Now, many of these deals were hatched behind closed doors.  Still, there was little pressure to expose them, for “the taxpayers” ca. 19xx  did indeed benefit from this arrangement:   Their taxes were lower than they would otherwise have been, had the services of police and fire and teachers and what have you had to be bid for on the basis of straight salary and current benefits;  these services were acquired relatively cheaply, the full bill being deferred.
And now, circa half a century later, “the taxpayers” are being asked to pay that bill.  Only… they are not the same people who benefited from the arrangement half a century or so ago-- in many cases, before they were born.  Not the same… as individuals;  but as a corporate body, yes, these are indeed “the taxpayers”.  So: legally, morally:  Can a politician and a union seal an agreement that binds, not themselves, but some third parties in the future, who at the time of the agreement were not even born?
Before you answer too hastily with a resounding outraged No, consider that our entire society is webbed with agreements exactly like that, and would likely fall apart without them.  Every time our nation signs a treaty, or issues a bond, or even launches a project like building highways and bridges (which future citizens will need to keep in repair, or much of the money will have been wasted), we are doing this.

~     ~     ~

An incident earlier this evening reminded me of an old conundrum:  the seemingly uncontroversial matter of what constitutes the same tune.

I happened to overhear on the radio, a snatch of a tune of which I’m very fond, of which I did not know the name.  It is melodic, and simple  apart from some rhythmic oddities.  Emotionally, its effect on me is like that of the brief beautiful interlude in waltz time, in Corelli’s Christmas Concerto.
As the piece segued into the next movement, I realized it had to be Copland, probably quoting someone else -- as he quoted “Simple Gifts” in Appalachian Spring.  Fortunately the announcer eventually came on and said the overall suite of which that piece was a part  was Rodéo
Looking at the program for this, I was puzzled.  “Corral Nocturne”?  Surely, for the dreaminess.  But no, it turned out to be -- “Saturday Night Waltz”.
Now, I would never have thought of searching for the piece under that name, since, firstly, it didn’t at all seem to be what some farmer-cowboy couples would be up to on a Saturday night, and futhermore -- okay, this is embarrassing -- I did not realize it was a waltz.  There’s an insinuating syncopation;  certainly if I ever tried to actually waltz to it, I would fall on my punkin haid…

Seeking to learn the mystery of this exotic composition, I got together a safari team -- seasoned explorers and native bearers -- and made my way through malarial jungle and crocodile-infested swamps  over the space of many months, finally scaling an icy peak and putting the question to the loincloth-clad hermit who sits at its summit and --  Well, that’s how it would have been in the old days;  to save time, I simply looked it up in Wikipedia.
And learned, to my astonishment, that the quotation in question is from … “I Ride an Old Paint”.   Astonishing because I absolutely grew up on that song, as sung by Burl Ives.  Our family only owned a half-dozen vocal recordings, so I listened to them over and over; and of these,  “I Ri-ide… an old Paint;  I le-ead…. an old Dan” was one of an even smaller handful at the top.  Never did learn what the lyrics meant, but I heard it and sang it   over and over.  And, being told -- like a puppy by the scruff of the neck -- that the tune right in front of me, in Copland’s ballet, is that; well, yes, I can hear the resemblance.

How could I not have heard the sameness in the first place -- the sameness beneath all the strangeness?  The simplest hypothesis is:  Musical retardation.  To which I partly plead guilty, only -- there are other, even grosser cases of mental compartimentation, which require a different explanation (nobody’s that retarded).

Thus, from childhood:  Consider “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” and the Alphabet Song.  The tunes are identical, note for note;  failure to perceive similarity might be chalked up to incapacity, but failure to note identity (which was my failure until recent times) -- refusal to assent to "A = A" … something else is going on.

A hint at what this is, is provided by cases in which we children were not mere consumers, but producers of isomelodic products.
Thus:  “Nyaah, nyahh, nya-nyaah nyaah.”
And, on the same ‘tune’, any number of smug worthless despicable taunts:  “TIM-my’s Got a GIRRRL-friend…!!!” or what have you.
[This just in -- probably from the Vatican:  
Homer Simpson, delivering a stern lecture to his wayward boy
The taunts here cited, are sufficient proof that the Fall of Man spares no-one, not even little children, fancied by sentimentalists  to be innocent.   From a secular perspective, such productions suffice to justify strangling the little bastards in the cradle.  That such action is not in fact justified, is a miracle, unexplained by any reasoning within the purely secular realm.  The overriding fact is, that God loves us -- Lord only knows why…]

Clearly, the melodic medium and its message form a gestalt.  To the child, and to some extent later, it would be as artificial to peel off the tune, as to say that two quite distinct people are actually identical (as regards having two eyes, a nose, etc. etc.), their secondary differentia being whatever is left over.

The nec plus ultra of such a perspective  is spoken sentences:  for these each have an intonation which is partly conventional, like a tune:  differing between French and English, or between British and American English.  Hearing a sentence, we do not  on any level  equate it  with all the (thousands of) other sentences we have heard  similarly intoned.

~     ~     ~

To avoid the distraction of same in the sense ‘self-identical’, let us continue the discussion using the term equivalent.  The latter is actually more mathematical, in that there it has a special sense, that of equivalence classes.  (Check Wiki and read all about ‘em.)
So:  Items will be equivalent or not, depending on whether they are viewed sub specie this category or that.  As, in biology:  When working with multiple species, two individuals are equivalent if conspecific.  When working within a species, two individuals might be identified  if, beyond being conspecific, they are of the same sex, and -- for species which show distinctions such as larva vs. adult, sessile vs. vagile, pupa/chrysalis/imago -- in the same stage of life.

*     *     *
~ Commercial break ~
We now return you to your regularly scheduled essay.

*     *     *

In mathematics, two objects can be topologically equivalent -- homeomorphic; smoothly equivalent -- diffeomorphic; algebraically equivalent -- isomorphic;  metrically equivalent -- isometric; numerically equivalent -- equinumerous; and so forth.  An example of such usage, in a Hilbert space context:

…the latter direct sum itself is isomorphic (unitarily equivalent) to H
…It is unitarily equivalent (I might as well say that it is the same as) the bilateral shift.
-- Paul Halmos, “A Glimpse into Hilbert Space”, in: T. L. Saaty, ed.  Lectures on Modern Mathematics, vol. I (1963), pp. 7, 12

[Remarkably, Wikipedia seems not to devote an article to this subject, the closest being this rather abstract one:
So I’ll say a little more.]

Further, we speak of two norms on a space as being equivalent if they generate the same topology on that space.  Two group-representations are equivalent if they are interrelatable via conjugation by a nonsingular matrix.  Two signed measures are equivalent if each is absolutely-continuous with respect to the other.  Two vector bundles are equivalent if they are related by a homeomorphism that preserves fibres. Two normal series of a group are equivalent if there’s a bijection between the factor groups with these being isomorphic.

There are even finer distinctions:  Two set-theoretic structures are “equivalent if just the same sentences are true in each, and elementarily equivalent if just the same first-order sentences are true in each.  Isomorphic structures are evidently equivalent, and hence  in particular  elementarily equivalent.” -- Michael Potter, Set Theory and its Philosophy (2004)

As it begins to appear, these different labels are not simply definitional and contentless;  sometimes you arrive at them only after doing some work.  E.g. one reads:

A fundamental fact of differential topology is that the notion of isomorphism in the categories Top[ology], P[iecewise]L[inear] and Diff[erential], is the same in dimensions three and below.  In dimention four, PL and Diff agree, but Top differs.  In dimensions above six, they all differ.

In particular, things go hog-wild in dimension seven.  We thought we knew what roundness was, it turns out we did not.

~ ~ ~

[Update 3 Dec 2011]
This phenomenon of tunes known  but hiding their identities beneath disparate lyrics and thus subjectively unconnected,   deserves a name:  we shall dub it cryptomelodia
(©2011 Dr J Worldwide Enterprises Inc.)

[Pronounce this krip-to-meh-LO-dee-a.  The word is modeled upon that other stupendous vocable, cryptomnesia ‘hidden memory’, from crypto- ‘hidden’ and -mnesia ‘memory’, as in amnesia (i.e. a-mnesia ‘no memory’).  Those roots are all Greek;  and I wanted to neologize on a proper Greco-Greek model, rather than conjure up some vulgar Greco-Latin hybrid-hippogriff such as Donald Trump would no doubt coin.  But the Latin-looking aspect of “melody” gave me pause. 
So we consulted with Dr Massey, the official philologer for this site, and he reassured us:

Melodia is of Greek origin.  μελδία : from melos, musical phrase, and aoide, song. Cryptomelodia is a great rendering.

This is excellent news.  Dr Massey and I shall split the royalties from this outstanding new word, and retire in opulence.]

A startling example of cryptomelodia occurred at work yesterday.   I work at a pretty patriotic place;  the political spectrum among the employees is much broader than you might imagine, ranging even remarkably far to the left, especially on antiwar issues.   Still, I was startled that morning to suddenly hear the song -- or I should say, the tune -- of “Solidarity Forever” blaring from a computer in the neighboring pod.  I leapt from my seat to see what was going on.  Had the Occupy movement spread to us -- Occupy the Fort ?   -- No, my companions scoffed, that’s the Georgia fight song.  (The woman whose computer harbors this tune on boot-up is from Georgia.)
That only raised another issue:  Why would Georgia -- a pretty conservative neck of the woods -- choose “Solidarity Forever” for their fight song ?  -- Actually, they replied, it’s the fight song of lots of schools.  And then it dawned on me:  The words being different, and the setting (a football stadium) utterly so, probably very few of the fans make the connection -- if indeed they have even heard of the old Wobbly anthem.  (And if they had, they might deem it ironic that the hymn of One Big Union should be hijacked  by gridiron jingoism.)  The tunes inhabit different compartments of the mind.

There was some argument over whether which song actually came first -- some voted for a football origin, which I thought absurd.   So upon reaching home, I burnt some incense before the altar of the All-Knowing -- and Wikipedia promptly informed me that the tune goes back  not only way before football, but way before the IWW:   that I have myself been the victim of a multiple cryptomelodia in this regard.  For, “Solidarity Forever” is simply a re-lyriced “Battle Hymn of the Republic”, which in turn lyrically recycles “John Brown’s Body”.  I am of course quite familiar with both these songs, having sung the first one  in particular  many times in elementary school.  But I never made the connection among these three.
(And upon further reflection … the transposition  to the football field  of the tune that’s held in common by all these anthems, is appropriate after all:  since all of them are  in some sense  fight songs.)

As for the tune itself -- its origins are lost in time;  Wiki traces it to “the folk hymn tradition of the American camp meeting movement of the 19th century”;  before that, all is mist.
Yet hark -- what lyre upon th' aeolian there wafts ?  Nay, ‘tis Aeneas’ bark, plunging westwards from the flames of Troy !  And what air sets the oarsmen bend their strength as one?  Why -- ‘tis … ‘tis that very tune !
~     ~     ~

[Further examples of the notion ‘same’, this time in linguistics.]

If we project backwards to the Pre-Latin form of a third-conjugation infinitive such as dûcere, we note, for Pre-Latin *doukesi,  formal identity with the locative case of a genuine Indo-European s-stem noun.
-- Robert Jeffers & Ilse Lehiste, Principles and Methods for Historical Linguistics (1979), p. 67

Here meaning:  phonetically identical, though with an ultimately different grammatical role.

Another extraordinarily cavalier positing of equivalence:

Chinese and English, for example, may have the same case system as Latin, but the phonetic realization is different.
-- Noam Chomsky, New Horizons in the Study of Language of Mind (2000), p.

(This recalls an anecdote from Charles Fillmore, author of the classic article “The Case for Case”, from back before the idea of abstract/semantic case was as familiar as the traditional notion that hewed to overt morphology.  He began presenting a paper on “Case in Chinese”, using this expanded or deepened sense of the term;  and his elder examiners, leaning forward in alarmed concern, said: “Aren’t you aware, that Chinese doesn’t have case?!?”)

… ‘free variation’:  If two forms are equivalent (that is, freely substitutable for each other), their alternating segments may nevertheless be phonemically distinct.
-- D. Hymes & J. Fought, American Structuralism (1975), p. 214

(Compare that elegant phrase, which slips so smoothly from the pen of Quine:  “substitutable salvâ veritate”.   I have here further spiffed up the expression, by giving the â its neat little ablative hat.)

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Genetics Porn

The reliably acute H. Allen Orr has published a trenchant review of A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History, by Nicholas Wade, which we link to without comment:
Longtime readers of this blog will know that our salute of this article (in the still-solid New York Review of Books) owes nothing to political correctness.  We are perfectly open to the possibility that the thesis championed by Wade in the second part of his book, may have some validity.   But, being explosive, it needs much more backing than he has given it.  (Such is the identical reason for our chiding the "Universe as simulation" hypothesis.)

For our own polemic against ultra-Darwinist excess (well, "polemic";  actually it's pretty funny), try this:
Another recent example of Darwinian academic overreach, though much less incendiary as its implications are confined within linguistics, is Language in a Darwinian perspective, by Bernard Bichakjian, which maintains that “every linguistics feature, be it a speech sound, a grammatical marker, or a syntactic strategy, interfaces with a neuro-muscular algorithm, and that selection pressures have steadily guided languages …”.   (Credit where credit is due, though:  the man gets full marks from a Popperian perspective, in which “a theory needs to stick its neck out.”   This one sticks out like an ostrich.)  The level-headed Fred Newmeyer dismisses it as “bizarre” (his one-word summary) in the Sept 2003 issue of Language, p. 583ff.   And since, unlike a potential best-seller by a New York Times science writer, which could well influence public debate on sensitive issues, along with such semipopular works as On Aggression, African Genesis, and The Naked Ape, Bichakjian’s influence if any  will remain confined to pockets of academia, there is no need to comment further in this place, other than to quote Newmeyer’s witticism (one of several in the review):
A lot can be said against Chinese writing [he means, the writing system -- the logograms] as ‘evolutionarily primitive’, but one must agree that it has allowed its users to develop at least as vibrant an intellectual and creative life  as that of their alphabetic neighbors.

Orr remarks in a footnote, citing just one example from a fund of hundreds,
Geneticists have had an extraordinarily hard time finding genes that make substantive contributions to complex diseases like Type 2 diabetes. This doesn’t bode well, to put it mildly, for finding the genes that allegedly underlie subtle differences in predisposition to middle-class behavioral traits.
Such overreach is bad enough;  worse, is when the nihilistically inclined among neurophilosophers, conclude from a bit of petri-dish handwaving, that free will is an illusion, and morality with it.   Such views have the potential to wreak real mischief;  and we have polemicized against them here:  Eliminative Materialism

Note:  That essay does not specifically address linguistics, though the problems with reductionism of minds to neurons  are similar in several disciplines, and go back a ways in each.  Thus, Uriel Weinreich, contra the behaviorist simplifications of Leonard Bloomfield: 
Bloomfield’s neurological reductionism  depends on discoveries  that may never be made.
Bloomfield was the dean of American linguistics before WWII;  his introductory textbook Language (1933) was long standard, and contains much of lasting value; yet the early, pseudo-foundational chapter about Stimulus-and-Response, with its feeble fable about Jack and Jill, falls far below the standards of the rest of the book, and indeed feels perfunctory, contributing nothing even on its own terms:  like those Stalin-era exordiums in praise of the great leader, in Soviet texts about physics or what have you;  having made the needful obeissance, we move right along.
Rulon Wells had a nice line about all this (in “Meaning and Use”, in Word 1954):
In diagnosing the conflict between mentalism and mechanism, [Bloomfield] mislocates the issue, and thus plants his germ of truth  in the sand of confusion.

The situation in genetics has an analogue in the field of linguistics:  quite apart from the difficulty of accounting for language development, or for the sort of intricate syntactic phenomena highlighted by Chomsky and his successors, from outside linguistics proper (height of the ancestral esophagus inferred from shards of crania; Bloomfieldian behaviorism; connectionism; …), progress has been discouraging even within the field, and the Chomsky current in particular.  In that same Review Article, discussing On Nature and Language by Chomsky (et, actually, alia, as Newmeyer points out), the one-word summary is:  “disappointing”.  The reviewer reluctantly concludes that, if anything, the Minimalist Program represents a step backward.


Just a final word on the project of reducing genius to genes, or spirit to spit:
The eliminativists may prove  to their own satisfaction  that (say)  literature, and literary criticism, are nothing but secretions of the pineal gland (or however that hoary idea is tricked-out nowadays, in the latest scientific raiments), or that it evolved in the Jurassic for the purposes of attracting a mate (or more subtly -- like those initial pre-weight-bearing nubbins of wings -- simply to regulate body temperature),
but they will never produce any literature or criticism worth reading.

Monday, May 26, 2014

La poussée contestataire

[Updated Memorial Day 2014, on the heels of the European Parliament elections, which produced dramatic results.   As one alert reader of Le Figaro commented,

Dans un livre "devoir de vérité" publié en 2006, François Hollande défendait le principe d'une «vérification démocratique» et disait notamment:
«[...] Si, d'aventure, à l'occasion de la vérification démocratique que j'évoquais, une crise profonde se produisait ou des élections législatives intervenaient, contredisant l'élection présidentielle, nous en tirerions toutes les conséquences en quittant la présidence.»

Eh bien, on verra.]

Après des élections européennes qui ont tourné au désastre pour le PS et qui ont vu le FN arrivé en tête, François Hollande fera une déclaration télévisée ce lundi à 20h00, annonce l'Elysée.

The immediate practical effect of these elections, may be slight.   We'll see in time, whether they prove to be a harbinger of anything, or just a sort of mid-term spleen.

[Further update]  
After the speech of the Président :

Après la débâcle des européennes, Hollande ne change rien.
Surprise, surprise.

~  Original post from 4 May 2014 ~

Phrase of the day:  “Euro-Tartuffe”

Time was, in this country, and around the world, when idealists used to dream of an End to All Wars -- to be enforced (a necessary codicil, though not spoken so loud) by a One World Government.   Americans were among those in the forefront of this, signally Woodrow Wilson, who garnered a Nobel Peace Prize for his advocacy of the League of Nations (la SDN), the first step towards such a new order, established as the dust was settling from the Great War.   But when push came to shove, Senate Republicans and prairie populists  would have none of it, and Wilson’s brainchild was a prophecy unhonored in its own country.

The ethos of that time  is now impossible to re-experience, though students of history may imagine it.   The Release 2.0 of the League, the United Nations, is mostly a debating shop, for harangues that few heed.   Not a bad thing;  good that it’s there;  but no shadow or echo of the original vision of One World Government (whose aftershadow lives on only in the nightmare imagination  of the prairie populists).


Europe, however, shaken to its foundations by the deeper trauma of the Second World War, which no-one ever imagined to dub “the Great”, and which turned out even worse than our fears, adopted a more regional version of the original vision, one which actually has some teeth to it:  what is now known as the European Union.   The average American has probably not even heard of the thing (indeed, I almost wrote “EEC” by anachronism), but it is very real.   And its existence has no doubt contributed to the one big spectacular fact of the past nigh-on seventy years, what must astonish any student of European history (which has been bloodier at every level, than the non-devotee has any idea):  unbroken peace among nations belonging to that Union.  An astonishment that grows with each passing year of No World War Three.  And if there have, in the course of those decades, been occasional instances of fussy Brusselian bureaucratic overreach -- in one actual, notorious case, regulation of the length and curvature of bananas -- this pales beside the Holocaust (to take one example, hm, at random).  

In time though, the freely adopted multiheaded yoke  has come increasingly to chafe certain individual withers;  and resistance to further EU encroachment has become a key issue in the upcoming pan-European elections:

In part, this swell of opposition comes as a result of actual EU overreach, such as the dismanteling of borders at a time of a great “inwash of the unwashed” (see essays here and here), in part because, from a more zeitgeistlich perspective, the diktats of Brussels have encouraged fresh overreach by, for example, the misandrists of Paris and Stockholm, who mean (and here I write hyperbolically, though only barely) to police and limit (with a ruler, of the sort once used by nuns to smack the palms of naughty boys) the length and curvature of erections.

[Update Memorial Day 2014;  from the NZZ:
Europa und die EU, das sind Klischees über Normen aller Art, etwa diejenige über die Krümmung der Gurke, die zwar längst nicht mehr gilt, aber an Stammtischen unvermindert als Beispiel einer fehlgeleiteten monströsen Bürokratie angeführt wird.

OK, so maybe it was cucumbers, not bananas.  Same idea.

Gurke mit Attitude

Anyhow, the people have spoken, in the Européennes, “un séisme europhobe”, avec percée du FN.]


~ Recommendation posthume ~
“Si j’étais encore en vie, et que je désirais un bon whodunnit,
que lirais-je?"
(Je suis le Président Wildon, et j’ai approuvé ce message)


Anyhow, all that is but by way of dilettante kibitzing;  I am not among those solons such as Thomas Friedman or George Will  who are licensed to pontificate  each Sunday, across from the editorial page.   I do, however, carry an official Linguist’s License, and am a paid-up member of the Global Sociophilological Association (QG:  Genève -- it is actually a subunit of the WDJ).   And hence am permitted to observe this new coinage, reported in this morning’s press:

L'écolo Durand s’en prend aux "Euro-tartuffes"
"Plus forts que les euro-sceptiques ou les euro-béats, voici venu le temps des euro-tartuffes", écrit-il. Soit, à en croire Durand, ceux qui tiennent un discours à Paris et un autre à Bruxelles.

Which, being Englished for the convenience of our obligate-anglophone friends, is no more than to say:  A prominent Green politician has coined a category to join the extant extremes of the Euro-sceptics (those who oppose further EU encroachment), and the euro-béats (difficult to translate exactly:  it refers to those bobo-bisounours, who embrace the Union and all its present and potential works, with a great big smoochy kiss):  the opportunist Euro-hypocrites (after Molière’s character Tartuffe), who, speaking alternately out of either side of the mouth, spout one thing in Brussels  and another thing at home:  here to butter-up the goose, there to flatter the gander.