Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Countries Ranked by Military Strength

I found two indexes which ranked countries by military strength. The Global Firepower index seems to be the one most often used based on the number of times I came across it while searching for articles.

The second index was part of a 2015 report put out by Credit Suisse. It cited as it's sources Global Firepower, SIPRI, and itself.

Countries Ranked by Military Strength: Global Firepower (2014)
From Business Insider 07/10/14

The End of Globalization or a more Multipolar World?: Credit Suisse Research Institute, Sept. 2015

The End of Globalization or a more Multipolar World?: Credit Suisse Research Institute, Sept. 2015
Countries Ranked by Military Strength: Global Firepower

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Ted Chiang

 A technical writer by trade, Chiang has this side gig of writing amazing science fiction short stories. Though Chiang's portfolio is somewhat limited, having published I believe less than twenty stories since first being published in 1990, he has received a great deal of praise for the quality of his work including four Nebula awards and four  Hugo awards. Basically, if you like science fiction, you should check him out.

I recently watched the trailer for Arrival which I immediately recognized as being based on Chiang's short story "Story of your life".

As can be seen from the trailer, the story's central theme revolves around human scientists interacting with the newly arrived aliens as they work to break the language barrier between them. Additionally it delves into concepts such as the perception of time, memory, determinism and free will. All of this wrapped into a story that frankly left me in tears at the end. Given that the typical movie goer doesn't like to go more than ten minutes without something exploding, it will be interesting to see if the movie stays true to Chiang's short story and if so, will it still be appealing to the general audience.

Below are a list of links to various Ted Chiang short stories and collections I've discovered online.

Links to ebooks
Stories of your life and others - Links to a site which

Links to individual stories
Story of your life
Tower of Babylon
Division by Zero
The Evolution of Human Science

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World

LO AND BEHOLD: REVERIES OF THE CONNECTED WORLD, is a 2016 documentary by director Werner Herzog which chronicles the virtual world and contemplates its implications for humankind.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Jesse Ventura's Strange Views about Protest

"I salute Colin Kaepernick. I fully support him...That's why I served my country, so that you have the freedom to protest...I don't have to agree with him, but I'll still respect his right to do it, and everyone should respect that. He shouldn't be booed".

..."When I was governor of Minnesota, the Dems and Repubs tried to nail me. You know what they did? They passed a law requiring the Pledge of Allegiance for all public school children. I immediately vetoed it. You know why? Because government should not mandate patriotism. Governments earn patriotism. You earn that. Who mandated patriotism? The Germans in the 1930's. They mandated patriotism. That's what we want to be? We wanna build walls now and be East Berlin?

This is such a mind-numbingly bad argument it's difficult to respond to, so I'm going to try to reconstruct it in simpler terms. 

P1. Colin Kaepernick should have the freedom to protest. 
P2. Government mandated patriotism can lead to tyranny similar to that found in Nazi Germany. 
C. Individuals shouldn't protest Colin Kaepernick's protest by booing. 

First off, I agree with Ventura that Kaepernick should have the right to protest. Where I disagree is with Ventura's belief that people who disagree with Kaepernick shouldn't express their disapproval by booing him. Isn't booing a form of protest? 

According to the Oxford dictionary, protest is defined as "a statement or action expressing disapproval of or objection to something." Booing is defined as something "said to show disapproval or contempt."

I think Ventura is being a bit hypocritical when he criticizes protest when it is directed at protest. He seems to believe that expressing disapproval about a particular protest is equal to attacking the freedom to protest, which of course is ridiculous. 

I have to wonder if he would feel the same way about some of the protest put on by the Westboro Baptist church? Should we all shut up because saying anything against them would disrespect their right to protest?

Ventura's next stupefying move is to make the illogical connection between individuals expressing their disapproval about Kaepernick's protest and the tyranny of Nazi Germany. Strangely, he does this using the example of when the democrats and republicans tried to pass a law in Minnesota requiring school children to say the pledge of allegiance.

This is completely irrelevant to his argument. There is obviously a difference between the government mandating patriotism and individuals of the citizenry expressing their own patriotism. Booing Kaepernick is not a call for government suppression. On the contrary, it is individuals using their freedom of speech to express disapproval. Seems strange that Ventura, a guy that prides himself on his libertarian beliefs, isn't able to make this distinction.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Acceptable Premises

When is it reasonable to accept the premises of an argument? This seems to be a topic which has been debated extensively in philosophy and one without a conclusive answer. In order to avoid some of these complexities the following is largely taken from Trudy Govier's very practical book A Practical Study of Argument.

According to Govier "When we say that the premises of an argument are rationally acceptable, we mean that it would be reasonable for the person to whom the argument is addressed to accept them." But what if I am analyzing an argument originally intended for someone else? Govier aknowledges this contextual complication but states that it is best to ignore it for our purposes.

"If you can accept—that is, believe—the premises of an argument without violating any standard of evidence or plausibility, its premises are rationally acceptable for you."

But what are these standards of evidence or plausibility? According to Govier, arriving at standards that are applicable to any and all arguments is not achievable due to the scope of premise possibilities. "...premises, like the arguments they are parts of, can be about anything at all-from icebergs near the North Pole to the economy Argentina - or any topic you can think of. Much of the knowledge we need in order to appraise particular premises will be highly specific."

For this reason, Govier provides a list of general standards for evaluating acceptable premises. Though these standards do not provide a clear cut answer, they are useful guidelines for making reasonable a judgement.

-Premises is supported by a cogent subargument - If the premise in question is the result of a cogent subargument the arguer has put forward, then it is clearly an acceptable premise.

-Premises supported elsewhere - An example of this would be the use of footnotes in research papers indicating that the claim is supported elsewhere. This is an appeal to the authoritativeness of the cited source and as such, depends on whether the authority is a proper one.

-Premises known a priori to be true - a priori refers to things which are known independent of experience (as opposed to a posteriori which is knowledge derived from experience or empirical evidence). Claims that are a priori can be known to be true or false on the basis of reasoning or meaning of terms. In other words, they can be proven by logic or reason.

For instance, the statement "No one can steal their own property" is a priori in that it can be proven true by logic alone. On the contrary, the statement "No one can steal the President's property" is a posteriori. To know if it is acceptable we would need to look at supporting evidence such as what kind of property the President has and what safeguards are in place to protect it.

-Common Knowledge - Knowledge that is known by most people or is widely believed by most people and for which there is no known evidence against. For example, the statement "Travel by bicycle is faster than walking" is something that is commonly known. It is not necessary or reasonable to insist on proof to support it. Other examples would include claims such as "it snows in the Arctic" or "Canada is north of the United States".

It seems that common knowledge as a guide to premise acceptability is a difficult road to navigate. It is a somewhat vague concept which is very similar to what is known as the ad populum fallacy. With this in mind, I believe common knowledge is more of a tool used to carry an argument forward than it is as a reason in support of a claim whose acceptability is disputed. From the arguers point of view, it acts as a guide in deciding what assertions do not require further support because it is believed they will pass unchallenged as common knowledge. For the audience, it acts as a guide in determining which claims to challenge and which to accept. But if a premise is challenged, then outside the most obvious common knowledge claims such as the examples above, it does not seem to be an adequate response to the challenge.

-Testimony - statements based on personal experience or personal knowledge. We can rationally accept a claim on the basis of another person’s testimony unless (1) the claim is implausible, (2) the person or the source in which the claim is quoted lacks credibility or (3) the claim goes beyond what the person could know from his or her own experience and competence.

"If a person claims to have witnessed something that is extremely implausible according to common knowledge or to our own personal related beliefs, the implausibility of the claim provides sufficient reason to question the claim. If the claim is bizarre or crazy enough, the nature of the claim will make us question the testimony—even if we know the person asserting the claim and that person is usually honest, accurate, and reliable."

The credibility of the person testifying can be undermined by various factors such as having a reputation of lying and deceit, an incapacity to make accurate observationsbias or a vested interest in a certain outcome.

A claim which goes beyond what a person could know from his or her own experience or competence should not be deemed acceptable in and of themselves. For instance, if after attending a class a friend told you that the professor has a soft voice, it would be reasonable to accept what she says (provided she is credible) as it is based on her personal experience. On the other hand, if she were to say the professor is the most dynamic lecturer on campus, we could not accept the statement on the basis of testimony alone as it is unlikely she has listened to every professor on campus lecture in order to make a comparative judgement.

-Proper authority - "An expert has a special role in the construction and communication of knowledge because he or she has more evidence, a more sophisticated understanding of related concepts and theories, greater relevant background knowledge, and—as a result—more reliable judgment in the particular area of expertise than someone who is not an expert in that field." "The factors that undermine the credibility in contexts of testimony (dishonesty, incapacity to make accurate observations, bias, and vested interest) would also undermine authority."

An especially careful appeal to authority can render a claim acceptable. Such an appeal may be set out as follows:
1. Expert X has asserted claim P.
2. X is a reliable and credible person in this context.
3. P falls within area of specialization K.
4. K is a genuine area of knowledge.
5. X is an expert, or authority, in K.
6. The experts in K agree about P. Therefore,
7. P is acceptable

-Accepting premises provisionally - If you can not judge a premise as acceptable using one of the conditions mentioned above yet you also do not have a definite basis for deeming it unacceptable then it may be useful to accept it provisionally. Provisional acceptance of the premises allows you to move forward to look at the other elements of the argument. If these other elements are satisfactory, then we can accept the conclusion provisionally (if the provisionally accepted premise was acceptable, the argument would be cogent). 

A Practical Study of Argument: Trudy Govier
Testing Acceptable Premises in Belief Systems

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Beuchet Chair Illusion

Richard Wiseman's version of the Beuchet Chair.

You can read more about his rework of the illusion on his blog.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Law of the United States: Sources & Hierarchy

Sources and Hierarchy of Law
I. United States Constitution
II. Federal Statutes, Treaties, and Court Rules.
III. Federal Administrative Agency Rules and Regulations.
IV. Federal Common Law.
V. State Constitutions.
VI. State Statutes and Court Rules.
VII. State Agency Rules.
VIII. State Common Law and Case Law.
IV. City and County Ordinances.

I. United States Constitution
The U.S. Constitution is the supreme law of the United States. The Constitution consists of a preamble, seven original articles, twenty-seven amendments, and a paragraph certifying its enactment by the constitutional convention.

A. Preamble - is a brief introductory statement of the Constitution's fundamental purposes and guiding principles

B. Articles - The Articles provide for how the government is to work. The first three articles establish the doctrine of the separation of powersArticle I establishes the legislative branch, Article II the executive and Article III the judicial. Article IV discusses the relationship between states and the federal government. Article V the process of amending the constitution. Article VI states that the Constitution is the Supreme law of the land. Article VII addresses ratification of the Constitution.

C. Amendments - There are twenty seven amendments to the constitution, the first ten of which are known as the Bill of Rights

II. Federal Statutes, Treaties and Court Rules
A. Federal Statutes - the Code of Laws of the United States of America (The United States Code, U.S.C.) is the official compilation and codification of the general and permanent federal laws of the United States. It contains 51 titles (along with a further four proposed titles). The main edition is published every six years. The current edition of the code was published in 2012, and is over 200,000 pages long. The official version of those United States Acts not codified in USC can be found in United States Statutes at Large.
    • Codification Process - Essentially, Congress presents a bill (enrolled bill) to the President. If approved (enacted), copies of the bill are distributed known as slip laws. These slip laws are assembled into annual volumes and published as the United States Statutes at LargeEvery six years the United States Code is republished to incorporate additions and changes resulting from the new laws in the United States Statutes at Large.
    • Organization - There are currently 51 titles. Titles may or may not be divided into subtitles, chapters, parts, etc. All titles have sections (represented by a §), as their basic coherent units. Sections are often divided into subsections, paragraphs and clauses.  Not all titles use the same series of subdivision above the section level and they may arrange them in different order. As an example, here is how Title 26 (the tax code) is organized.

The following is the list of titles which have been enacted into positive law and those which have been repealed.
Title 1General Provisions
Title 2The Congress
Title 3The President
Title 4Flag and SealSeat of Government, and the States
Title 5Government Organization and Employees*
Title 6
Surety Bonds (repealed)
(Enacted into positive law by the 80th Congress in 1947; combined into Title 31 when it was enacted into positive law.)
Title 6Domestic Security
Title 7Agriculture
Title 8Aliens and Nationality
Title 9Arbitration
Title 10Armed Forces (including the Uniform Code of Military Justice)
Title 11Bankruptcy
Title 12Banks and Banking
Title 13Census
Title 14Coast Guard
Title 15Commerce and Trade
Title 16Conservation
Title 17Copyrights
Title 18Crimes and Criminal Procedure*
Title 19Customs Duties
Title 20Education
Title 21Food and Drugs
Title 22Foreign Relations and Intercourse
Title 23Highways
Title 24Hospitals and Asylums
Title 25Indians
Title 26Internal Revenue Code
Title 27Intoxicating Liquors
Title 28Judiciary and Judicial Procedure
Title 29Labor
Title 30Mineral Lands and Mining
Title 31Money and Finance
Title 32National Guard
Title 33Navigation and Navigable Waters
Title 34Navy (repealed all of Title 34 in 1956 when Navy was moved into Title 10 subtitle C)
Title 35Patents
Title 36Patriotic Societies and Observances
Title 37Pay and Allowances of the Uniformed Services
Title 38Veterans' Benefits
Title 39Postal Service
Title 40Public Buildings, Properties, and Works
Title 41Public Contracts
Title 42The Public Health and Welfare
Title 43Public Lands
Title 44Public Printing and Documents
Title 45Railroads
Title 46Shipping
Title 47Telecommunications
Title 48Territories and Insular Possessions
Title 49Transportation
(enacted into positive law in stages; Title IV in 1978, Title I in 1983, and Titles II, III, and V-X in 1994)
Title 50War and National Defense
Title 51National and Commercial Space Programs
Title 52Voting and Elections
Title 54National Park Service and Related Programs
Source: Wikipedia: United States Code

B. Treaties
Treaties are agreements between the United States and one or more other countries. Under Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution, the President has authority to make treaties, with the “advice and consent” of the Senate.
    • a distinction is made between the terms treaty and agreement. The word treaty is reserved for an agreement that is made by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate (Article II, section 2, clause 2 of the Constitution). Agreements not submitted to the Senate are known as executive agreementsduke.law
    • Treaties and international agreements since 1950 are published annually in the United States Treaties and Other International Agreements.

C. Court Rules
Court rules prescribe procedures for practice in the courts. They dictate such matters as how to file a law suit, what evidence is admissible at trial, and what are grounds for appeal. 

In the federal system, the Supreme Court of the United States promulgates court rules for itself and the lower federal courts under the authority of 28 U.S.C. § 2072.

There are rules of general applicability, which apply in all of the federal courts at a given level , and local rules that apply only in the individual courts which have adopted them.

The following are the major areas of federal rules 
  • Rules of the Supreme Court
  • Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure
  • Federal Rules of Civil Procedure
  • Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure
  • Federal Rules of Evidence
  • Federal Local Court Rules
               Georgetown Law Library

III. Federal Administrative Agency Rules & Regulations
The Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) is the codification of the general and permanent rules and regulations (sometimes called administrative law) published in the Federal Register by the executive departments and agencies of the federal government of the United States. The CFR is divided into 50 titles that represent broad areas subject to federal regulation.

Federal common law is a term of United States law used to describe common law that is developed by the federal courts, instead of by the courts of the various states. It is the body of court decisions which is generally limited to interpreting the Constitution and federal statutes (Erie Railroad Co. v. Tompkins 304 U.S. 64, 78 (1938)). Once a judge interprets an existing law, a precedent is set which is binding on all courts at the same level or lower within the jurisdiction. This is known as the doctrine of stare decisis.
  • Case Citation - A citation is a reference used to identify past court decisions. It consists of a volume number, an abbreviation of the title of the book or other item, and a page number. For example, the citation 265 U.S. 274 can be broken into the following parts: Volume number: 265, Abbreviation for the book: U.S. Reports, Page number: 274.
  • Parallel Citation - When the same case is printed in different books, citations to more than one book may be given. These additional citations are known as parallel citations.Example: 265 U.S. 274, 68 L. Ed. 1016, 44 S. Ct. 565. Georgetown Law Library
  • Research - Common law is officially published in books called reporters. Federal Reporters include:
          Abbreviation                         Reporter Name & Content
              U.S.                                        United States Reports (Supreme Court Opinions - Official)
              U.S. L. Ed., L. Ed. 2d             United State Supreme Court Reports / Lawyer’s Edition (Supreme Court Opinions - Lexis)
              S. Ct.                                      Supreme Court Reporter (Supreme Court Opinions - West)
              F.                                            Federal Reporter (1st: Federal district and appellate court opinions (to 1925))
              F. 2d                                       Federal Reporter (2nd: Federal appellate court opinions(1925-1993))
              F. 3d                                       Federal Reporter (3rd: Federal appellate court opinions(1993- ))
              F. Supp.                                  Federal Supplement (1st: Federal district court opinions(1931-1998))
              F. Supp. 2d                             Federal Supplement (2d: Federal district court opinions(1998- ))
              F. App.                                    Federal Appendix (Federal appellate court opinions (not reported in F.3d) (2001- ))

V. State Constitutions
In the U.S., each state has its own constitution which is supreme within the state to the extent that they do not violate the U.S. Constitution or federal law. Though state constitutions share many common elements with the US Constitution, they tend to be longer and more detailed. For instance, the average length of a state constitution is 26,000 words compared to about 8,700 words for the U.S. Constitution. The longets sate governing document is that of Alabama which is over 172,000 words. It also the most amended with over 770 amendments.  Ballotpedia
  • Federalism - refers to the sharing of power between the national and state (and local) governments. See Federalism for more info

VI. State Statutes and Court Rules

1. State Statutes - Like federal laws, laws passed by the legislatures of the 50 states and U.S. territories, e.g., Puerto Rico, are available in unannotated form. The laws are first published chronologically as session laws and then codified into the state legislative codes.
2. Court Rules - As at the federal level, state court rules prescribe procedures for practice in the courts. They are generally organized similar to the federal court rules. For example, in Kentucky there are Kentucky Supreme Court Rules, Kentucky Rules of Evidence, Kentucky Rules of Criminal Procedure, Kentucky Rules of Civil Procedure, Family Court Rules of Procedure and Practice, etc.

VII. State Agency Rules
Like the federal government, states have their own administrative law. 

Proposed rules and regulations are typically first published in a 'Register', 'Bulletin' or 'Journal.' Rules which are passed are usually codified by topic in a 'Code' book.
  • In Kentucky, new rules are first proposed in the Administrative Register of Kentucky (ARK). Passed rules are published in the Kentucky Administrative Regulations (KAR).

VIII. State Common Law and Case Law

IV. City and County Ordinances