Saturday, June 25, 2005

When rationalists used to wait on gravity

From a review on Andrew Janiak's new collection of Sir Isaac Newton's philosophical writings:

How is gravity, key to the entire achievement of the Principia, to be understood? Leibniz charged that it was an occult quality, occult in the sense that it purported to explain but did not explain, at least as Leibniz understood that term. To attribute a "dormitive virtue" to a particular substance (to recall Voltaire's later taunt), does not explain how the powder (sic?) acts as its does.

[Newton] had discovered, to his own satisfaction and to that of his followers, a complex form of agency that linked pendulum to moon, to planet, to comet. Admittedly, the manner in which it operated was mysterious. But he had been able to weave a tight mathematical web that made the action of gravity entirely predictable, both as the power to attract and the capacity to be attracted, the same measure applying to each.

Leibniz still had one further cogent objection to raise. When Newton spoke, as he often did, of the sun attracting or being attracted by a planet, the only sort of agency left open (it seemed) was that of action at a distance. And this was, by general agreement among philosophers from Aristotle's time onwards, simply inadmissible, as Newton himself indeed felt forced to concede. So the appeal to attraction was worse than mysterious, it could not even in principle succeed.

The only possibility left was some kind of non-mechanical agency, taking the term 'mechanical' in the contact-action sense demanded by the "mechanical" philosophy of the day.

Newton had, in effect, pioneered a new form of explanation, dynamic explanation, with the notion of force as its anchor.

So, if I have this straight historically, forces could not accurately have been described as mechanical in the contact-action sense, therefore the notion of the mechanical had to be expanded to accomodate the spirit of the day that demanded that all things be, in the contact-action sense, rational.

Friday, June 24, 2005

The cost of nostalgia: 40% of EU Budget goes to farmers

According to No End to Subsidies in Sight By Julio Godoy

The EU spends roughly 40 percent of its budget (some 50 billion euros/60 billion dollars) in subsidies for farmers.

The 230 billion dollars in subsidies that OECD countries pay to their farmers -- at a conservative estimate -- is the main bone of contention in the Doha round and in the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

A new report to be published by the OECD later this year confirms that most developing countries have long ceased to pay out heavy subsidies to their farmers. The report's preliminary findings, to which IPS had access, underlined that the producer support estimate (PSE) in France and in the United States amounts to 31 and 16, while the Brazilian value is less than 10.

More optimisitcally The Economist acknowledges that progress may occur at the WTO with regards to this issue as long as countries find domestic support for change. But at the national level, the issue isn't as clear.

[For many on the domestic level agricultural subsidies, says the Economist,] provides social benefits not valued by the market: environmental protection, food security and the maintenance of rural communities, for example. The most important (and the least cited) factor, however, may be psychological.

Forging a common vision isn't easy when nostalgia or some sort of "psychological" reason captivates developed countries for the time being. And it isn't just the farmer lobby that is captivated by the scent of cow dung, consumers fancy the homegrown enough to be willing to pay more for it through their taxes.

Since it is not the pocketbook that rules the consumer in their compliance with the farmer lobby, it is more viably their vision of the nation. Yet, at what cost does support for this vision come? It costs the consumer more and it hurts foreign farmers that depend monetarily on agriculture. It is my suspicion, therefore, that this issue will not be addressed unless the nostalgia of nationalism is somehow substituted for a captivating notion of the Next.

Pull down the lines that divide

Today an estimated 10 million or more people reside in the United States without legal documentation [in Canada the number is 120 000]. Increased border enforcement has only succeeded in pushing immigration flows into more remote regions. That has resulted in a tripling of the death rate at the border and, at the same time, a dramatic fall in the rate of apprehension. As a result, the cost to U.S. taxpayers of making one arrest along the border increased from $300 in 1992 to $1,700 in 2002, an increase of 467 percent in just a decade.

Douglas S. Massey from Princeton University, in his article Backfire at the Border, recommends that Congress should build on President Bush’s immigration initiative to enact a temporary visa program that would allow workers from Canada, Mexico, and other countries to work in the United States without restriction for a certain limited time.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Taxicab Getaway

It appears as though Saddam's attempt at escaping US tanks consisted of a taxicar getaway:

According to the author, Saddam told his guards that when the Americans invaded Iraq in March 2003, he “tried to flee in a taxicab as the tanks were rolling in,” and the U.S. planes attacked the palace to which he intended to escape rather than the one he was in, injuring some of his bodyguards.

Saddam also has advice for obtaining the ladies:

O’Shea said when he told him he was not married, Saddam “started telling me what to do.” “He was like, ‘you gotta find a good woman. Not too smart, not too dumb. Not too old, not too young. One that can cook and clean.”’

Then he smiled, made what O’Shea interpreted as a “spanking” gesture, laughed and went back to washing his clothes in the sink.