Saturday, October 22, 2011

LEGAL FICTIONS - November 3, 2011

We have already had a bellyful of decisions from the SC like those deciding that money is protected speech and corporations are people with all the rights of the US Constitution’s First Amendment. Now comes the Chamber of Commerce, among other institutions, standing up for the principle that corruption is not criminal, but a legitimate means of obtaining profits, and thus business. And since business has been sanctified as a function of civilized life, this legitimizes it to the point that it is most likely to put the veil of trade secrets around practices that ordinary people think should be subject to the ordinary criminal laws. By a current report, almost all the GOP congressfolk adhere to the move to repeal the Federal Corrupt Practices Act, together with some Democratic Senators and Representatives. The fact that people are making money out of such actions is said to lend it the presumptions of legitimacy unless the contrary can be proved, likely requiring such proof beyond doubt. When I studied the law, I already saw the early form of this argument when e.g. the CEOs of the tobacco corporations all swore under oath that they believed that cigarettes were not addictive, and none were indicted for perjury. Even when strong evidence was found that they did not believe what they were saying, the fact that business was involved shielded them from prosecution. This is how low we have sunk in the deification of money, and the bulk of the US population seems able to accept the decision, together with the other ways in which the SC has proclaimed that money cleans all activities. The alchemists of the Middle Ages sought the universal solvent, which would dissolve every material, and in our own time, it seems to be gold. If we do not stand up for ourselves, we shall all be for sale. If we don’t vote for our autonomy, we shall likely lose it.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

LEAVES - October 27, 2011

Every year at this time, we collect the discarded leaves of our beautiful green city. We pay to have them swept up and taken away, with many of them composted for eventual use as mulch and fertilizer for our lawns and gardens. This composting is a vast improvement on the earlier practice of burning most of them and releasing the CO2 into the air. However, it is still distinctly inferior to subjecting them to anaerobic digestion, in which much of the chemical energy that our thousands of trees have stored in them is made available for chemical energy of a very high level, compared with the CO2, which is generally acknowledged as a pollutant and a contributor to the warming of the planet. Of course, even the digestion gives off part of its output as CO2, but in the case of the composting, the part of the organic process yields methane, which is a far worse product than the CO2. Also, the sludge that is the residue of the composter is a far richer fertilizer, since its proteins and oils have not been degraded by the oxidation of the rest. In addition, the average time needed to reduce the leaves to mulch is much less in the digester than in the open air, even when deprived of O2. There is of course an investment needed in the building of a digester, but the additional energy needed (if any) can easily be provided by solar cells yielding both power and heat to run the digester. For a city that hopes to be graced by its new Inst. of Discovery, it is a step further into the world of the future than the one on the ceremonial quarter, which features a cow, corn and cheese. As the modern efforts abandoned in the past century to avoid the pretended threat of commonism, it would be a claim on the kind of world we hope to build.

PROOFS - October 13, 2011

The struggle over the teaching of school, particularly HS, continues to confront us, and everyone who has actually been to one imagines that he is an expert on what needs to be learned there and how to present that. Even in the ranks of professors of Mathematics in U, there remains a disagreement on how that should be accomplished. Thus, like most of those in that line of work, I find that entry level undergraduates have no idea of what constitutes a proof in elementary Euclidean geometry or any other part of Mathematics, or in any other discipline. This reduces technical argument to something just barely amounting to plausibility, or even less. In noting this failing, teachers of Calculus are unable to find the time or opportunity to teach this aspect of proof within the Calculus agenda. As a result, the most important feature separating proof from plausibility does not reach many students. There is simply no space, time or opportunity to take up the two disciplines in the same format. The discipline enforced by the traditional 2-column proof separating assertions and justifications is denounced as anachronistic and stultifying by those possibly tired of exacting that kind of effort from unwilling adolescents. Yet it is the keystone upon which the entire edifice of Mathematics (which is much more than the mere art of calculation) stands. Computers have been built to replace human thought in calculation, at least on the undergraduate level, but the matter of logical proof, once passed by, is highly unlikely to reappear in the later levels of learning. And in USA, we are even suffering in the HS a shortage of teachers who have learned that and understand it. The penetration of a faulty narrative proof entails a search of the mind and intent of the putative prover, and if one faces the attempted work of novices, is exhausting. At the same time, attempts by teacher unions to obtain space and time for that in school has always fallen before school board intransigence.