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A scary story for Halloween: is it not in fact rather probable that the version of the patented RSA public-key cryptography algorithm available in PGP — which stands for “Pretty Good Privacy” — and SSL has a trapdoor for US security agencies? Microsoft Windows and other programs have been found to contain trapdoors for the National Security Agency, and there has long been speculation that the non-patented DES crypto-algorithm essentially contains one in the form of its 56-bit key length limit. Really, perhaps the “cyber-libertarians” of yore were a bit naive in thinking the agencies would let communications get away from them to that extent. (Even when I was more “privacy-minded”, I never used PGP for the reason that simply sending encrypted messages would draw attention to me.) Although in this contemporary world of baring our um, souls and credit-card numbers to all and sundry it may seem passe to think about this, perhaps even Internet businesses aren’t operating on the “rootlevel” they think they are. Or are they?

I’ve been reading Luhmann again; and although reading Love as Passion many years ago (along with acquiring the first Stax/Volt box set) helped put me onto some personal Holzwege, I think the American mind is maturing to the point where we can consider Luhmann’s conjectures about world society as the text there is nothing outside of without going batshit crazy. What contribution can Luhmann make to understanding the election less than a week off? Well, Bourdieu called Sartre’s Critique of Dialectical Reason an “imaginary anthropology of subjectivity”, it being an account of the formation of groups where the constituents of the rough ground of praxis (the environs and Werkzeuge) are collapsed into a single category, the “practico-inert”, lacking the precise empirical detail of a social-scientific analysis. However, the politically mercurial Luhmann — at least capable of a friendly joke about Helmut Schmidt — seems in a way to have carried on Sartre’s a priori analyses of the formal conditions of subjectivity, in a way which is tangible to us in the Internet era.

Luhmann’s social systems built up out of communication represent a depoliticized version of Marxist collective wills, the face collectivities turn to the world in teleologically oriented practice; and this election season, those “with eyes to see” have seen how ad hoc, yet for all that stable-enough social formations have influenced the drift of an American politics supposedly only understandable from an Olympian perspective above the parties and interests, a perspective cleanly applying the “objective chance” of frequentist probability to the prospects of the various candidates. From a leftist perspective, this “higher Broderism” is exactly the wrong way to consider elections: whatever possibility the election might have of expressing the mass will is plowed under by considering only the acts of “the interests” and insider horse-trading, parts of the trade of politics rather than its art. 

Perhaps the changes we have seen in this election towards effective expression of heretofore underrepresented mass opinions represent the birth (more like rebirth) of a genuine American politics, none too “cybernetic” in its being built up out of individual opinions genuinely expressed in the power of new political groups, rather than “focus groups”. However — for all that there’s still only one choice.

In American music, there are legends and then there are living legends: the jazz pianist Mose Allison is one of the latter. The eighty-year-old Allison was raised in the South, then moved to New York City and became a fixture on the local jazz scene; his many records are not exactly guilty pleasures, since Mose’s prudential advice is worth having and his keyboard skills above-average, but he is neither a “dark star” nor a radio favorite. His most enduring song is “Parchman Farm“, about the Southern prison civil rights activists were interned at, and his cover of “Seventh Son” eternally popular, but many artists have dipped into his extensive oeuvre: for example, the Yardbirds covered “I’m Not Talking” and his advice in “If You’re Going to the City” (“And if you stay in the city/there’s only two things I hope/that you don’t take money from a woman/and you don’t mess around with dope”) has enlightened generations upon generations of “green” young men. 

A YouTube clip of “Your Mind Is On Vacation”:

This the 200th new post on this blog — that is, not counting earlier material reprinted from elsewhere. I wasn’t very assiduous for the first year of the blog’s existence, so most of it is relatively recent: and, I suppose, relatively trivial compared to previous efforts to Say It All. Future material is contingent on the uses people put the blog to (right now the art and music selections are popular, and people searching for Rothkos and pictures of Disco Stu are inflating the readership statistics a lot). Still, all in all these are exciting times to be demonstrating a basic grasp of discursive rationality, so I have few regrets about this stage of my Internet usage; perhaps I’ll celebrate with some of the excellent and Cuba-friendly Davidoff cigarettes, which are back in American tobacconists’ shops after years of being absent due to fears of liability lawsuits. Or do something entirely different.

When a critic is in doubt, they write about popular culture; when they are in doubt about which popular medium to write about, they write about comic strips. However, there’s no doubt in my mind that George Herriman’s Krazy Kat is one of the greatest comic strips of all time, and a new site “Comic Strip Library” has a large number of black-and-white Krazy Kats available; another fansite had some beautiful color strips but has since been effectively shut down as a result of action by King Features Syndicate (although it still features an essay by e.e. cummings on the strip). Krazy Kat is the story of a love triangle between the hermaphroditic Krazy; his/her inamorato Ignatz Mouse, who aims to hit Krazy in the back of the head with bricks; and the besotted Offissa Pupp, who wants to put a stop to the whole business.

Set in a surreal version of the Arizona desert and often drawn with precisely irregular framing, Krazy Kat is an example of how fanciful the American popular consciousness was way back when (Herriman also contributed drawings to Don Marquis’ archy and mehitabel, the love story of a typewriter-operating cockroach and a cat). In this day of carefully “focus-groupped” strips featuring slightly toned-down vulgarity it’s hard to imagine that something like it once graced the pages of major American newspapers. (The serious student of the “lively arts” will want to have the strips in book form, of course: there are a number of reprints available, but unfortunately none of them is quite as encyclopedic as the old folio black-and-white/color collection available in the ’80s and ’90s).

Recently, I’ve been experimenting with the potential of Usenet to serve a constructive role in the Internet present. Here’s a recent Usenet post which sparked a conversation on the possibilities of the Portland metro area (edited to remove the manual formatting forced by Google Groups’ underpowered editor):

Newsgroups: or.general, pdx.general
From: jeffrubard@gmail.com
Date: Mon, 20 Oct 2008 10:53:16 -0700 (PDT)
Local: Mon, Oct 20 2008 10:53 am
Subject: The Changing Face of Portland

Sorry to break in here, but I thought the readers of these groups might like to hear something from someone who is certifiably insane, yet not a “Living Christ” (although please note that *Christ* is actually a word for “Christian”, not J.C. himself, in some European languages). Acute observers of the Portland scene and all-state dynamics may have noticed a shift in people coming to visit and coming to stay in the Portland metro area. Like previous immigrants and visitors to the state, these people are better-educated than the American norm and somewhat well-heeled: however, they do not hail from the “hip ghettoes” of New York and the Bay Area, or the “Inland Empire” of the Rocky Mountain states and the Old Northwest, but from other points within and without the United States.

This dynamic has a multitude of causes, but on any analysis it would be unwise for those admirous of older Northwestern norms to ignore it. Portland has always been a big city, and it has an excellent chance to become a “bigger” one: a recognized international center of economic and cultural innovation. Part of this means breaking with a local tradition and accepting the role of “bridge-and-tunnelers”, as well as the rest of the state, as part of Portland’s “charm”; part of it means the aggressive pursuit of possible area advantages on the part of both public and private institutions. The reputation of an era in state government as being akin to a “Western Mississippi”, paying for much less than other areas deem necessary in infrastructural upkeep and exploratory projects, will do no favors to an area influential people elsewhere are currently very well-disposed towards. If we are to collectively move forward, these false economies must stop. 

Otherwise, Portland will acquire, perhaps re-acquire, a reputation most Oregon residents have never experienced it as having: the status of an “also-ran”, a place that had a chance to show the way for the nation and the world and didn’t make it. Then there will really be “new wine in old bottles”, and Oregonians will collectively be sorry. 

As we come up to the finish of the election, who wouldn’t be interested in the latest polls for Obama vs. McCain and other matchups? RealClearPolitics has a wonderful aggregator of poll results from various newspapers and wire services, which shows particular results announced by those agencies (“Presidential race tightening”) in a broader perspective. The graphically displayed poll timeline for the presidential race shows that McCain has only led this year during the period immediately following Obama’s securing the nomination in March, and then again during a brief period surrounding the Republican National Convention: an interesting dynamic. The “netroots” may have played a role in this election, but the interface between the Internet and the establishment represented by a site such as RealClearPolitics is worth watching as well.

P.S.: The post title is a reference to this character, whom I learned about via Wikipedia, but of course there’s only one children’s television figure I really resemble.

Du bist, was du ißt

I haven’t run a “Squeegee Solutions” for a while, and although I have rather a lot of discretionary income at the present moment it’s merely the result of having no discretion, so I’ll keep it low budget for the moment and extol the joys of Little Debbie snack cakes. Little Debbie is the poor man’s Hostess; their snack cakes are available at independent convenience and non-union grocery stores throughout the United States for the non-princely sum of $.75 to $1.75 (before the food crisis, they cost as little as fifty cents). The Little Debbie product line is immense and features cupcakes, doughnuts and the rather lovely Nutty Bars pictured above: with a little experimentation, you can easily find something halfway palatable among them.

You might think these couldn’t possibly be worth buying, but sometimes quantity is quality; I would say products like Nutty Bars are rather less nauseating than the lard-laden “fruit pies” and Twinkies of the mainstream sweet-snack market, though not quite as lovely as Mallomars. It is unfortunate, however, that the long-term consumers of the product have probably eaten their weight in trans fats: they have since been replaced with what was formerly bad for you, tropical oils. This fits in with the common observation that “healthy choices” like eating fish are often out of reach of the poor, whereas what can be had in abundance poses serious health risks. However, there’s almost nothing worse than being hungry: and, for a nominal sum, Little Debbies will solve that problem for a while.


Henry Wallace

The lovely and talented Lauri Apple has a series of vice presidential portraits up on a “single-issue” blog, “Lauri’s Veeps”. So far the paintings (which will continue, one a day, until the election) have featured notable 20th century vice-presidents: some “Black” Republicans would be cool too, although there probably won’t be time to get around to my ancestor George Clinton. Check it out.

1) Is forcing a model of the full resolution calculus? That forcing statements are written with a double turnstile suggests it was originally intended as a semantics of something; resolution seems to be the neatest proof-theoretic fit to the check of consistency against generic sets (hard to say whether countably transitive models introduce more structure than first-order resolution can account for, though).

UPDATE: The answer to this question is “Duh, no, since forcing creates models of ZF”. Alternate suggestion: perhaps Gentzen’s “reduction rules” for proving the consistency of arithmetic with methods stronger than those of ordinary logic are a better fit.

2) Do Lindström’s theorem and the “standard translation” of modal logics into first-order logic suggest first-order logic is the most expressive complete logic? The “negative translation” of classical logic into intuitionistic logic seems to suggest otherwise, but the completeness of IPC is a thorny thicket. (I must admit ignorance of completeness w.r.t. languages with generalized quantifiers, although they certainly do not fit Lindström’s characterization.)

3) What is the semantical status of cut-elimination proofs? We know by Guessing What Great Logicians Thought that they are not proof-theoretical analogues of completeness proofs, since completeness proofs for sequent calculi (e.g., Kleene’s) do not operate on the same principles. How about soundness? Cut-elimination demonstrates that inferences introduced by an “irregular” procedure, an instance of the cutrule, can be proven using more strictly regimented rules — in other words, that the cut-free rules suffice to justify the Urform of an inference justified any old way (Cut).