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In the City of Roses it is the best of times and it is the worst of times; while the New York Times is “subbing” for the hometown newspaper, things change every day — sometimes they change multiple times in one day. What has not changed is the city’s love for books; although opinion polls put Seattle ahead as “America’s most literate city”, I would defy anyone to find another city in the English-speaking world where as many people are reading books on the streets, riding public transportation, and in cafés. The largest bookstore in the US, the ILWU-organized Powell’s, has been famous nationally for a while now: perhaps a little too famous for those of us in the area, who used to rely on it for “rarities” that are now snapped up by out-of-staters online. And, unfortunately, the care and feeding of such an 800-pound-gorilla is not cheap — the many smaller independent bookstores that dotted the landscape are dwindling, and even the chains are showing signs of wear.

To cap it off Michael Powell’s daughter Emily Powell, who took control of the chain in 2006, has begun to make her mark. The indie-intellectuals of Portland once relied on Powell’s for “high-test” reading material — although in truth the books purveyed were not always “no-knock” — but the Powell’s of today stocks more belletristic material, of the sort that lines shelves in big cities all across the country. Some sections are still world-beating (since the demise of Schoenhof’s, Powell’s foreign language expert Sam Cannon is the man to know if you need to get something untranslated anywhere in the damn country); however, other sections show some decline. How to remedy the lack? I suggest a “high-low” strategy involving Portland’s most venerable bookstore, Cameron’s, and one of its newest, Daedalus.

Cameron’s Books & Magazines has advertised itself as “Portland’s Oldest Bookstore” for as long as I can remember; during my teenage years, I would duck in there to see what was appearing on the cover of magazines I didn’t read and to pick up any bargains — I once got a copy of Matthew Arnold’s Culture and Anarchy for about $4. The vast selection of magazines old and new, plus the bargains, continue today: if Cameron’s stocks it in their small location at the corner of 3rd and Oak downtown, they will charge you roughly 1/2 what Powell’s would for the same book. Their foreign-language selection, though quite mutable, is also interesting — cheap paperbacks and weighty tomes, in a variety of languages and “priced to sell”. NB: Cameron’s is actually run by a man named “Jeff”; no relation.

Daedalus Books, owned by a Mr. Breedlove, is Portland’s only true scholarly bookstore. It stocks some of the latest monographs on various topics, especially philosophy, and contains many classics of ancient and modern thought at attractive prices — I bought a copy of the first volume of Braudel’s The Mediterranean for a very reasonable price, though I have yet to read it. Once a hole in a rent-subsidized apartment building on the South Park Blocks, Daedalus currently occupies a very pleasant space at NW 21st and Flanders; it is easily reached using the 15 line from downtown and disembarking around the Coliseum Fred Meyer. If you are indisposed to make the trip, their full catalogue is available at their ABEbooks website.

A short piece of “pure philosophy” about two related topics, chance and luck. As I define them to some point — however, the point is not the ultimate casting in stone of my personal opinions — “chance” and “luck” are not even coextensive terms, much less “intensionally isomorphic”. Chance has to do with random phenomena in the physical world, and luck deals with “randomness” in the social world. [Although Levi-Strauss wished to broaden this dichotomy to a “trichotomy” including culture, further investigation into this third leg of a stool would not be apt, as there are no happenstances in the realm of culture.]

Relative to our knowledge of the physical world, and any knowledge of the physical world we could ever have, chance as random variation in the order and succession of physical events is a certainty; the rules by which we cope with the physical world we inhabit — in the only way that can be done, by ourselves being physical objects — must be probabilistic. However, the causal closure of the physical world which is equally certain reflects itself in this: there is ultimately no way to win a “contest with nature”; if it looks like you “beat the odds”, you really didn’t — you expended more energy than simply “going with the flow” would have required, or you didn’t really get away with it, because as Lou Reed said “Life is just to die”.

The luck of the social world, however, can be turned to one’s advantage. Since society is ultimately a series of conventions if it is anything — and if it is rules hard-wired into our brains by genetics and learning, it is something — you can be more or less in touch with the conventions of society at a given time, particularly evolving conventions. If you expostulate about some possible phenomenon, and then you see it happening, in truth that’s not stochastic randomness; in society if not in “reality” verum et factum convertuntur (“The true and the made are convertible” — Vico). You “get in where you fit in” because you helped make the mold in the first place; unfortunately, this piece of luck has a downside.

Although we all must die, as the Franklin Mint once memorably told us “not all plates go up in value, some go down”; in fact, any social advantage you enjoy due to “Providence” cost many other people something, potentially a lot. Remember that.

Walter Reuther at the time of the March on Washington

“Chrysler believes there is no reason for withholding complete riding comfort from those who desire the utmost in motoring. Naturally, the basic changes that so definitely influence complete riding comfort are not made at low cost. They cannot be included in all cars in all price groups. But, for you who prefer motor cars that are wholly apart from the commonplace, Chrysler offers for 1934, the utterly distinctive, Floating Ride Airflow Chrysler.”


“There will be nothing to disturb the smoothness of its tear-drop silhouette as it cuts through the air”

Raymond Loewy, “The Evolution of the Motor Car”, Advertising Arts, March 1934, p.39 (quoted in Meikle, Twentieth Century Limited: Industrial Design in America, 1925-1939)

Joseph P. Kamp, Join the CIO and Help Build a Soviet America: A Factual Narrative, Consitutional Education League: New Haven, CT, 1937

Material culled from a series of emails sent on June 17, based on work done a year ago:

It is rather obvious that model theory was invented in the fabulous ’30s, by the man who later coined the term “theory of models” and wrote further works on the topic philosophers don’t read since it “wouldn’t do”. I think the pudding-proof is that the Completeness Theorem — of which Loewenheim-Skolem (a deliciously Teutonic hyphenated name) is a consequence when you really understand what it says — is not really a model-theoretic result.

The model-theoretic idiom in which the completeness theorem was cast (what’s his name and what was he about?) partially conceals that it’s just a consequence of the structure of the first-order proof system; if you doubt this, consider Kalmar’s proof for propositional completeness. We need model theory for limitative results (!) like non-arithmeticality, incompleteness, and maybe even the very unheimlich undecidability theorem (oh, if we cast the problem in that language of “productions” that mysteriously appeared at some point, I guess not).

Recent results suggest a vast preponderance of oracles make P unequal to NP; You Know This. What does this finding in “empirical mathematics” mean? I thought it meant this: the P and NP problem can be solved negatively not only because of the obvious observation about a proposition of n literals having n^2 combinations of stipulatively independent truth-values, but also BECAUSE THE CONTINUUM HYPOTHESIS IS UNSOLVABLE. “Sometimes you can put a 2^aleph-null set (the oracularly solvable SAT) and an aleph-null set in one-one correspondence, but most of the time you can’t.”

What could that even mean? That you are confused when you think you can do this, like people who believe in the Rebus of Picardy ‘cuz they read about it in Vico — or just ‘cuz. The “reducible” set of real cardinality, “solvable SAT”, is fake: if P=NP you already know the answers regarding satisfiability you would otherwise have to work out nondeterministically like any old validity testing in propositional logic, you just don’t know that you know them for whatever reason (including, I suppose, that it is lucrative to be confuséd).

To be crystal-clear about something you already understand better than me, what I am saying is this: it is a reductio that P cannot equal NP because it would mean the end of logic and the end of the world; strictly speaking, the oracles that permit P=NP reduce the level of propositional complexity by one order to the cardinality 2^aleph-null-minus-one, which it is well known is equipollent to aleph-null. This is a husteron proteron. Furthermore, that people who float the idea that 99% of oracles are in the first class and one percent are in the second are in total possession of the true meaning of what they say is dubious: they could be schizophrenic, or in love.

UPDATE 6/29/09-6/30/09: If people are still “curious”, let me give my reply to the objection to P != NP from “oracles”. For those that don’t know, an oracle in computation/recursion theory is a database of computations (states of a Turing machine, or instructions for another model of computation) that a regular computer can “query” and use to determine its next state. Although “oracle machines” can solve problems that unrelativized TMs cannot, like the Halting problem, they stricto sensu do not change the complexity of a problem.

How do oracles touch the question of SAT? Like this: an oracle for a satisfiability-prover is essentially equivalent to quantifiers for a first-order language built upon the sentences of propositional logic being quantified over; a clue as to this is given in the first edition of Hopcroft and Ullman, where the oracle used to “prove” P=NP contains the set of all true quantified Boolean sentences. How can first-order logic and propositional logic interact? Well, the Henkin-style proofs of completeness for first-order logic involve “scapegoat” theories, where every sentence involving quantification is reduced to an existentially quantified sentence and then cashed out in terms of the propositional sentences that satisfy it.

In categorial terms, an oracle is a “subobject classifier” mapping an n-tuple onto a truth-value; as previously mentioned here, adding subobject classifiers to a cartesian closed category (the categorial model of computability) creates an elementary topos capable of modeling first-order logic. What’s the catch for SAT? Firstly, the set of true sentences of predicate logic is recursively enumerable, not recursive: an algorithm can “eventually” produce all its truths, but no algorithm can discover all the sentences invalid in predicate logic.

Secondly, an oracle that can be applied to SAT to make P=NP come out true is, as mentioned above, a device that reduces the complexity of the proposition being considered by one order — putting it within (well within) the class of transfinite numbers with a cardinality equal to that of the natural numbers. I find the most intuitive way to think about this is of an oracle containing the truth-value of every “literal” in the proposition under consideration, which adds just enough “randomness” for the proof procedure to be deterministic and in P from there on out; you could also think of an oracle machine, using quantified formulae, which solved the validity of the SAT sentence’s negation.

Thirdly, as Löwenheim-Skolem (an essential part of Lindström’s Theorem) shows any set of sentences that has a model — that is, an interpretation where all theorems are represented — has a countable model, i.e. one whose elements are recursively enumerable like the natural numbers they correspond to; “richer” models of computation have a level of complexity which is, well, too complex. At any rate, oracles are not enough to override our overwhelming impression that P cannot equal NP; as for “natural proofs” and other recent developments, I like functional and complete propositional logic better than, well…

“I would say that the individuals who went over there were, in the opinion of most Americans, fighting on the wrong side.”

Remark made in Spain c. 1985 by Ronald Reagan, concerning the Abraham Lincoln Brigade


Robert Motherwell, Elegy to the Spanish Republic No. 110, 1971

The central question of Kant’s famous work The Critique of Pure Reason is: “How do you know you’re not already dead?” Kant’s own formulation “How is synthetic a priori knowledge possible?” is less perspicuous for some reason, but as I will explain the basic notion is the same. Now, Kantian idealism about the “realm of appearances” differs from Cartesian skepticism in two ways: even if we don’t really know which is which, waking life and dreams are discontinuous, and the cogito can not provide a foundation for empirical knowledge — Descartes’ answer to that problem in the Meditations, that material objects which can be clearly and distinctly conceived can be created by God, essentially anticipates that of the occasionalists (and suffers from the same drawbacks).

The question of whether I myself have actually ceased to live, and if my current experiences (which seem continuous with those I’ve had over my lifetime) are actually the work of a Creator in an afterlife of some sort, is one that comes to my mind sometimes; I think it’s a question really worth reflecting on, as the seemingly real character of one’s existence is not necessarily a guarantee of its reality. Or is it? Actually, Kant’s basic answer to the question is something like this: “In distinction to a priori truths that must hold in any case possible, the coherence of one’s impressions of physical objects in space — and thoughts about those objects and thoughts about those thoughts through the time of one’s life — is the only possible criterion of experience’s validity, and thusly the foundation of experiential invariants.”

If one’s experiences fail to have a “lawlike” character (perhaps in the moral realm as well as the physical, eh?) they are non-genuine and anything may very well be possible, including that you are dead or losing your mind while dying. However, some people have disputed the neatness of these distinctions, and one might view Hegel’s adaptation of this postulated Kant in the Phenomenology as a way of coping with the fact that “coherentist” accounts of experience are continually being undone by various forces — sometimes quite completely — and the possibility that people are already well on the way to an Elysium he secretly didn’t believe in.

Now for a medical observation. I have felt for some time that the US is not effectively able to cultivate a “culture of health” because it is too beholden to medical professionals, who are beholden to corporate and other interests. The quality of information previously available from medical journalists and interested “laymen” was definitely of variable quality, but in the absence of a proper government health care plan (and of course that means an NHS-style public agency) figuring out what you should do with your health should definitely include thoughts from one’s peers and your own personal observations.

I have taken an interest in the science of HIV disease for a long time, being initially very frightened of it (as most people probably still are), and then at quite a bit of risk for it, and I have an observation to make about the ELISA test (the first-line diagnostic tool for confirming HIV infection). There are newer “rapid” tests today that require less labwork, but I gather they have some of the same problems as ELISA and suspect they have other problems, so I will restrict my comments to ELISA (which is still what most people get).

Compared to tests for diagnosing other STDs, the ELISA test is very good: the standard syphilis test only catches 70% of infections, whereas ELISA eventually detects nearly 100% of HIV antibodies in the bloodstream — and the “window period” after which those antibodies show up when tested has been shrinking for years, thanks to improvements in the test. The test has a slight problem with “false positives”, but the rate is much lower than that of the oral HIV test, and other diagnostic tools like Western Blot and PCR can be used to establish whether HIV is truly present.

All this is widely known — or should be — but here is my observation. The ELISA test is imperfect, and our knowledge of HIV disease is imperfect. But since it is the best diagnostic available for HIV at this time, “worried well” people who do not accept the results of an ELISA test at the time which is “determinative” relative to their risk factors (it’s rather obvious who should determine that, and a determination may be made based on information you provide that you were at no credible risk for transmission and need no test) are medically irrational. Of course it could be wrong, and of course our knowledge of what is happening with HIV could be incomplete. Those are realities of medicine and biology.

However, people who continue to obsess about the possibility of disease after a determinative negative test are failing to understand what medicine can do for them, and their personal responsibilities to others. Whoever you are, you are not so important that science needs to change for you, and it’s pretty dubious that it really can; whoever you are, you are not so important that finite medical resources should be lavishly allocated to fix a problem that the best medical science suggests is not actual, or is possibly actual but beyond us.

Once the healers are done with you, you need to heal yourself and think about who you are and what you owe others in life; get it together and fulfill your obligations to family, friends, country, and humankind. On the other hand, though, people who duck ELISA tests or accept nondeterminative negative tests — or, I guess, good diagnostic results after HIV infection has been confirmed — as “good enough” are medically unrational: they care too much about what other people think — including maintaining other people in the illusion that it would be okay to have risky sex with them. Those people have an obligation to themselves to not have their behavior refract on the aforementioned groups.

That’s how I see it, anyway.

On the other hand, it’s important to maintain some perspective.

Selected casualties for US wars:

Civil War: 620,000 (2% of prewar population)

World War I: 116,708 (.1% of 1917 population)

World War II: 416,800 (.3% of prewar population)

Vietnam: 58,209 (.03% of 1959 population)


Here are selected casualties for other countries:

British World War I deaths: 994,138 (2% of prewar population)

Soviet World War II deaths: 23,100,000 (13% of prewar population)

Vietnamese deaths during the US-backed war: 3,284,000 (10% of prewar population)

Iraqi deaths during US occupation: 100,000-600,000 (.3%-2% of prewar population; 20x-100x US troop deaths)

Thought for the day: perhaps the Minutemen — not the band, or the ultra-right ’60s terrorists, or the contemporary AZ gringos — were so-called because they were both smaller than British soldiers, and they were going to be ready in a minute — it’s also perhaps true they were smaller “on paper”.

And since the Republican theme song “God Bless America” shouldn’t be played in baseball stadiums:

But if Woody (who once wrote a column for the SF Communist newspaper and said concerning this “it was something I always wanted to do”) is not for everybody, here’s an alternate salute to Columbia suitable for people of all faiths.