Friday, July 27, 2007

This has got to be a joke.

Cliff Schecter is taking it seriously, but this article claiming Alberto Gonzales is going to be questioned by YouTube contributors has got to be a joke.

The scary thing is, there's that little voice at the back of the head saying it's just bizarre enough to be true...

[okay, so I lied about being offline until Sunday....]

Offline for a bit

I'd hope to post something this morning but no such luck. I'm probably offline until sometime Sunday.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Why I get disgusted with the media

Let's see what's going on today....

A close aide to the President is going to be subpoenaed... Meanwhile two other aides are cited for contempt of Congress... (Yes, kids, it's a full-blown constitutional crisis we're in....)

There's a call for a special prosecutor to investigate a sitting Attorney General for perjury after his testimony is contradicted by documents and the FBI director...

Evidence of possible sabotage on a project headed for the space station....

The stock market has its second worst day of the year....

And what does CNN think is the most important story of the day? What do they run with as their lead? What do you most need to know about to be a well-informed citizen?

Dogfighting, of course.

And stay tuned for the ever-vital celebrity rehab & arrest update!

Quote of the Day

To date in the war on terrorism, including the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks and all U.S. military personnel killed in action in Afghanistan and Iraq, America's losses total about 2 percent of the forces we lost in World War II and less than 7 percent of those killed in Vietnam. Yet we did not find it necessary to compromise our honor or abandon our commitment to the rule of law to defeat Nazi Germany or imperial Japan, or to resist communist aggression in Indochina. On the contrary, in Vietnam -- where we both proudly served twice -- America voluntarily extended the protections of the full Geneva Convention on prisoners of war to Viet Cong guerrillas who, like al-Qaeda, did not even arguably qualify for such protections.

-- Gen P.X. Kelley (Retired) and Robert F. Turner, today's Washington Post.
[Hat tip: Andrew Sullivan]

Oh my....

CNN is reporting that Leahy says he'll subpeona Rove.

Looks like we may finally get to the bottom of this. Eventually.

There will be a claim of "executive privilege," of course. And it'll have to go through the courts. But it looks as if the dems are finally finding a spine.

About damn time.

The wheels are falling off...

Karma is really bitch-slapping John McCain these days.

He lost his credibility when he started sucking up to the religious right in an attempt to woo the Republican base.

He alienated that base by pushing an immigration bill that infuriated it. (It shouldn't have, the "amnesty" provisions weren't anything close to what they were being made out as in the right-wing media, but in politics, perception is everything.)

And now he can't raise money and more and more top staffers are leaving his campaign.

And I'm not sure he gets it--he seems to be running as the heir apparent, the man who is entitled to the nomination because it's his turn. And usually, that's how the GOP works. They're the party of hierarchy, and the nomination goes to whoever's next in line.

But not this year. And his efforts to pitch himself as "next in line" seem mostly to involve supporting a disastrous military intervention that nobody but a small segment of the base still supports.

At one time, McCain was a man I could respect. I didn't agree with him on much, but I respected him as a man of conviction.

As it turns out, he's just another grasping politician. And not a particularly competent one.


It's not rehab they're making a mockery of...

I suppose the point that 'waltzing' in and out of treatment for a day or so at a time makes it look like you're not taking it seriously is well taken. But I'd argue against saying this makes a mockery of rehab.

They're making fools of themselves. They're not taking their illness seriously (and addiction is a disease of denial, so that's not surprising). And they obviously haven't hit bottom yet. And the thing is, they may still be a long way away from hitting bottom. It takes different things for different people. For some, one or two bad incidents is all it takes. Others have to lose everything.

The honest treatment centers will tell you, there's not much that can be done until the denial is broken through. They can help break through the denial; but the addict's ability to rationalize anything is well-known. It's painful to watch this happening in the tabloids; but I can't say I'm going to lose any sleep over it.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Quote of the day

There once was a man named Alberto/
Whose constitutional knowledge was zippo/
Then he created a mess/
When he lied to Congress/
And now he's headed for Gitmo.

-- Cliff Schecter

Followup: tinfoil hats & probability

The last post said 2/44 and 5/114 were "about what chance would predict" in telling whether a cell tower was on based on subjective feelings. That evaluation is taken from the BBC article linked in that post.

If the tower is on about half the time, a random guess has about a 50/50 chance of being right. In that case, correctly guessing 6 times out of 6 has a probability of 1 in 2 to the 6th power, or 1 in 64.

On the other hand, suppose the tower is on more than half the time; say, three-quarters of the time. Therefore, if you always guessed "on," you'd be right about 3/4 of the time. The probability of guessing correctly six times out of six when you have a 3/4 chance of being right is about 1 in 5.6.

So the probability of guessing correctly is a function of how much of the time the tower is on. And that information (not directly provided in the article) is what tells you whether 2/44 (4.545%) and 5/114 (4.386%) is "about what chance would predict" or not. The similarities of the proportions (4.4 +/- 0.1%) is a pretty good indication they're drawing from the same population, though.

I wonder if a tinfoil hat would help?

A new study in Britain shows that people complaining of "electromagnetic sensitivity" brought on by cell-phone towers report about the same level of symptoms whether the towers are actually broadcasting or not. The symptoms are real--subjects had sweatier skin and higher blood pressure--and symptoms were worse when they were told the towers were on. But when they were not told whether or not the cell towers were transmitting, two (of 44) 'sensitive' subjects correctly identified whether it was on or off in six trials out of six, as did 5 of 114 control cases.

In other words, about what chance would predict.

Again, the symptoms are real--but whatever's causing them isn't the cell towers. I can't help noticing that sweaty skin and higher BP are both symptoms of anxiety.

Naturally, a group of 'electrosensitive' people called "Mast Sanity" denounced the findings:

"Isn't it time that the government woke up to the reality of electrosensitivity instead of attempting to persuade sufferers that it is all in their minds?" said spokeswoman Yasmin Skelt.
Well, um... here's the deal. You're the one claiming this condition exists. That means you have the burden of proof. The symptoms are real, but the evidence so far suggests your attribution of the cause is wrong.

Worth studying some more? Absolutely; this is one study, one piece of evidence. The question is far from fully settled. But hinting at government conspiracies doesn't advance the cause any.

Good news, bad news dept...

So it looks like an anti-terror bill is going to pass, despite the best efforts of the obstructionist GOPpers... Of course, there had to be some changes:

Republicans claimed that some of the initiatives being pushed by Democrats, such as a requirement that all ship containers headed to the United States from overseas be checked for nuclear threats, were impractical and would disrupt global trade.
Oh, well, we can't bother securing the ports if it's going to cost money or inconvenience a corporation....
It cut the guaranteed minimum grant each state would get to about $1.9 million this year from $3.8 million... That allows Homeland Security officials to distribute more discretionary grants to states where the threat and consequences of a terror strike are deemed greatest....Still, the minimum amount set aside for small population states like Wyoming, West Virginia and Montana, is 50 percent higher than the House first proposed when the bill was introduced in January.
That's right, spread those dollars around evenly, particularly to people on the right committees, because the Islamic Menace (TM) will obviously bypass New York or Los Angeles in favor of a 'spectacular' attack against Devil's Tower or Old Faithful....
And they agreed to a Republican request that broad legal coverage be offered to people who report suspicious activity. The measure was inspired by an incident last year in Minneapolis, where six Muslim men were removed from a flight after a passenger complained, which provoked a lawsuit against the passenger.
That's right, give our Faux News viewers the right to complain any time too many of those kinds of people get onto a plane at once.... yeesh...

Twain was right. People who respect the law and like sausage shouldn't watch either one being made.

Revenge of the nerds?

I can't say I'm feeling particularly vengeful, or that the current state of the welfare state feels like an attempt to keep me in my place. (I'm not sure if the article is intended as tongue-in-cheek or not.)

Punchline: Through the lens of the Jock/Nerd Theory of History, the welfare state doesn't look like a serious effort to "equalize outcomes." It looks more like a serious effort to block the "revenge of the nerds" - to keep them from using their financial success to unseat the jocks on every dimension of social status.
Of course, there are enough times through the course of a week that I'm grateful I don't live in a hunter-gatherer society, I'm not sure I'd be all that upset even if it was. I'm also not sure that the "nerds rule the modern world" theme is accurate. After all, as I tell my students, it's not the technologists who get rich, it's the ones who turn the technology into a business. Be nice to the suits, they're the ones signing your paycheck. Bill Gates is a brilliant businessman, but a mediocre (at best) technologist. Jobs is brilliant in design and marketing (especially marketing himself, but that's another rant for another day), not tech.

One of the comments on the article mentions the Coward/Thug theory of history as well...which, when you stop to think about it, also has some evidence to recommend it:

Females may be impressed by brave behavior, but too much bravery will lead, on average, to a shorter life span. The cowards who ran away from danger but survived will be left to spread their genes and the thugs who killed the brave or stole their women will also be around.
And so it goes...

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Perhaps I was too optimistic...

It appears the torture memorandum doesn't prohibit much after all, and opens a new set of loopholes.

"No prince ever lacked excuses to cover his bad faith." --Machiavelli

Quote of the day


"I believe very strongly that there is no place for political considerations in the hiring of our career employees or in the administration of justice... Since I have never been one to quit, I decided that the best course of action was to remain here and fix the problems. That is exactly what I am doing." -- Alberto Gonzales, in prepared remarks to Congress today.

You can't make this stuff up. You really can't.

More "ain't it the truth...."

Having come out of the public schools in Kansas, this is all too true... You can be taught, but nothing that might interfere with prejudices or local bigotry. Maybe my particular small town was atypical in that regard, but I doubt it. University was such a surprise, when it turned out so much of what I'd been taught was either subtly wrong or quietly ignored such large chunks of inconvenient truth....

[Hat tip: P. Z. Myers]

Monday, July 23, 2007

Oh, that explains it...

Russians can drink so much because they have a special enzyme that helps them process alcohol faster. And, as it turns out, alcohol in moderation can help prevent radiation sickness!

Quote of the day:

Taking into account that moderation is not a popular concept in this country [i.e. Russia], I’d like to stress the point that alcohol abuse leads to alcoholism....

I think that's something of an understatement.

But if you can't believe Pravda, who can you believe?

"Separate but equal" didn't work before, and it's not working now.

So is domestic partnership really equivalent to marriage? Um, no.

Not by a long shot.

This is an issue I've gone back and forth on, mostly about the question of whether marriage is even a viable model for gay couples, whether it's something one should aspire to.

But I'd like to have the ability to decide for myself. Not some half-assed watered down alternative that's supposed to provide just enough to keep everyone quiet and in their place on the back of the bus. And not something that involves putting my rights up to a vote.

"This is not about gay or lesbian," Garber said. "This is about the law being fair."

I was listening to Le Tigre this afternoon. As I recall (the CD is still in my car and I don't feel like going out to get it):

"Because they will try to convince us that we have already arrived. That we are already there. That it has happened."

We haven't arrived, we're not there, and it sure as hell hasn't happened. Don't tell me it has when I can see plain as day that it hasn't.

I may shut up about that someday. But not today.

Better a "religious" fake than an honest atheist

BBC: Must the US President believe in God?

As a practical matter of electability, yes.

Gordon Allport did a study many years back about religiosity. By polling regular attendees of religious services about why they attended, he found they fell into three broad categories. The intrinsically oriented attended services for emotional comfort, inspiration, and an inner feeling of closeness to the Divine. The extrinsically oriented attended as a social outlet, means of making business contacts, being active in their community, etc. For these people, the 'intrinsic' benefits were secondary. The third group, the indiscriminately pro-religious, tended to agree with any statement in favor of religion and disagree with any statement critical of it. So, for example, given the statements:

a. Going to church is a good way to make business contacts.
b. Going to church is a good way to improve one's personal morality.

An extrinsically-oriented person will agree with a and disagree with b.
An intrinsically-oriented person will agree with b and disagree with a.
An indiscriminately pro-religious person will agree with both.

(Incidentally, neither of those statements are actually taken from the instrument Allport used; I just made up the example for illustration.)

Anyway...the electorate appears to be indiscriminately pro-religious. As long as a candidate is seen as religious, and that commitment is seen as sincere, they're seen as acceptable. ("The key is sincerity. Once you learn to fake that, you've got it made.") Any candidate who said "I'm really not sure about the whole God thing" wouldn't make it past the primary. Heck, they wouldn't be able to raise enough funds to make it to the primary. Either party.

Actual attendance at services isn't required; Reagan hardly ever went to church. But he was seen as believing, whether he went public with it or not. Likewise, Joe Lieberman's Orthodox Judaism was seen as a plus.

Of course, only certain religions count. Romney is getting some heat because of his Mormonism (though my impression is that he's getting more because of his flip-flopping on the issues). There's probably a large chunk of the Republican base who simply will not vote for a Mormon, period.

And likewise, I can't help wondering how well a candidate would do who was a proudly observant Muslim. Given our current polity, my impression is...not too well. After all, when we have a large chunk of the punditocracy keeping the base riled up about the Islamic Menace (TM), I can't help thinking it'd have an effect.

But as it stands now, no admitted atheist could be elected. The Constitution is specific, there can be "no religious test" for any government office or post. But in practice, only the religious, or those willing to pretend they are religious and good enough liars to pull it off, need apply.

Not that there's anything new here, of course. Machiavelli said a prince must not be religious, because religious scruples can get in the way of doing what must be done, and a religious prince will take more advice from the Church than he should. But a prince should make it a point to appear religious, as the populace is more likely to go along with someone they believe is pious, no matter how impious his private deeds or public policies may be.

Application of this observation to our current administration is left as an exercise for the student.

Aint it the truth...

You'll be missed, Doug Marlette....

Sunday, July 22, 2007

All your security belong to us.

As it turns out, if you have WinXP SP2 or Vista and want to take control of security yourself, specifically by revoking a root certificate for some reason....well, it turns out that you can't. It's silently "restored" for you, whether you want it to be or not, and you can't turn that behavior off.

The Redmond response is the usual "We have nothing to say" stonewall.

This is the last Windows computer I'm going to own. There are a couple of programs (games) that are Windows only and are painfully sluggish in WiNE, but playing those games isn't worth the security hassles of Windows, and it certainly isn't worth the continual and unavoidable attitude that Redmond knows better than I do what I want to do with my computer. If I'm mucking around with revoking the root certificates, then either a) I don't know what I'm doing, and deserve whatever happens, including getting to learn how to manually restore the certs, or b) I do know what I'm doing, in which case I don't want or need the OS 'fixing' it for me.

In a way I suppose I should be grateful to Microsoft. They're making the decision to switch to Linux very easy.

Found another article for the ethics course

One of the advantages of teaching a course in professional ethics is that it lets me take an occasional step back and try to look at the big picture. And, in the process of teaching the course, expose my students to some of the bigger questions, including how we even make ethical and moral decisions, and the interplay between ethics, law, and public policy.

Steve Pinker in the Chicago Sun-Times has an article about 'dangerous ideas;' ideas that (quoting from the comments to the comments at Reason mag):

the kind of idea Pinker is talking about has at least some supporting evidence from a non-crackpot advocate. However, the claim (not that is is necessarily true, of course) is such that discussing it tends to be shunned by many people for reasons not related to the actual research or facts.

Yes, I think we've just found something else for the "this ought to generate some good discussion" file... Good stuff. Well worth reading.

[Hat tip: Andrew Sullivan]