Friday, August 30, 2013

Light Blogging

Probably light blogging for awhile. Bunch of stuff has dropped in my lap suddenly.

But...if anybody can think of a defense of Obama's apparent decision to not seek Congressional approval to strike all means, pass that along...because it seems baffling and indefensible to me...

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Fifty Years After March On Washington, Economic Gap Between Blacks and Whites Persists

Probably senseless to link to the WaPo.--it's not like you all didn't see this.  But just in case you missed it, I recommend it.

The problem is worse than I thought...and I thought it was pretty bad.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Scourge of Gerrymandering

"The Congressional Process Is Broken--We Can Fix It"

If I had two political wishes they'd probably be: campaign finance reform and ending gerrymandering...

Silence is Sexist

Jesus, now they're just intentionally publishing stupid shit to get more hits...

 "...the expectation that one can work in pin-drop quiet feels very … male..."

This really is just off-the-scale stupid. 

And that's the main problem--that it's butt-ass stupid. It doesn't have to be counterproductive to the cause of equality to be reprehensible. Being stupid makes things reprehensible.

However...this kind of casual dumbassery involving moronic accusations of sexism IS counterproductive. Speaking for myself, the more I run into such stupidity, the more irksome I find accusations of sexism in general. I've basically come to just expect that the majority of accusations of sexism I come across will be unfounded...and that a non-trivial percentage of them will be outright nonsense.  

So look..even if you have no respect for the truth, and no contempt for should at least care that such crap hurts people who need to make genuine, non-idiotic claims to the effect that something is sexist... Get it?

(via /r/tumblrinaction, I think...)

Obama Orders Release of Report Justifying Air Strike in Syria


Goddamn it.

I don't see any alternative to moving this option onto the table in a serious way.

Brace yourselves...  Obama sucks because he is just Bush and this is his Iraq is about to replace the previous internet favorite Obama sucks because he said that chemical weapons were a red line and then ignored it when they were used...

[via Reddit]

More Evidence for Warm-Blooded Dinosaurs?

Comet Ison Looking Like a Disappointment


Once predicted to be brighter than the full moon at perihelion, it now looks like comet Ison might not even be visible to the naked eye.

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Onion: Why Was Miley Cyrus CNN's Top Story This Morning?

Because sucks, as do its readers.

Hardly a surprising conclusion...but well said anyway...

(h/t S. rex)

Why Does US Health Care Cost So Much?

According to this examination of 352 California hospitals, overbilling plays a surprisingly important and complicated role.

Swedish Gets a New Pronoun / Gendermania!

I've long thought that it was weird that English has no non-sex-specific (ungendered? What's the term? "gender-neutral isn't right, despite the fact that people say it...) singular third-person personal pronoun. (Er...what the hell is 'one'? It seems nonspecific with respect to number in a way that 'he' and 'she' aren't...) It would sure make philosophy easier if we had one...

Sadly, all the proposed ones sound really, really stupid, and the people who push for them are frequently insufferable...  But that doesn't mean that it wouldn't be good to have such a word.

Well, turns out Sweden has introduced one.

I'm absolutely all for trying to take the edges off society's efforts to push gender onto people. It's a weird thing, all that... I mean, anyone who thinks that it's all going to go away has apparently never met any humans... It's not going away. There will always be some tendency of males to be more masculine and females to be more feminine. Assertions to the effect that it's all "socially constructed," as usual, fail to rise even to the level of falsehood; they're so multiply ambiguous and otherwise unclear to be rather closer to nonsense. Which is not to say that society doesn't push people to act differently on the basis of their sex...because, well, of course it does. But that claim is perfectly clear and intelligible..

Sadly, a fair number of people seem to overshoot that fairly modest and (according to me) reasonable position and become weird-ass anti-gender warriors:
The Green Party has even suggested placing "gender pedagogues" in every preschool in Stockholm, the Swedish capital, who can act as watchdogs. But of course toddlers cannot weigh arguments for and against linguistic interventions and they do not conceive of or analyze gender roles in the way that adults do.  
Ironically, in the effort to free Swedish children from so-called normative behavior, gender-neutral proponents are also subjecting them to a whole set of new rules and new norms as certain forms of play become taboo, language becomes regulated, and children's interactions and attitudes are closely observed by teachers. One Swedish school got ridof its toy cars because boys "gender-coded" them and ascribed the cars higher status than other toys. Another preschool removed "free playtime" from its schedule because, as a pedagogue at the school put it, when children play freely "stereotypical gender patterns are born and cemented. In free play there is hierarchy, exclusion, and the seed to bullying." And so every detail of children's interactions gets micromanaged by concerned adults, who end up problematizing minute aspects of children's lives, from how they form friendships to what games they play and what songs they sing.
What the hell, Sweden? "Gender pedagogues?" Big Sibling is watching you...

Leave it to the Swedish Greens to make the American Republicans look downright sane...

This is the sort of thing I'd rather leave to the culture to sort out, rather than having the government stick its oar in. In the U.S., anyway, we've made amazing progress with respect to this sort of thing in the last fifty years. Conservatives are right about some things, after all. Here is a case in which certain seeds have been planted, and we should (to mix metaphors) sit back and see how things evolve. If reasonable arguments get traction, I'd imagine that what we'll have in another fifty years is a society that is less prone to enforce arbitrary rules on people, including arbitrary rules of personal deportment, including arbitrary rules about how masculine or feminine one ought to be. Gender--masculinity and femininity--will never go away. Males and females will always cluster toward different ends of that spectrum. But we'll probably see less pressure on people to act in ways they don't necessarily find natural or aesthetically pleasing. We can do that a lot more reasonably and organically, however, without Big Sibling telling us what we can and can't say.

But...I do really wish someone could come up with a non-sex specific third-person singular pronoun that didn't sound stupid as hell...

Top Ten Most Inaccurate/Exaggerated Guardian NSA Stories


Funny, I'd never heard of the Daily Banter until I met someone who writes for them at a party last weekend.

Anyway...  It's not that I'm not concerned about PRISM and XKEYSCORE and all the's that I'm encountering a lot of hysteria and exaggeration about it all, and I'm focusing right now on cutting through that crap in an attempt to figure out how concerned I should really be...

Any assistance anyone can offer will be much appreciated.

Benford's Law

Benford's Law, also called the First-Digit Law, refers to the frequency distribution of digits in many (but not all) real-life sources of data. In this distribution, the number 1 occurs as the leading digit about 30% of the time, while larger numbers occur in that position less frequently: 9 as the first digit less than 5% of the time. This distribution of first digits is the same as the widths of grid-lines on a logarithmic scale. Benford's Law also concerns the expected distribution for digits beyond the first, which approach a uniform distribution.
This result has been found to apply to a wide variety of data sets, including electricity bills, street addresses, stock prices, population numbers, death rates, lengths of rivers, physical and mathematical constants, and processes described by power laws (which are very common in nature). It tends to be most accurate when values are distributed across multiple orders of magnitude.
I didn't understand any of the proposed explanations...

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

In case you civilians don't know about the best philosophy resource on the web, let me introduce you to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

The entries are consistently good, they're typically written by people with exceptional expertise with respect to the topic, and they're revised every couple of years.

It really is a great resource.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

This Day In The History of Labor: The Battle of Blair Mountain


A fight that deserves to be more famous...

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Kevin Drum on What to Think about Snowden

As usual, I agree with Drum. Snowden probably deserves to be prosecuted...but judiciously. Which is to say, among other things: not for espionage. However what he did probably needed to be done in some way or other, else we'd have continued to be in the dark about government surveillance.

I haven't paid as much attention as I should have to the case, but that's basically my tentative view at present.

It is weird, of course, to think that he did a good thing but still deserves prosecution. I'm not sure how to resolve the tension...but, then, neither was Thoreau, and neither was MLK...

The Single Stupidest Thing You'll Read This Week: "Barack Obama, The First Woman President"

Because the worst thing you can be is a woman, amirite?

If I'm bored later, I'm going to shred the shit out of this, just for the fun of it.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Pro Publica FAQ: What You Need To Know About NSA Surveillance Programs

The NSA Makes 600,000+ Database Queries Per Day


Holy crap indeed...

Monday, August 19, 2013

Comment Woes / Fixed

Yo, turns out I was not getting email notifications for comments...for, like, more than 3 weeks. There were lots of interesting ones, and they should be published now.

Also, I no longer rely on Bloggers crappy email notifications, but publish them straight from the Blogger dashboard, so this shouldn't be a problem henceforth.

Friday, August 16, 2013


I spent much of yesterday at the Marine Corps War College at Marine Corp University at Quantico, talking to a really impressive group (mostly Marine Corps Colonels, but some participants from the other branches of the service, from the DIA and other intelligence services, and some representatives from foreign militaries and intelligence services) about improving reasoning. Afterwards I got a personal tour of the Marine Corps Museum by one of the MCWAR faculty. I was offered a tour of the rest of the base, and I was incredibly psyched to do it, but had gotten virtually no sleep the night before, and was still facing a long drive home, so I had to decline.

It seems to me that they're doing really interesting and important things at MCWAR. The participants were sharp and good-natured, they were genuinely interested in hearing suggestions about better reasoning strategies, and the things I heard about the rest of the curriculum were extremely impressive. They have classes on civilian-military relations, discussions of how to think about and what to do in cases in which they disagree with their commanders, and a significant number of classes on humanitarian obligations--just war theory, obligations to intervene, classes discussing what our obligations might be in Syria, and so on. At one point I thought Jeez, it's as if someone rather suspicious of the military designed the curriculum... That's heartening and impressive, IMO. 

At any rate, I went away with a very favorable impression of MCWAR.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Does Fossil Water Use Exacerbate Climate Change?


This is a pretty compelling hypothesis.

Nine American Cities Running Out of Water



Yet another--and another population-related--problem the is easier to mitigate if you start addressing it before it becomes a crisis. There are all sorts of things that can be done to decrease residential water-use...and if you're going to live in a big city built in a desert, you need to realize that you're going to have to make some compromises.

Instead, of course, we'll just hope for some technological solution, no matter how costly.

Friday, August 09, 2013

The Banach-Tarski Paradox

For your enjoyment....

Glenn Beck: Still Batshit Crazy (Bonus: Left Crazy vs. Right Crazy!)

Just checking in on Glenn Beck...

Oh yeah. Still cray-cray...

This guy, like Limbaugh, seems largely motivated by a kind of inertia he builds up when blabbering... It's rather like he just enjoys the sound of his own voice...but IMO there's something more there...something that's a bit like...well, such interpretations are dicey, but here's what I'm going to suggest: he is in love with the idea of being some kind of prophet or scholar or something...someone who sees farther and knows more...  He wants to be that guy...though he has none of the requisite abilities. Such people are supposed to be driven by their ideas or insights, and their passion is supposed to follow from their recognition of something important they have come to understand. Beck, he just likes the trappings of insight. He likes to talk the talk, even though there's no walk there to, as it were...  He doesn't know much, he isn't that smart, he's not particularly perceptive, he hasn't achieved any special insight...but he wants to be the guy who gets to act that way. He likes the cadences, he's in love with passionate speaking itself, even when he really has nothing to say. Limbaugh's roughly on the same page, though with fewer aspirations to prophet-dom, and...I dunno...maybe more of an aspiration to be the crotchety, Eric Hoffer-esque blue collar scholar...

Or something.

There's a fine line between hypothesis-formation and bullshitting...

Anyway, dude is crazy. Hard to say anything much more definite about it...

Oh, and: as for my general view that the American lefty-left is, though less dangerous than the right, pound-for-pound crazier...yeah, well...that theory has a rather hard time dealing with Glenn Beck...  I guess I could plead outlier...but that seems ad hoc and shifty...

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Lady GaGa Pisses Off Idiots All Over The Political Spectrum

(slightly NSFW)

Wow...I'm not a fan, but you've kinda gotta respect somebody who can so effectively piss of the far-right Neanderthals and the barking moonbats of the lefty-left at the same time...

It's easy to see why religious fundamentalists of a certain stripe are pissed off. By why the left? Why, it's the new sin of "cultural appropriation," [1] of course! You see, everything Westerners do is wrong, wrong, wrong, and all cultures--except, of course, Western culture--must be revered. It is offensive something something to borrow anything from another culture because bullshit bullshit bullshit...


The lefty-left has little real power in the U.S., so they aren't nearly as dangerous as the right... But it's not for lack of trying. For my money, pound for pound, the far left is crazier than the far right. For one thing, the right basically has its crazy story and it's sticking to it... You know where you stand with them. They like God, guns, the military, and rich people. They hate sex, uppity wimmins, atheists, eggheads, and suchlike.  The left, however, loves making up new crazy shit all the time. They in particular like manufacturing new sins. It used to be obligatory to borrow lots of things from other cultures lest you be insufficiently multicultural or, heaven forfend, ethnocentric. Now borrowing from other cultures is verboten. (Oops...there I went again, appropriatin' again...) Well, it's verboten for, y'know, Westerners, white people...the usual suspects. But, uh, not, you know, anybody else...

When you find yourself defending burkas, you really do need to reassess your flipping position.

If anything ever needed to be ridiculed mercilessly, it's the goddamned burka.

[Incidentally, if you want to read some really super-duper incoherent nonsense about all this, Metafilter is happy to oblige...  If you want to read interesting discussions about, say, H. P. Lovecraft or the Misfits or bagpipes or, well, all kinds of stuff, MeFi is a good place to go...  But when stuff like this comes up, MeFi turns into a slightly-more-adult version of Tumblr. The astonishing incoherence of some of this stuff just blows me away.]

[1] Yes, yes...I realize that's a link to Jezebel...  Yes, I realize that's not a serious source. But of course no serious sources are going to whine about this... this link! It may very well be the stupidest thing you read on the interwebs this week. It's got everything..."privilege"..."appropriation"...and many, many more idiotic buzzwords!

Obama to Bestow Presidential Medal of Freedom On Dean Smith


This is great, and obviously much-deserved.

Some rare good news for Carolina hoops these days...

[h/t The Mystic]

Yglesias on BRT (Bus Rapid Transit)


Would dedicating a lane to buses really be anything like efficient? What do buses hold, like 50 people? How long does it take cars carrying a total of 50 people to pass through one point in a lane? Unless buses are coming by ever, like, 5 minutes, I don't see any gain in throughput...

But that's just raising a question, really. I don't know anything about this stuff.

Resisting Rape is an Effective Strategy


Women are often told that they should not attempt to fight back against rapists, but actual data shows that being verbally aggressive in response to rape attempts, running away and fighting back are all surprisingly effective strategies:

Passive strategies (e.g. pleading) basically don't work at all.


"Forceful verbal resistance, including yelling and loud screaming, was more effective than non-forceful verbal resistance. These strategies were associated with completion of rape from 44% - 50% of the time."


"Running worked even better than verbal resistance. Although researchers who relied on rape crisis center records and police records report a 55% rape completion rate against those who attempted to flee, broader studies … indicate that only 15% of women who attempted to flee were raped. Running was also associated with a lower rate of injury."


"Forceful physical resistance was an extremely successful strategy. The completed rape rate dropped to between 45% and 14% [to at least 45% and as low as 14%] when the rapist's attempt was met with violent physical force. Striking was more successful than pushing or wrestling. Physical resistance also appears to be more effective when assault occurs outdoors."

I strongly suggest reading the whole post. It's extremely clear and concise, short, interesting, and informative.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

The Chelyabinsk Meteor May Have Siblings...


(via Metafilter)

Republicans Try to Name Even More Shit After Demigod Ronoldus Magnus


This time it's water...

Monday, August 05, 2013

Did Greenwald Get XKeyscore Wrong? (And Did He Do So Intentionally?)

I've largely been fretting silently about the ongoing NSA revelations...

But here's Charles Johnson at LGF pointing us to this by Joshua Foust, claiming that Greenwald's reporting is misleading. Foust and Johnson claim that Greenwald has only shown that the NSA has the capacity to do the things in question, but that he systematically suggests that it is actually doing those things. Johnson thinks that this aspect of Greenwald's reporting is so pervasive that it has to be intentionally misleading.

I find even the capacities in question rather alarming...but that's a topic for a different time...

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Testosterone And Cooperation in Women


Giving women more of the male hormone testosterone can turn them into fairer and more amiable game players, according to tests.

A single dose of testosterone was enough to have this effect, European scientists found, but only if the woman was oblivious to the treatment.
If she realised she had received the hormone and not a dummy drug, she turned to greed and selfishness.

The work in Nature magazine suggests the mind can win over hormones.
Testosterone induces anti-social behaviour in humans, but only because of our own prejudices about its effect rather than its biological activity, suggest the authors.

They believe the same is true in men, although they only studied women. 
 One study...and it's hard to tell what is really going on from this report...and I find it pretty hard to believe... Except for being able to "win [out?] over hormones," which is clearly true...


A Tragic Story As Object Lesson

I suppose it would be trite at best to point out that this is awful:
A 35-year-old media executive on a first date plunged to her death Thursday after the railing on her 17th-floor New York City balcony gave way, police said.

Jennifer Rosoff went outside for a cigarette around 12:50 a.m. when she either sat on the railing or leaned on it. Her date told her that she probably shouldn't do it, and then moments later, she apparently fell backward and landed on construction scaffolding at the first floor, authorities said. Police spoke to the man and no foul play was suspected.
It's a tragic story, though I probably wouldn't comment on it if not for a small dust-up about it.

You might want to read over it again quickly.

Perfectly straight-forward reporting, right?

Though the event itself is terrible, it's a story about the reporting that caught my eye.

One L. V. Anderson at Slate's XX Factor writes:
Let’s break this down. According to the AP, the crucial facts you need to know about Rosoff right off the bat are that:

1. She was 35 and single.
 2. She was a smoker.
 3. She invited a man back to her apartment late at night on a first date.
 4. The man warned her not to lean against the balcony, but she did it anyway.

The implication being that this smoking slut totally had it coming. A reader is left with the distinct impression that if Rosoff hadn’t invited her date inside, hadn’t gone outside to smoke a cigarette, and hadn’t defied the advice of the wise and logical man she was with, she would still be alive. According to the AP story’s subtext, the problem wasn’t that Rosoff’s balcony railing was shoddy and unsafe—it was that Rosoff defied gender norms by being unmarried at 35, by being sexually liberal, and by insisting on making her own decisions instead of deferring to men’s logic.
This is what we call "making shit up." It's a blatantly false accusation of sexism. There is absolutely nothing sexist about the original story. It's straight-up accurate reporting. There is no sexism and no hint of sexism in it.

Who, for the love of God, thinks that there is anything in any way notable about someone being unmarried at the age of 35? Or, y'know, any age? Where, in the original story, is there any hint of disapproval about the date? What even vaguely sane person could read this story and think that the conclusion was supposed to be "this smoking slut" [sic] "had it coming"???

This Anderson's essay is flat-out delusional.

It's appalling that people can get away with this type of nonsense. Sexism is a serious vice. And the more serious a transgression, the more serious are accusations thereof. Accusations of bigotry are serious. And irresponsible accusations are correspondingly serious.

Unfortunately, many on the left are extremely permissive about false accusations of racism and sexism. There is often a kind of guilty unless proven innocent mentality. In fact, the only criticism commonly allowed is that false accusations "hurt the movement" by driving people away. It's true that they do, but that is of secondary importance. Of primary importance is that it is wrong to falsely (and/or irresponsibly) accuse someone of doing something wrong. 

I know I harp on this, but there is irrationality on the left that is every bit as deep-rooted and pernicious as the irrationality on the right. It's important that liberals recognize it, reject it and criticize it. What Anderson writes is utter hogwash, and deserves to be widely ridiculed. I have no doubt that it will be ridiculed on the right...but I'll frankly be a bit surprised if it receives the ridicule it deserves from liberals. I hope I'm wrong...

Well, more thing...  How on earth did Anderson write the following with a straight face?:

If Rosoff "hadn’t defied the advice of the wise and logical man she was with, she would still be alive."


Rosoff insisted on "making her own decisions instead of deferring to men’s logic."

Look, you idiot...  As a matter of fact, the guy was right. And, in fact, his advice was not accidentally right, but eminently reasonable. Rosoff should, in fact, not have sat on a flimsy railing on the 17th floor. Nobody is blaming her for it, but it's an interesting feature of the situation that she had just been advised not to do it before the railing gave way. No one is ever going to leave that part out of the story not matter what sex the participants are. The guy was right--men are, sometimes, right, Ms. Anderson. And a good point is a good point, and sound advice is sound advice, even if the person making the point or giving the advice has a penis, and the other person does not. Snarky nonsense about "men's logic" are stupid enough under normal circumstances...but in this case the comments are astonishingly, pathetically idiotic.

 I imagine the following scene:

Fade in on L. V. Anderson smoking while putting gas in her car.

Enter, a male.

Male: "Oh, wow, you do realize that it's really dangerous to smoke while you are pumping gas, right? The fumes can ignite..."

L. V. Anderson: I have had just about enough of your mansplaining! Enough trying to prevent me from making my own decisions by assaulting me with your male logic!

[Suddenly, the fumes ignite, and Anderson is consumed by flames.]

L. V. Anderson: Oh, now I suppose you're going to say "I told you so"? I suppose you're going to try to say that I'd still be un-immolated if I'd have listened to your mansplanation. You think that you were right and I was wrong. Oh, big rational man! Silly woman doesn't know how gas works! Right? RIGHT????  Stop trying to oppress me, shitlord!

Fade out...

Jeez, what an embarrassment.

Saturday, August 03, 2013

'Citizen' and 'Brown-Bag' Now Allegedly Offensive in Seattle

link (via Reddit/r/tumblrinaction)

If you don't care that this is stupid, then care that this kind of stupidity drives sane people farther to the right.

And while you're at it, care that it's stupid.