Thursday, July 31, 2008

10 dumb things McCain has espoused

From this Crooks and Liars post, which has documentation.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

When you add Nader and Barr, Obama has double-digit lead

Via Bowers, we have this graph from Pollster.com:

It shows Obama at 49.6% and McCain at 38.1%, whereas their chart without third parties has Obama at 46.4% and McCain at 42.3%. Given that the presence of third-party candidates seems to be benefiting Obama, Bowers thinks Obama should debate Nader and Barr to raise their profiles:

The answer, I think, is just to debate them. Next month, Obama should propose including Barr, Nader and McKinney in one of the presidential debates. This seems like a no-brainer that would benefit Obama no matter what McCain said in response:

  • Obama could frame the proposal as looking for discussion and solutions from all parties. Given that both he and McCain are trying to look bi- / post- / non-partisan, making this proposal is any easy way to back up that narrative.
  • If McCain accepts, then he is once again following Obama's lead. If he declines, then he looks chicken, not to mention unwilling to debate people with a wide range of viewpoints.
  • The third-party candidates will be the undoubted beneficiaries of a debate where they are included. Neither of the major party candidates can hope to gain as much from the debates as the third-party candidates. For example, consider how Perot's numbers shot way up after he first appeared in a debate back in 1992. Further, they will all probably receive a large influx in donations, thus helping them maintain their gains in the debates.
  • Even if the debate ends up only being Obama and the third-party candidates, it will still receive an enormous amount of coverage that will improve the standing of Nader, Barr and McKinney. The cable news nets will carry it live, even if the networks don't. Even news organization will run a top story on the debates.
In short, whether or not McCain accepts the debate, it will still receive a wave of free media that will help Nader and Barr (and maybe McKinney) in the polls. And, as the above numbers indicate, this election simply isn't close when Nader and Barr have decent showings in the polls. Further, just proposing the debate will make Obama look open to discussion from all quarters. There is nothing to be lost here, and a lot to gain.
Many of Bower's commenters disagree. I think perhaps this early in the race, 3rd party support is over-stated. But the Ron Paul folks may go for Libertarian Barr, and they are a highly-motivated group of people and I bet there are enough to make a difference.

McCain is doomed, part (very high number)

Obama is out-fundraising McCain...in Idaho:
Through June 30, Idahoans gave $375,586 to Barack Obama, the Democrats' presumptive presidential nominee. Presumptive GOP nominee John McCain received $228,938.
via mcjoan on DailyKos.

UU Church shooter's ex-wife used to be a member of the church

There is a connection between the perpetrator of the church shootings in Tennessee and the church he chose: his ex-wife had been a member of that church:
[murderer] Adkisson's ex-wife, Liza Alexander of Powell, was a former long-time member of the church, congregant Barbara Kemper said today.
Sad sad sad.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Are nonfiction books too long?

This Kevin Drum post reminded me of something that I've often thought:
[...]spending a lot of time on the internet, as I have since 2002, has rubbed my nose in something that hadn't really bothered me before then: namely just how overwritten so many books and magazine articles are. Seymour Hersh? He's great. You could also cut every one of his pieces by at least 50% and lose exactly nothing. And I'm not picking on Hersh. At a guess, I'd say that two-thirds of the magazine pieces I read could be sliced by nearly a third or more without losing much. That's true of a lot of books too.
The thought I've often had is, "This book has a really good idea in it. But the author really only needed 20 pages to do the idea justice. The rest is just padding because the market for 200 page books is more favorable than the market for 20 page essays."

People have expectations about how long things should be, and people are loathe to violate them. I'd have second thoughts about going to a feature film that was only 58 minutes long, or reading a blog post that was 27 pages.

I think the solution is to find the right medium for what you want to say. Or make any padding so fun to read that people don't mind that you've essentially made your point already.

Mass Shooting in Tennessee Unitarian Church

My thoughts go out to the people of Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church. There was a horrible shooting there and 2 people have died. The shooter was tackled and captured. No motive established yet. I heard about this on the BBC news as well as on the Kos diary I link to. There's a news article here.

Update: It turns out the shooter was politically motivated, and also frustrated about unemployment. Here's knoxnews.com:

The shotgun-wielding suspect in Sunday’s mass shooting at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church was motivated by a hatred of “the liberal movement,” and he planned to shoot until police shot him, Knoxville Police Chief Sterling P. Owen IV said this morning.

Jim D. Adkisson, 58, of Powell wrote a four-page letter in which he stated his “hatred of the liberal movement,” Owen said. “Liberals in general, as well as gays.”

[...]

Owen said Adkisson specifically targeted the church for its beliefs, rather than a particular member of the congregation.

“It appears that church had received some publicity regarding its liberal stance,” the chief said. The church has a “gays welcome” sign and regularly runs announcements in the News Sentinel about meetings of the Parents, Friends and Family of Lesbians and Gays meetings at the church.

The church’s Web site states that it has worked for “desegregation, racial harmony, fair wages, women’s rights and gay rights” since the 1950s. Current ministries involve emergency aid for the needy, school tutoring and support for the homeless, as well as a cafe that provides a gathering place for gay and lesbian high-schoolers.

This is very disturbing to me, of course. It's going to make me worry about going to church. I suspect there's less resentment for liberal, gay-friendly religious institutions in the San Francisco Bay Area than in Knoxville, Tennessee. But that church had very good relations with the community and with other churches in the area.

I wonder if we're going to see more of this: it's becoming more and more clear that anti-gay sentiment is becoming less and less accepted in the public sphere. This might make people who hold these beliefs feel more besieged and threatened.

The same might be said for the strain of Republicanism that has been ascendant: I think Obama's popularity is going to bring a lot of heretofore hidden resentment up to the surface. While this is probably necessary, I hope there isn't too much violence. I hope there isn't any violence.

Update 2: another irony pointed out by this DailyKos commenter:
This guy's food stamps were reduced and he blames the "liberals?" People who are poor and unhealthy are helped when Democrats are in office and hurt terrible when Rethugs are in office (ok, Bill Clinton screwed up welfare, I know). But usually people like this guy vote against their own self-interest because Rovaian politics keeps them focused on them "gays" or them other "liberal" immoral people.
Among the grievances in the shooter's letter were that he couldn't get a job and that his food stamps were being reduced. So he decided to blame liberals. The level of political ignorance that exists in some places is pretty astounding. I thought we were moving beyond that What's the Matter with Kansas? stuff. But this incident has rocked me back on my heels a bit.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

McCain, Obama, and Maliki

Atrios:
Maliki likes Obama's timeline.

McCain likes Maliki's timeline.

McCain thinks Obama's timeline will cause the destruction of America as we know it.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Botox for bridesmaids

Two worrying trends in our culture, spending too much on weddings and spending too much on elective cosmetic procedures, come together:
AFTER the band was chosen and the napkins color-coordinated to match her shoes, Kacey Knauer, a bride-to-be, had another critical matter to address: her skin, and the skin of the nine women in her bridal party.

So Ms. Knauer, the 35-year-old owner of TempTrends, a staffing agency in Manhattan, invited her nearest and dearest — including her mother and future mother-in-law — for a night out at the TriBeCa MedSpa, replete with mimosas and cupcakes. An aesthetician assessed each woman’s face and devised a treatment plan — a quick chemical peel, say, or an injection of a wrinkle-filler. Or maybe, for a bridesmaid with age spots, a series of Fraxel laser treatments over months, allowing for recovery time.
When watching historical dramas like the recent John Adams, I'm constantly amazed at how modest and understated the weddings seem. For the sake of all the brides-to-be who stress out about this so much, I do hope the wedding extravagance pendulum swings back in the direction of simplicity soon.

On the other hand, my own wedding was a rather grand and expensive affair (compared to other things in my life), and I enjoyed it very very much. So I suppose it's wrong of me to deny to others what I indulged in myself. Still, I'm proud to say that no one in the wedding party was encouraged to get a chemical peel or facial injection.

Doonesbury on McCain campaign

Doonesbury is having fun at the expense of McCain's lackluster campaign.

Obama's speech in Berlin


I didn't like this speech as much as some of his previous ones. Too much feel-goodism at the beginning. And I'm not sure his idea of adding more troops to Afghanistan is a good idea. I liked what he said about securing nuclear material and reducing nuclear arsenals, though. This is one of many security concerns that the Bush administration hasn't emphasized enough.

Content of the speech aside, the images of an American being cheered by immense crowds of foreign people are very heartening.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

McCain screws up basic Middle East facts again

The number of howling errors McCain has made about the Middle East (and geography in general) in this campaign is staggering and makes one wonder what kind of mental representation of the world this guy has. He's confused Shia and Sunni on multiple occasions, mentioned the non-existent Iraq/Pakistan border, and referred to Czechoslovakia multiple times as if it still existed (it split in 1993).

Now he shows he's got a warped temporal representation of events in Iraq as well. In an interview with CBS, McCain claimed that "The Surge" enabled the "Sunni Awakening" or "Anbar Awakening" (where Iraqi Sunnis awoke to the fact Al Qaeda and other insurgents weren't really doing them any favors by blowing people up in their areas):
McCain: I don't know how you respond to something that is such a false depiction of what actually happened. Colonel McFarlane (phonetic) was contacted by one of the major Sunni sheiks. Because of the surge we were able to go out and protect that sheik and others. And it began the Anbar awakening. I mean, that's just a matter of history.
The only problem is that "The Surge" came after the Sunni tribal leaders had already decided that the insurgency wasn't really to their liking. The surge was announced in January of 2007, and the troops didn't arrive for a couple months after that. The Sunni tribal leaders had already decided they didn't like Al Qaeda by then. Certainly the two phenomena overlapped, but to claim The Surge "began the Anbar awakening" is totally wrong. Next McCain will be claiming that The Surge lowered gas prices, reduced our budget deficit, and proved Fermat's last theorem.

Here's a big post on how CBS edited out McCain's error for the evening news broadcast.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Leopard vs. Crocodile

Guess who wins? These photos are awesome. Too bad there's no video.

Monday, July 21, 2008

I did it!!! 4th Edition D&D Player's Hanbook on my iPhone

OK, here's the quick and dirty on how to get large .pdf files (in this case, a 320+ page pdf version of the 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons Player's Handbook) into semi-usable form on an iPhone (without hacking it):
  1. Purchase a Player's Handbook, because you should support D&D. I have my hard copy.
  2. Get a PDF of the Player's Hadbook by downloading it from a torrent site. I got mine here.
  3. Download the Universal Document Converter. Install it. It basically acts like a printer, allowing you to print a PDF as a series of jpeg files.
  4. "Print" the PDF of the Player's Handbook using the Universal Document Converter. This will give you over 300 jpeg files. Mess with the settings (jpeg quality and output dpi) so the text is legible but the files aren't too big (I used 95% quality and 200 dpi vertical and horizontal. I might try to lower quality to make files smaller for future uploads).
  5. Using Google Picasa Web, upload them to an album.
  6. Split the album into 4 albums, because for some reason the iPhone version of Picasa Web will only show preview thumbnails of 100 photos (i.e. pages) and you need them to navigate. Name the albums helpfully (e.g. PHB4e(Paladin-Wizard)).
  7. Install the Google Picasa Web web app on your iPhone. Here's the info on it.
  8. Enjoy! You will probably have to zoom in to read the text.
While you're at it, be sure to get the free dice roller program. There's a web based one and Dice Bag available as a fee app (in either gaming or entertainment; I can't remember).

Sunday, July 20, 2008

America is fine with gays in the military

An idea whose time has come:

Seventy-five percent of Americans in a new Washington Post-ABC News poll said gay people who are open about their sexual orientation should be allowed to serve in the U.S. military, up from 62 percent in early 2001 and 44 percent in 1993.

Majorities of Democrats, Republicans and independents alike now believe it is acceptable for openly gay people to serve in the U.S. armed forces.
This is pretty dramatic. The Republican party should come around on this if it doesn't want to consign itself to electoral oblivion. (Any Democrats who still oppose this should come around too, of course.)

I think the anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment in California won't pass (last poll has it going down 51-42), and that's going to be a huge watershed. I think within a few years we're going to see the end of overt anti-homosexual discrimination as a viable political strategy, and that's a huge victory. (Well, there will probably be some regional backwaters where it will still work. Heck, there are probably some places where you could bash communists to good political effect.)

Maliki wants us out of Iraq

It seems the only person left who wants the US to stay in Iraq is John McCain. Even Bush is agreeing on "a general time horizon" now. Maliki wants a timetable for US troop withdrawal, though apparently whenever a statement of his to that effect gets out he quickly backtracks. I wouldn't want his job: caught between an Iraqi public that generally loathes the occupation and his Washington puppet masters who need him to justify it.

Larison (via Ambinder via Appel on Daily Dish) has an extensive post on this. This BBC article describes some of the back and forth.

I got an iPhone! I can't read big PDF's on it!

Whoopee! It's totally awesome and I love it! Thanks so much to Bryan, my brother-in-law, for giving it to me (I think he's getting a 3G one). And yet... I'm realizing that Steve Jobs has decided that I can only do with it what he wants me to. I want to read large PDF files on it (i.e. my D&D rulebooks), and this is not an approved activity. So getting it to happen is enormously problematic. The solutions I've seen on the web involve hacking the phone and installing an Apache web server on it, then loading the pdfs onto the phone and looking at them with the Safari browser. Ugh.

The other way I thought I could do this is to save the pdf as a series of .jpg files, and then use the photo browser to look at them. How clever I am! But the damn iPhone "optimizes" every photo you upload to it, i.e. reduces the quality to crap to save space, so the text is borderline unreadable. And of course there's absolutely no way to turn off this "feature".

I tried uploading the pdf to Google docs and then looking at it with the iPhone browser, but it barfs on anything over a few megs, and Google docs barfs on anything over 10 megs anyway.

You can of course email them to yourself and look at them that way, but the files I want to look at are too big for that.

This is a phone on which you can watch entire episodes of television shows by the way. So there's no lack of storage space or computational power. Apple is being deliberately obtuse in not letting people do what they want with it. Maybe now that they've released an iPhone SDK someone at Adobe will make an Apple-approved pdf reader.

Any suggestions on how to make this happen would be most welcome.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

I want this for my car


via Make:
The Sashimi Tabernacle Choir is an art car project by Richard Carter, John Schroeter (Houston, TX), and some thirty volunteers. The car incorporates 250 singing Billy Bass animatronic fish and 250 mechanical lobsters, including a conductor that's perched on a boom over the hood of the 1984 Volvo sedan the choir calls home.
Of course the car has its own website.

Israeli prisoner exchange math

Upyernoz points out something that has baffled me as well:

i must admit, i don't understand why israel would trade live prisoners for dead bodies. i realize that hezbollah didn't reveal that they were dead until they showed up at the border with the coffins, but couldn't the israeli government demand proof that the soldiers were alive as part of the negotiations? or make the whole deal contingent on the soldiers being alive?


His commenters point out that Israel probably new that the soliders were dead beforehand, and that Israel has traditionally placed enormous emphasis on recovering bodies for proper burial. But it still does strike me as odd. It reminds me of those passages in Classical Greek stories where living daughters were traded for the corpses of their brothers. It seemed weird in those stories and it seems weird in the news now.

Also, aren't the people on the other sides of these trades deeply insulted by the implied inequality? "Oh great, I'm worth one fifth of a dead Israeli body. What a compliment." I thought that concepts of face and honor were a big deal in that region. On the other hand, I probably wouldn't turn down a chance to get out of prison just because I thought my cohorts got me out on the cheap.

Or is it that Israel get so many prisoners relative to their enemies that traditional market forces force this remarkable "exchange rate"? Comments and explanations most welcome.

Tips for meeting your future self

From HolyJuan:
1. Have a secret question
Be wary of evil future selves or clones. If it is actually your future self, they will know the answer to the secret question; something only you would know. Like where you masturbated for the first time (in a bedroom closet.) Don’t make up a secret word (this can be figured out with future technology and “ditto” has been taken.) If your future self doesn’t remember the secret question, kill them with the really sharp knife in your boot.

2. Always carry a sharp knife in your boot.
See #1

3. Immediately ask for the winner of the 20XX Super Bowl.
Time travel will not cheap and the only way you are going to make enough money to travel back in time is to make a shit load of money betting on sports.[...]
The tips just get better after that. (HT: Mad Latinist via email.)

Friday, July 18, 2008

Don't have sex with your siblings

Despite my crusade against puritanism, here's one sexual taboo I can fully support: the one against incest. The incest taboo rarely requires an intellectual justification, because the natural reaction of most people is a visceral "EEEWWW YUCKK!". But this essay the Times Online has made such a justification necessary:
[...]Over the next few years we had sexual encounters every six months or so, each time going farther and farther until I was 17, when we had full sex for the first time. We both went out with other people and there was never any jealousy, although I found it hard to be physically intimate with anyone else. Part of that was because sex with Daniel was so amazing that I had no patience for all the fumbling that seemed to happen with other boys. The sex was never pre-planned, but just always seemed to happen when there was no chance of being discovered.
(HT: Rod Dreher via Ross Douthat) The title of the essay is "I had sex with my brother but I don't feel guilty". Rod Dreher asks:
If God doesn't exist (that is, if there is no such thing as absolute moral truth), why shouldn't the woman have sex with her brother? They're careful not to risk reproduction, its always been consensual, they enjoy it, and they don't feel guilty. So what's the problem?
Well, Mr. Dreher, here's my answer to that, as I posted in the comments to both your blog and Ross Douthat's:

Here's a practical argument for maintenance of this part of the incest taboo: It's a bad idea to have sex or romantic relations with your siblings because you can't dump them when things go sour. The vast majority of sexual and romantic relationships do not end with blissful matrimony. Often, the end is accompanied by very negative feelings. When this happens between unrelated people, the negative feelings can be ameliorated by the former partners distancing themselves from each other.

With siblings, such distancing is extremely difficult without inflicting damage on the whole family. They're your sibling no matter what. You can't dump your brother into un-brotherness. And it puts the rest of the family in an extremely difficult situation, much as a divorce does: who do they "side" with? If the formerly incestuous couple can't be together at family functions, who gets to be there? etc.

Another reason to avoid becoming entangled with your siblings in this way is that even if somehow you do manage to make the relationship "work", children would be at enormously increased risk of birth defects. Often, you want to have babies with the person you're in love with. This drive can be extremely powerful. Having that person be your sibling makes that drive very perilous to succumb to.

So one needn't resort to esoteric theological arguments to find a justification for the incest taboo. It has enormous practical benefits that become obvious if one thinks ahead to the likely consequences of the incest.

Digby's Deep Thought

Maybe the charade has a deeper, more sinister purpose:
Travelling by airplane in the US is nothing more than mass training of Americans to the requirements of the coming police state. The whole point is to make you learn to acquiesce without question, en masse, to completely absurd directives by dull functionaries wearing uniforms.
While I don't think Digby is too serious, I agree that it's a bad habit to stop getting pissed off about this sort of thing. Stop the homeland security charade. Anyone I've spoken to who knows anything about security thinks the measures taken by the TSA are almost entirely theatrical and do almost nothing to make us safer. And they cost oodles of cash to implement and cause mega-oodles of dollars worth of inconvenience to our economy. A positive mention from Internal Monologue to any politician, Republican or Democrat or otherwise, who spends some political capital to reduce this insanity.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

I like this trend

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Latest JibJab video

This time, they change the lyrics to Dylan's "The times they are a-changin'" to nice effect.
Send a JibJab Sendables® eCard Today!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Homeland Security Charade: Terrorist Watch List hits 1,000,000

Dude, that is just ridiculous:
The nation's terrorist watch list has hit one million names, according to a tally maintained by the American Civil Liberties Union based upon the government's own reported numbers for the size of the list.

"Members of Congress, nuns, war heroes and other 'suspicious characters,' with names like Robert Johnson and Gary Smith, have become trapped in the Kafkaesque clutches of this list, with little hope of escape," said Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. "Congress needs to fix it, the Terrorist Screening Center needs to fix it, or the next president needs to fix it, but it has to be done soon."

(HT: Majikthise) I blogged about how stupid this list was almost 2 years ago. I see nothing has changed.

The Internet saves rural North Carolina county

This was a very heart-warming story I heard on NPR on the way back home from work: a rural North Carolina county, facing difficult times with the end of tobacco subsidies, decided to get itself wired and get all of its citizens broadband access. Part of this involved giving laptops to all the students in 6th-12th grade throughout the county.

There were numerous positive effects, especially for the kids and youth: the college attendance rate increased dramatically (though there were other pro-college efforts in place at the time, so how much can be attributed to the laptops and broadband is unclear), and business in the county increased.

My favorite stat was that teen pregnancy dropped a lot. I wonder why. Maybe people used the Internet to find a way to gratify their sexual impulses that doesn't involve procreation. Or maybe they used the internet to order certain things that reduced the procreative risks of the activities they continued to engage in. Or maybe they used the Internet to learn all the things they weren't being taught in their abstinence-only sex education. (I have no idea if this particular county used abstinence-only.) Or maybe they were all so busy playing World of Warcraft and updating their Facebook pages with annoying little applets that they had less time to impregnate each other. Or maybe access to computers and the Internet gave them a glimpse of a better future for themselves, so they were a little more careful with that future. I'd really be interested to learn more about why the teen pregnancy rate went down.

Anyway, I love it when something I love (cool technology) makes people's lives better.

A libertarian blogger also liked this story:

NPR in its infinite liberal wisdom spent only a few seconds explaining that what prompted this investment in technology was the federal government’s termination of farm subsidies to tobacco growers. That fact, however, was what turned this good piece of journalism into a great story…for me anyway (being the libertarian that I am).

Greene County’s story is not just one of bold local governance…it is one of a community forced to finally grab the reigns of modernity in the absence of subsidies that kept it backward and complacent for far too long.

I'm not a libertarian, but I agree that farm subsidies should be phased out. Not a good use of our money, it distorts the market, and makes it hard for developing nations to compete in the agriculture sector. The latter is quite a serious moral issue: millions of people are pushed into poverty and deprivation by the West's agricultural policies.

A liberal response to this story of rural wiring might be: what if the entire country got access to computers and broadband? Might the entire country experience the kind of revival that Greene County seems to have managed?

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Bush minion caught on video soliciting bribes

Apparently, for $600K-$750K Stephen Payne says he can get high level US administration officials like Cheney and Rice to say good things about a former president of Kyrgyzstan and to arrange an in-person meeting. Apparently, the first step is to have a member of your family donate $250,000 to the Bush library. See the video here.

My favorite quote from the video:
[President Bush] doesn’t meet with a lot of former Presidents these days. I don’t think he meets with hardly anyone.
What, do they have him locked in a room somewhere?

Friday, July 11, 2008

Belts for Youth: its time has come

Apparently, some folks heard about my "belts for youth" idea and decided to make it reality:
The Christian Science Monitor reported in June that organizers in Atlanta, Detroit, Nashville, and Birmingham have all staged anti-sagging rallies, where high-waistline activists hand out belts to saggy-pants offenders. The Associated Press reported in September that many cities are considering their own droopy-drawers prohibitions. Atlanta is mulling a bill that would impose fines and community service. Several towns in Louisiana have passed bans, including Delcambre, where exposed underwear can result in a $500 fine or six months in jail. Delcambre Mayor Carrol Broussard, while acknowledging that the law may be unconstitutional or unenforceable, said, “We’re going to try.”
(HT: Majikthise) The reason this was brought to my attention is that Flint, Michigan is starting to crack down on this issue, and its police department has issued the following graphic to help inform the public (and no, this is not from The Onion. It seems I have to say that with depressing regularity these days.):
I'm not sure how I feel about this. If people want to look like dorks, is it really the law's task to correct them? On the other hand, I do find the look utterly absurd and repulsive. And there should be some enforceable standards of public decency if we are to function as a society. But I'm sure there are people who feel that my appearance is somehow offensive. In some places and times not too distant from where I am, my long hair might have been the target of a similar crack-down. So should these people just be mocked, or should the power of the state intervene?

Or am I just a totally uncool bourgeois fashion prude who is totally not down with the youth culture of today? Of course, given my age and life status, there's no reason I should be down with the youth culture of today, and it might be a little odd if I was. I guess the question is this: when these saggers get older, are they going to start pulling their pants up, or is this a permanent change in style of dress? My guess is the former.

Robotron 2084 watch: things robots do better than humans

Here's a list of things which robots/computers do better than people (or at which an individual robot has defeated the best human challengers:

air hockey
chess
exploring other planets
giving driving directions (though this is a counterexample)

I plan to add to this list as I think of things. Actually, I could add things like "do math quickly and accurately", but that's not in the spirit of the list. So this list is really a list of things that robots/computers do better than people that in the recent past people did better than robots/computers.

Robotron 2084 watch: They can now beat us at air hockey

Add air hockey to the list of things robots do better than humans. I just Googled "things robots do better than humans" and didn't come up with any good hits. So I think I'm going to make my own post.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

We really think supernaturalism is dumb, we're just too politic to say it

Amanda Marcotte on Dawkins on scientists who pretend that there's no conflict between a scientific world view and a supernaturalist one:
In sum, Dawkins argues, and I agree, that scientists tend to say that religion and science don’t conflict because they have ulterior, if completely understandable, motives. The government controls research and education funding, and they answer to a public that is largely stuck with an irrational preference for religion. The public wants to enjoy the benefits of science without taking on the challenge to magical beliefs. The “no conflict” line, which I’ve peddled before and will probably be lulled into peddling again is a way to get the public to resolve this contradiction. The problem is that it’s bullshit. And this is why, which Dawkins keys into, the religious right in America keeps pushing legislation that will immediately get challenged by civil liberties organizations---they want to put religion vs. science on the stand and heighten the contradictions. They want to get scientists under oath to weasel around points where the contradictions become obvious, to make people realize you can’t hand wave the conflict away. As Dawkins notes, if he was put on a stand and asked if he was an atheist and if his study of evolutionary theory helped make him that way, to say no would be an outright lie. To be political, he’d have to weasel around, and the public would see through his inability to give a straightforward answer. Considering that the vast majority of scientists are atheists in one sense or another, right wingers just have to keep pulling stunts where scientists have to own their atheism and its grounding in science over and over to make their point.
Let's just come right out and say it: supernaturalism is crap, and far far too much of religion is built on supernaturalism.

(I'm actually not sure if the vast majority of scientists are atheists, though. This is something one would have to get data on.)

Monday, July 07, 2008

Military guilt

People often talk of "white guilt". Shelby Steele wrote a book about it. I'm wondering if there's such a thing as "military guilt". The people who serve in the armed forces in our country often have to endure a lot of risk and suffering for relatively little reward. One only has to examine the discrepancy in compensation between private contractors in Iraq and military service people doing the same job to see how huge the gap really is. The Walter Reed scandal and the difficulty many veterans encounter getting treatment for injuries suffered during service reinforce in my mind the idea that many veterans are getting a raw deal from society.

So I'm wondering if there's such a think as "military guilt": an often unacknowledged awareness that veterans are often getting the short end of the stick from society. I certainly feel this to a certain extent.

So how does this military guilt play out? I think one way it comes out is a reluctance to criticize people who have suffered in combat. I'm thinking of the recent flap about Wes Clark's remarks to the effect that McCain's experience in Viet Nam as a prisoner of war doesn't necessarily translate into a qualification for being president. There was this aura of indignation around people's reaction to Clark: how dare he. Of course, Clark was right: being taken prisoner or any other particular wartime experience is not necessarily a qualification to be president. But to point this out is somehow supposed to be deeply disrespectful. I wonder if there's some sort of subconscious transaction going on here.

Of course, "military guilt" didn't stop Republicans from mocking Kerry with purple heart band-aids. So the phenomenon certainly isn't universal.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

My cat is in the Google streetview picture of my house


This is the picture of my house that you get from using Google Maps "Street View" function. It must have been taken around last October, because there are pumpkins on the table under the window. You can just barely see Kitty sitting in front of the Yellow Chair on the porch.

Google is omniscient, dude.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Liberal patriotism and consevative patriotism

Peter Beinart on Time.com, as quoted by the Blogometer:
Conservatives know America isn't perfect, of course. But they grade on a curve. ... When evaluating America, they're more likely to remember that for most of human history, tyranny has been the norm. By that standard, America looks pretty good. Conservatives worry that if Americans don't appreciate -- and celebrate -- their nation's past accomplishments, they'll assume the country can be easily and dramatically improved. And they'll end up making things worse. ... If conservatives tend to see patriotism as an inheritance from a glorious past, liberals often see it as the promise of a future that redeems the past. ... For liberals, America is less a common culture than a set of ideals about democracy, equality and the rule of law. American history is a chronicle of the distance between those ideals and reality. And American patriotism is the struggle to narrow the gap. Thus, patriotism isn't about honoring and replicating the past; it's about surpassing it.