Esoteric Dissertations from a One-Track Mind

December 22, 2007

Away Until December 30th

Filed under: meta — codesmithy @ 3:01 pm

I’ll be away from the site until near the New Year.  So, Merry Christmas to the Christians (particularly Bill O’Reilly), Happy Holidays to the others, and it’s Festivus for the rest of us!

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Authors@Google: Paul Krugman

Filed under: economy, politics — Tags: — codesmithy @ 2:55 pm

Paul Krugman gives a good talk about the current credit crisis, although it was supposed to be about his book “The Conscience of a Liberal” which I’ve already read and reviewed.  He apparently gave this at Google.  The New York Times article he mentions is here.  For some reason he didn’t think many people got the reference to Pottersville in Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

Anyway, it gives some good perspective.  Krugman’s cough is a little annoying, but it is good to see the audience asking some good questions.

December 21, 2007

Romney’s Figurative Stance on Civil Rights

Filed under: politics, religion — Tags: — codesmithy @ 12:33 pm

The church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has a little history problem. No, I’m not talking about the 1857 Mountain Meadows Massacre. Nor, the Garden of Eden being in Missouri. Nor, Jesus walking around America, and Native Americans having red skin because they slaughtered another tribe of Israel.

No, the history problem I’m talking about is the fact that it took the church until 1978 that blacks were allowed into the priesthood. Some find that late. While, I can’t imagine a Republican picking up a lot of black votes. The white people who vote Republican usually like to have some plausible deniability on the matter of whether or not the person they are voting for is a racial bigot.

However, it should be noted that there is a parallel between blacks being viewed as cursed descendants of Cain and Native Americans as the cursed Lamanites. It is an example of religious indoctrination of racial bigotry and a theme in the dogma.

Alas, here comes Mitt Romney, Mormon, running for President of the United States. For some reason, he felt compelled to say that his father marched with Martin Luther King.

And I’m not going to distance myself in any way from my faith. But you can see what I believed and what my family believed by looking at, at our lives. My dad marched with Martin Luther King.

So, natural questions arise such as where? Romney’s answer: Grosse Pointe. Grosse Pointe? Really? Being a Michigan native, I have met people from Grosse Pointe. The way they describe it is as near Detroit. But, that doesn’t really do it justice. It is a very well to do suburb of Detroit. Not necessarily a place for Martin Luther King Jr. to hold a march. Indeed, this scenario doesn’t mesh with the historical record.
The Romney campaign has hence said that Romney meant the phrase “figuratively” and saying that “my dad marched with Martin Luther King” may mean different cities and different days.

The obvious conclusion is the Romney campaign lied. You can watch the clip. He didn’t mean it figuratively. He meant his father was there, with Martin Luther King, marching. Something, there is scant evidence for, which would be somewhat surprising considering George Romney was the Governor of Michigan at the time.

To me, the waffling is worse than the gaff. Fine, Mitt Romney made a mistake. His father and Martin Luther King Jr. didn’t march together. It may be news to Mitt Romney also. But, do we really want a another President who will not back away or admit a mistake?

It also displays the lengths people will go to defend a previous statement. When one assumes something can never can be wrong in the face of contradictory evidence, don’t be surprised if language is among one of the first casualties.

December 20, 2007

On the Religious Reaction to Dr. Corbett

Filed under: politics, religion — Tags: — codesmithy @ 1:38 pm

Sometimes, I can’t but help sit back an laugh. Cheat Seeking Missiles (CSM) has a post on “Separation Of Church And State, Secularist Style.” Dr. Corbett is a teacher of AP European History at Capistrano Valley High School. The suit was filed on behalf of sophomore Chad Farnan with attorneys from Advocates for Faith and Freedom.

Some of Dr. Corbett’s quotes are available in the complaint. (h/t clark’s blog).

Here is one example:

How do you get the peasants to oppose something that is in their best interest? Religion. You have to have something that is irrational to counter that rational approach….[W]hen you put on your Jesus glasses, you can’t see the truth.

So, let’s go through some of the points brought up on Cheat Seeking Missiles.

First, I find it rather inarguable that religious conservatives want to control women’s reproductive capacity. Birth control pills have been openly condemned by the Vatican. In Pakistan, “the more conservative Islamic leaders have openly campaigned against the use of condoms or other birth control methods.” One can argue about the “pregnant, barefoot and in the kitchen to have babies until your body collapses” characterization. I don’t have demographics, but from stories that conservatives tout, “9-child family shines as Christian example” and others I’ve come across, there seems to be a correlation between very large families (7+) and religiosity. I would love to see some more conclusive data though. But, there is evidence that there is some truth to what Dr. Corbett said, even if it was stated unflatteringly.

As for Sweden and the United States comparison, I don’t believe that the discrepancy can be accounted for by “excellent and transparent record keeping.” CSM doesn’t argue that United States is near the high in total crime rate per capita, but rather that the U.S. is #8 behind Finland, Denmark, and the United Kingdom. The more relevant point was about violent crime. Unfortunately, NationMaster doesn’t seem able to directly tabulate non-violent and violent offenses, so let’s look at murder. The United States is 24th with .042802 per 1,000, Finland is .0289733 per 1,000, Denmark is .0106775 per 1,000 and the U.K. is .0140633 per 1,000. As for suicides, Sweden’s rate is .0200 per 1,000 for males and .0085 per 1,000 for females, the United States is just barely behind with .0193 per 1,000 for males and .0044 per 1,000 for females. In short, you are more than 2 times as likely to be murdered in the United States than you are to commit suicide in Sweden.

But how does CSM know that:

Godless Sweden’s rate is lower, but it has a higher per capita adult suicide rate than religious America. Corbett didn’t share that with his students.

Did CSM sit through every single class? Dr. Corbett larger point was this, which CSM didn’t address at all.

So we know what rehabilitation works and that punishment doesn’t, and yet we go on punishing. It really has a lot to do with these same culture wars we’re talking about. This whole Biblical notion: Sinners need to be punished. And so you get massively more Draconian punishment in the South where religion is much more central to society than you do anyplace else. And, of course, the Southerners get really upset, as what they see as lenient behavior in the North. You know, we’re going to solve this problem. Except, guess what? What part of the country has the highest murder rate? The South. What part of the country has the highest rape rate? The South. What part of the country has the highest… church attendance? The South. Oh, wait a minute. You mean there is not a correlation between these things? No, there isn’t. Um, in fact, there is an inverse correlation. In those places where people go to church the least, the crime was the most. And that’s not just Sweden and the United States. That’s Pennsylvania and Georgia. It’s not even true.”

Dr. Corbett’s point was the statement that “in those places where people go to church the least, the crime was the most” is not true. In fact, the data seems to suggest the opposite is actually true.

I’m not going to go through the Limbaugh issues. Limbaugh lies. Al Fraken has a book called “Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right” which documents some Limbaugh escapades quite well, as well as Media Matters.

I’m not going to go through the Viagra comment, I just found it funny. But as far as Dr. Corbett being a lousy teacher CSM notes that 33% flunked the College Boards Advanced Placement exam. I honestly don’t think someone at CSM has taken an AP exam. I have taken several, so I’ll explain a little bit. Students take AP courses in high school in a variety of subjects. However, it is really tough to impose a standard across the whole nation for these subjects. So, the College Board comes up with a standardized test on the subject that students pay for and take at the end of the year. For some tests, there are two versions. When I took AP Calculus, we covered a semester of college in a whole year in high school, aka a lot slower. Therefore, the test at the end was quite a bit easier. However, AP History and AP Chemistry were for a full year of college credit, so they were more difficult. To my knowledge, AP European History only comes in a whole year variety, which means the class is covering a whole year of material in a year in high school.

Tests are graded on a 1-5 scale, 3 or high means the College Board recommends the student get credit for the course. So, people who “flunked” got a 1 or 2. So, a few things CSM says about the test are incorrect. First, it is not the “state’s Advanced Placement exam.” It is the College Board’s, a national organization. Secondly, using the 2006 statistics for California, 200,850 tests received a 3 or higher out of 352,059, which is to say the state has a 57% passing rate or (43% failing rate if you are a glass half-empty person). Dr. Corbett beats the state average quite significantly. According to the national report, approximately 69% get a 3 or higher in AP European History which Dr. Corbett is quite in line with also. Under either measure, Dr. Corbett hardly qualifies as a lousy teacher.

The simple fact of the matter is one cannot teach history without touching on religion. You try explaining the logic behind the children’s crusade without mentioning religion. Religion is an important part of European history. Secondly, I don’t see a real problem bringing some personal views into the classroom. Young adults need to be able to deal with differing points of view. Learning needs to be organic, and students should be challenged to think. In that regard, I think Dr. Corbett was doing a good job. Where one crosses the line is proselytizing or lying. I haven’t seen evidence that Corbett has done either. People can argue with how Corbett characterized his statements, but not their basic rectitude. If Dr. Corbett actually demonstrated religious bigotry, or intolerance towards religion, that would be one thing. Arguing by pointing out some facts that don’t agree with a certain viewpoint and drawing conclusions from the available evidence is what open inquiry and education is all about.

December 19, 2007

BBC: The US sub-prime crisis in graphics

Filed under: economy, politics — Tags: — codesmithy @ 12:00 pm

The BBC has one of the best articles to date explaining the sub-prime crisis. The fix is relatively simple but also remarkably painful. Those that cannot afford their home under a 30-year mortgage need to be foreclosed. Those that can, but were pushed into sub-prime loans need to have their mortgages rewritten into more acceptable 30-year mortgages. At that point, the mortgage bonds need to be re-evaluated. There needs to be a massive fraud investigation to find home appraisers, mortgage brokers, banks and rating agencies who profited from issuing these bad loans on properties. The proceeds should go to those currently holding the mortgage bonds to help compensate for their losses.

Even with this type of radical spring cleaning, I highly doubt any of this is going to be pretty. Since, many people were refinancing their homes with sub-prime mortgages and spending the difference. Whatever they bought is unlikely to have the rate of return needed to cover the sub-prime rate change. In short, there are going to be a lot of foreclosures, and there isn’t much anyone can do about it unless we flat out give people money to make their loan payments. A prospect that many, including myself, find unpalatable. It is a classic example of a moral hazard since it encourages irresponsibility.

This crisis will be a drag on the economy and it is going to take years to sort out. Unfortunately, given recent and past Bush administration policy and attitudes, victims of the sub-prime crisis shouldn’t count on competent government assistance. We are staring down another domestic crisis with a government with a proven track record of turning every crisis into a disaster.

December 18, 2007

Dodd Takes Down Retroactive Immunity for Telecoms

Filed under: politics — Tags: , , — codesmithy @ 10:54 am

Chris Dodd flew back Washington D.C. from his campaigning in Iowa to filibuster retroactive immunity for telecom companies.

Retroactive immunity is a polite way of saying that there should be no consequences for patent law-breaking as long as one was following orders from the President. A similar line of thinking was a classic Nuremberg defense, and one that was by-in-large patently rejected. Politicians that support retroactive immunity trash the standards and foundation that justice stands on. In this respect, any one who supports retroactive immunity is no better than a thug, an unscrupulous usurper of power, protector of cronies and tarnishes the principle and history of this nation. The actions of today do cast shadows on the past. If we allow the only following orders defense then this country is guilty of mass murder after World War 2. We condemned people to die and threw down righteous denunciations of their actions that continue to this day. However, when push came to shove under much less extraordinary circumstances, there are those who actively try to hide behind the same rationale.

If the President is to believed, failure to update FISA could cost Americans their lives. He has also promised to veto any FISA bill that does not contain retroactive immunity. Therefore, the President is willing to allow Americans to die to protect telecoms from any consequences of their lawbreaking done on his behest. Democrats, like Reid, seem more than willing to help the President in this regard.

The pattern of behavior is clear. The President used carrots and sticks against telecom companies to allow the government to illegally spy on Americans. Now, when the extent of the lawbreaking is starting to be known, the President rushes to protect the telecom industry that so dutifully did what he asked knowing full well of its illegality. Scooter Libby is just another variation on this general theme.

This President is out of control, the best the Democratic leadership seem to be able or willing to muster is a bunch of non-binding oversight and perhaps a strongly worded letter, denunciation, or meaningless, capitulating objection. The President has proven to be the number one domestic enemy to the rule of law and the Constitution, yet the Democratic leadership seems more than willing to go along. They tacitly and often actively support this Presidents efforts to shred the Constitution.

So where were the Democratic front-runners, Senators Clinton and Obama, when it counted: campaigning in Iowa. Is this their idea of leadership? When it was time to stand-up and be counted, they couldn’t be bothered to stop campaigning. However, they were more than happy to offer a meaningless denunciation from afar. How are they qualified to lead the country again?

Thank you Chris Dodd for displaying what true leadership really is.

December 15, 2007

Conflation of Interests

Filed under: politics — Tags: — codesmithy @ 11:15 am

I finished up “Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq” by Stephen Kinzer. One of the things that Kinzer convinced me of is that American policy is directed by people that are motivated by the desire to do well, while doing good. At the core, many examples of American misadventures came down to a variation of a central thesis of “what’s good for General Motors is good for the country.” This quote is attributed to Charlie Wilson, former president of G.M. and Eisenhower’s Secretary of Defense.  Apparently, he actually said “for years I thought that what was good for our country was good for General Motors, and vice versa.” (source) Although, it doesn’t change the central point.  If “Overthrow” proves anything it is the fact the general sentiment was shared with other administration officials including John Foster Dulles, Eisenhower’s Secretary of State, and by Eisenhower himself.

In some ways, it would have been better to have outright scoundrels ruling the country, at least they would have understood what they were doing was wrong. Instead, we are set on these courses of action by deluded do-gooders with a completely warped base of values. Incompetents who think they are helping but are unable to tell the difference between success and failure.

The central values that these pro-business-is-pro-country leaders lack are baldly apparent in our Declaration of Independence.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

The foundation of legitimacy of any government is the consent of the governed.  What these leaders lack is the ability to really put themselves in the shoes of the people they are trying to impose governance.

Let’s take Iraq as an example.  If I were an Iraqi, what would I want?  I would want a job.  I would want basic services.  I would want security and personal safety.  I would like natural resources of the country to be used to benefit to pay for increases in standards of living of everyone in the country.  I would want foreign troops out of the country.  I would like all these things to happen as soon as possible.  If a country offers to help reconstruct our country, I’d rather they would just give us some money and let us spend it to get the resources we would need and to pay workers rather than trying to do it for us.

The inability of these pro-American business leaders to place themselves in the shoes of an ordinary Iraqi citizen is profound, but not unexpected.  They usually come a very isolated culture that is instilled with the virtues of unwaivering belief and messianic mission.  The problem with the Iraqi government is the U.S.  The U.S. actively disallows Iraqi government to do the things that one of our founding documents states it must do in order to be legitimate government: obtain the consent of the governed.  Democracy is not some magic panacea to government.  It is a belief that public opinion matters; thus gaining consent of govern and therefore legitimate.  A situation that is not happening in Iraq.  What will happen eventually is that the citizens will eventually install a government in which their consent is obtained.  If Iran is any guide, it will be a fundamentalist theocracy.

If this outcome is to be avoided, a change of policy needs to take place.  The Iraqi government needs to be more responsive to its people.  What is clear is that the Bush Administration will never get it right.  For them, what is good for Halliburton is good for the world.  To them, democracy is just a word that we use that resulted in the artifact that they are in charge.  Capitalism is just a word that we use to describe the legitimacy of their wealth.  The contradiction between these goals are never realized because the distinctions between the concepts are never defined.  The conflation of interests allows these self-interested do-well-ers to continue to believe they are doing good.  The only cure is the truly indifferent and brutal arbitrator known as reality.  Something these incompetents will never realize until it is too late, or ever.

December 14, 2007

distellamap

Filed under: programming — Tags: , — codesmithy @ 6:11 am

This is coolest visualizations of code and data inside an Atari 2600 cartridge I’ve seen.  It is amazing to see the branching in the code segments.  I can only imagine how painstaking it must have been to do by hand.  However, I doubt if they had much of an alternative.  Programmers were dealing with very little memory.

However, one should be able to tell by just looking at the picture that developers for pac-man were having some problems.  Here is a video of how the game actually played.

Q-Bert, on the other-hand, has some bugs, but still, what the developers were able to do is pretty impressive.

December 12, 2007

Noam Chomsky: Two Kinds Of Democracy

Filed under: politics — Tags: , , , — codesmithy @ 11:08 am

In yet another segment of showing Noam Chomsky is mostly right about everything, Noam Chomsky lays out two different kinds of democracy.

Here are parts 2 and 3.

The themes Chomsky talks about are prevalent in Adam Curtis’ documentary “The Century of the Self,” which I talked about previously (parts 1, 2, 3, and 4).

So when Glenn Greenwald complains about the fact free declarations of our pundit class, know that it is actually nothing new.  It is the engineering of consent and has actually been going on for years.  What is new is for people to point it out and for those people to have an audience.  This is one aspect of a new era ushered in by the Internet.

The Ron Paul phenomenon is also significant because it shows the power of the Internet for people to organize, participate in democracy and be active in the political process.  It also represents a largely unintended consequence of a technological shift.  The establishment of like-minded communities dedicated to political action is a potential repercussion that goes way beyond one candidate and a 2008 election.

The underlying point is this, Chomsky correctly points out that role of pundit class is to tell people how they should feel about any particular topic.  Glenn Greenwald pointing out the mismatch between the pundits and what the actual polls say is nothing new.  Pundits have been able to shift public opinion on matters in the past because 1) no one in the pundit class brought up the contradiction and 2) the lack of social and political organization in society to disseminate news of the contradiction or act on it.  Without the social and political infrastructure people felt isolated, so it was easy enough to distract them to other topics.  Before, this was an easy enough trick to pull off.  One simply declares that no one cares about Iraq anymore and then ignore all evidence to the contrary.  Eventually, after a number of other sensational stories come along and with time, public opinion will focus to the new topic pundits are interested in discussing.  The Internet has changed the landscape for this power of the pundits significantly.  However, the most important aspect is to force political action based on the information.  The Ron Paul phenomenon and other grassroots organizations are proving the ability to turn this new information landscape into demonstrable political action.  The people who hold power fear this and it is partly why both parties will be quick to condemn grassroots organizations, but not pundits like Rush Limbaugh, even when they are guilty of similar offenses.

The Internet does hold the potential to completely revolutionize American democracy.  It is the shift of one kind of democracy to the other.  The question is whether people can act quickly enough to establish a foothold before the powerful come up with a way to tear it down.  The one advantage is that the intellectual elite who serve the powerful are sufficiently indoctrinated that they are generally slow to recognize exactly what is going on.  One thing that they will be aware of, is that they won’t like it which I am sure is exactly how Joe Klein felt when his behavior was exposed.

December 11, 2007

Christopher Hitchens: Abolish the CIA

Filed under: impeachment, politics — Tags: , , , — codesmithy @ 9:08 am

One of Serious war cheerleaders is at it again. In a classic case of “shoot the messenger,” Christopher Hitchens declares it is time to “Abolish the CIA.” Hitchens seems particularly upset that the NIE defuses his case for war with Iran. Eventhough the NIE was based on the consensus of 16 different intelligence agencies, Hitchens thinks the CIA deserves special blames. Hitchens asserts the plausibility of claims that Bush only heard about it NIE a few days before the rest of us. However, there is that inescapable fact that Bush’s language about Iran has changed over the course of the year. If Bush was completely unaware of the contents of the report, and if it truly were a bombshell, why would the rhetoric morph?

Hitchens further declares that we know Iran is a duplicitous regime capable of rank deception. Their dual use centrifuges could be used to produce a bomb! Yes, we are aware of that fact Mr. Hitchens, but the report said the best Iran could do would be enough highly-enriched uranium is by late 2009. The fact of the matter is the nuclear non-proliferation treaty gives Iran the right to develop nuclear technology for peaceful purposes. Iran has cooperated with the IAEA. If one is going to go on spouting how evil Iran is for supporting terrorist organizations, then one also needs to explain why it was OK for the U.S. to sell weapons to Iran to fund the contras in Nicaragua? Are they more evil now then they were in the 1980’s?

Iran knows it is suicide to use the bomb. Israel would wipe them off the map. They want one for the same reason everybody else wants one, deterrence. Hitchens point about Japan is already moot because North Korea can already hit Japan with a nuclear weapon. What the NIE really proves is that Iran will actually give up nuclear weapons for security guarantees, which is the same thing they wanted all along.

Why, then, have our intelligence agencies helped to give the lying Iranian theocracy the appearance of a clean bill, while simultaneously and publicly (and with barely concealed relish) embarrassing the president and crippling his policy?

That relish that Hitchens speaks of is his imagination.   The CIA got slammed for the case of Iraq WMD’s and 9/11 intelligence failures.  Both times, people have laid blame at the feet of the CIA.  The fact of the matter is the intelligence at the President’s disposal was good.  On 9/11, he failed to act on it properly.  For Iraq, his administration was able to cook the intelligence.  It was known as the 1% doctrine, and political hacks were specifically put in the Pentagon to rewrite the Intel to support the preconceived policy.  In this case, the CIA and other intelligence agencies said: no more.  It isn’t their fault Bush was left out on a limb.

In a bizarre charge, Hitchens then turns on the destruction of the interrogation tapes as further proof the agency needs to be abolished.  As if, they didn’t do it to protect this President and his patent law-breaking.

People blame the CIA for the various overthrows of foreign governments.  But, it isn’t just the CIA.  The President is always deeply involved in the big operations the CIA carries out.  For example, blaming the CIA for the overthrow of Guatemala or Iran without also blaming Eisenhower is the height of hypocrisy.  The political leaders set the policy, not the agency.  The lawbreaking is the fault of the man in charge.

Hitchens is more than happy to throw the CIA under the bus, again, because it gets in the way of his new war.  Just like he would spend time blasting them if Bush did attack Iran and the intelligence proved to be faulty.  In Hitchens’ world, it can never be that the glorious Bush is to blame.  It is clear Hitchens wants to kill more Muslims and he won’t allow pesky things such as facts get in the way.

Abolishing the CIA still might be a good idea, but not because they are currently preventing Hitchens’ genocidal agenda.  It is because the power is abused, just as Bush has abused it repeatedly.  Before any abolishing of the CIA takes place, one would need to impeach Bush first, then we can decide which agencies are too tempting for future Presidents to abuse.

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