Esoteric Dissertations from a One-Track Mind

June 30, 2008

On Angry, Arrogant Atheism

Filed under: culture, religion, science, Uncategorized — Tags: , — codesmithy @ 7:22 am

Recently, PZ Myers ripped Gordy Slack for “bad” articles on creationismGordy Slack’s reply is revealing in its own way.

It surprises me that PZ is so pissed off by my efforts to understand why so many Americans reject evolution. If you ask them, and I have bothered to ask hundreds or thousands over the past two years, many will tell you that more than anything else, it’s the arrogant zealotry of cocksure ideologues that turns them off to evolution. They see people calling their intuitions and worldviews retarded and corrupt, and they march the other way. That’s one reason why we evolutionists have done such an abysmal promotions job even though we’re armed with the most delightful and seductive and potent theory ever. If we can’t sell evolution, we must be doing something wrong. Right? I’m just saying that we might start by resisting the urge to spit bile in the face of potential buyers.

Gordy Slack’s original article, such as it was, painted creationism as a form of legitimate skepticism.  It conferred respect on creationism for its truly adversarial relationship to science, noting things that apparently creationists pointed out, and science eventually proved them right.  PZ Myers’ point was: no, scientists were saying the same things, and unlike the creationists, they found the hard evidence to prove it.

Creationism is fundamentally reactionary and denialist.  The line between honest skepticism and denialism can usually be discerned by asking a simple question.  Both the skeptic and the denialist will claim there is not enough evidence to support a particular claim, what differentiates the two is their answer as to what evidence would be necessary to change their belief.  The true skeptic will be able to produce a few pieces of evidence that would convince them.  A denialist will sometimes openly say no amount of evidence will convince them, or if they are more sophisticated, they will just leave it at an unspecific more.

The fact of the matter is that the theory of evolution by natural selection is one of the best and heavily supported scientific theories we have.  The rejection of evolution rests on a logical fallacy, the fear of its ramifications, not the lack of evidence.  The arrogance of the atheist, or the evolutionary scientist is the mere questioning of the unassailable church doctrine.  The thinking goes, if those atheists weren’t so arrogant and just accept the fact that the bible is unerringly correct, then there wouldn’t be a problem.

There are many that believe there is some way to reconcile the theory of evolution and religion.  I am not denying that there are ways to reconcile the two beliefs, but there are none that I find particularly intellectually satisfying.

What the creationists of the world seek from the scientists is simple: accommodation.  And this is what makes atheists so angry.  It sends the message that if one is petulant enough, stubborn enough, loud enough, irrational enough, that it is possible to get the most reasonable of institutions to cave.  Science, as an ideal, is imperfectly implemented by humans.  We try our best, and sometimes we fail, but the central tenet is that we try to succeed, and we are fundamentally honest.

I used to believe standing by a principle was easy.  Science was some forgone conclusion, why wouldn’t someone want to be rational?  Why wouldn’t someone want to know more about the physical world around them?  My upbringing was religious.  I saw going to church on Sunday as some sort of insurance policy.  I thought there was some ancient break where god was regularly intervening in the world and then he quit for some reason.  Later, I realized that the person who went to church on Sunday was the same on Monday.  The tales of great miracles occur regularly, but when examined closely they more closely resemble hoaxes or tales of the credulous, not divine intervention.  Finally, I was able to stitch together a coherent, rational view of natural history that exposes the very strange creatures that we are and what we believe.

I admit it.  I’m a little bit bitter about that.  I can only compare and contrast my own experience of confirmation with this statement from the Brights.

Hello, parents/guardians! Please read the following Brights’ Net’s “rules” for youngsters signing up to be counted in the constituency of Brights.

1) The decision to be a Bright must be the child’s. Any youngster who is told he or she must, or should, be a Bright can NOT be a Bright. [The Brights’ Net doesn’t wish to count children who are not taking the step for themselves.]

2) Children should know they can change their mind at a later time (as can any person).

3) A child must be able to independently sign onto the Brights’ Net site, read and understand the definition, conclude they are a Bright, and then locate and complete the sign-up form without assistance. (Parents should feel free to discuss likely implications of “being a Bright” with the child, but the child must be capable of abiding by the guidelines.)

Can you imagine a church adopting such a policy before we start labeling children Christian?

Religion is at war with the world.  At war with the truths we discover.  Has religion ever endorsed some new discovery and gone, wow, this is better than we thought?  The universe is far older, larger, grander, more complex and elegant than our prophets led us to believe.

This willful ignorance is something to be angry about.  Furthermore, I will not lie, mislead or deny the truth as I see it to accommodate those who want to wallow in a delusion.  If this makes me arrogant, so be it.  I ask nothing less than an intellectual revolution towards rationality, a new permanent enlightenment of our species to replace the decadent thinking of the here and now.  Thinkers unite!  You have nothing to lose but your superstitions and an undimmed view of universe to gain and explore.

June 27, 2008

Welcome to Corporate America

Filed under: capitalism, politics — Tags: , , — codesmithy @ 9:01 am

There have been three items in the news recently that at first look distinct, but nevertheless related.

  1. The reduction in damages for the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill
  2. The FISA “compromise” and telecom immunity
  3. The failure to close the so-called “Enron Loophole”

First, there was the supreme courts decision to reduce damages by 1/10th the original amount, from $5 billion to $500 million.  As The Seattle Times states, Exxon’s profits were $40 billion for the last-year.

Punitive damages are the only way to curtail corporate negligence, make them internalize the costs.  As The Seattle Times editorial states:

A 987-foot oil tanker runs aground after its captain turns the helm over to an unlicensed subordinate and leaves the bridge….

Thirteen-hundred miles of Alaskan shoreline are fouled, an estimated 30,000 birds are killed, and the rest is brutal history.

The potential for disaster was there. Exxon knew Hazelwood had a drinking problem.  The jury found that the institution had its own dereliction of duty and fined it for its inability to prevent this disaster.  But like most corporations, they fought it.  And after years of fighting, they won.  The people die, the corporation lives on.  This is what passes for justice in Corporate America.

Next we have the FISA compromise, although Obama might consider the prosecution of the telecoms as secondary, I see it as primary concern.  These corporations knew, a priori, that they were breaking the law by allowing government wiretaps.  However, the executive branch went with the carrot and stick approach.  Those that helped the government spy got contracts.  Those that didn’t got prosecuted, like Qwest’s Joe Nacchio.  Now, after a heroic struggle to uncover the wrongdoing, Congress comes in to save the phone companies for their complicity in the misdeeds.  The executive branch gets to say the magic words and the lawsuits are dismissed.  Congress wants to substitute its own ineffectual oversight mechanism.  The prime reason it is so ineffectual is because impeachment is off the table.  The executive only has to resist and obstruct, meanwhile Congressmen of the supposed opposition party lie to their constituents and quickly try to let all players effectively off the hook, but especially the corporations.  This is what passes for justice in Corporate America.

Finally, we have the “Enron loophole.”  One has to be borderline retarded not to see the relationship between high gas prices and the record profits the oil companies keep raking in.  Much like the Calfornia energy crisis caused by Enron, it would not be surprising to find some market manipulation.  To be sure, global demand and a falling dollar are both playing a role.  However, market manipulation is playing a part also.  As Enron proved, energy companies couldn’t care less about the broader economy.  Enron didn’t implode because of their energy trading, they imploded because of the patch work of financial instruments they employed to hide mountains of bad risks from the balance sheets.  Manipulating the California energy market was remarkably profitable.  It just goes to show how deeply unprofitable the rest of the company turned out to be.  Right now, we are allowing a huge wealth transfer from the working people of this nation to the stock-holders and primarily the executives of oil companies.  America’s continuing oil dependence is disappointing, but, right now, American citizens are being taken to the cleaners for record profits of oil companies.  This is what passes for justice in Corporate America.

June 26, 2008

Who’s The Mastermind Now

Filed under: programming — Tags: — codesmithy @ 10:30 am

On sort of a whim, I got interested in the game mastermind.  It is a simple code-breaking game.  One player picks a sequence of four pegs, which can be six different colors.  The other player tries to guess what the sequence is.  To help the guesser along, after they decide on their guess, they are told how many pegs of the correct color and location they have correct, and how many pegs are of the correct color but wrong location.

I was talking with a friend of mine who was reading Jeff Hawkins On Intelligence.  Interestingly enough, I had just started reading Kluge: The Haphazard Construction of the Human Mind by Gary Marcus.  Apparently, Hawkins promotes building a machine more like the human mind.  From what I had already read of Kluge I was already like no, the human mind does not necessarily represent good engineering practice.  Then we got into a debate of what exactly intelligence is.  To me, intelligence is being able to find a solution without knowing the answer in advance.  Therefore, computation is intelligence.  Now, certain algorithms can represent a greater intelligence than others.  For example, apparently ants have differing abilities to produce scents.  As such, some ants can’t tell whether they are coming or going from food, but others can (Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! Richard P. Feynman pg. 95)  I think we’d agree those that can tell which way they are going have a greater intelligence than those who can’t, although neither are approaching the level of general level intelligence humans have.

What does this have to do with mastermind?  Well, after spending a little bit of time with a computer, we can get it to play mastermind.  Not only that, but it consistently beats my best performance on the matter.  So, it is worth examining the difference of how I solve it, as a human, and how the computer solves it.

How I play mastermind.

I play mastermind by picking a sequence ABCD, looking at the result.  Hypothesize what the next sequence might be by rules of logic, then try that sequence, look at the result.  The approach is incredibly haphazard, although I try to apply it systematically.  I sometimes fall into traps where I mistakenly inference something about a particular peg only to have to reconsider it later.  Bascially the flaws Marcus says we are prone to in Kluge.

However, as Wikipedia notes, Knuth showed how this can be done with a minmax approach.  The implementation follows.  We start out with a problem definition.

enum CODE { A, B, C, D, E, F, MAX_CODE };
static const int GUESS_LEN = 4;

Next we need a function that calculates the white peg, black peg count given a particular guess and answer. (Note, the Block class just adds assert based bounds checking during development, null is 0, and NUM_ELEMENTS is a macro to determine the number of elements in a static or auto array).

void CalculateDiff(CODE guess[],
                   CODE ans[],
                   int len,
                   int* pBlackPegs,
                   int* pWhitePegs)
{
   assert(guess != null);
   assert(ans != null);
   assert(len > 0 && len <= MAX_LEN);

   Block<CODE> bGuess(guess,len);
   Block<CODE> bAns(ans,len);
   bool matched[MAX_LEN];
   memset(matched,0,sizeof(matched));
   Block<bool>  bMatched(matched,NUM_ELEMENTS(matched));

   int blackPegs = 0;
   int whitePegs = 0;

   for(int i = 0; i < len; ++i)
   {
      if(bGuess&#91;i&#93; == bAns&#91;i&#93;)
      {
         ++blackPegs;
         bMatched&#91;i&#93; = true;
      }
   }

   for(int i = 0; i < len; ++i)
   {
      if(bGuess&#91;i&#93; == bAns&#91;i&#93;) continue;
      bool done = false;
      for(int j = 0;!done && j < len; ++j)
      {
         if(i == j) continue;
         if(bMatched&#91;j&#93;) continue;
         if(bGuess&#91;i&#93; == bAns&#91;j&#93;)
         {
            ++whitePegs;
            done = true;
            bMatched&#91;j&#93; = true;
         }
      }
   }

   if(pBlackPegs != null) *pBlackPegs = blackPegs;
   if(pWhitePegs != null) *pWhitePegs = whitePegs;
}
&#91;/sourcecode&#93;

From there, we can define a MasterMindAI class, that produces guesses.

&#91;sourcecode language='cpp'&#93;
class MasterMindAI
{
public:
   MasterMindAI();
   ~MasterMindAI();

   static void GetPossibility(CODE* code,int codeLen,int codeNum);
   static int  GetCode(const CODE* code,int codeLen);
   void GetGuess(CODE* code,int codeLen) const;
   int  CountRemovals(CODE* guess,CODE* ans,int codeLen) const;
   void UpdatePossibilities(CODE* guess,
                            int codeLen,
                            int blackPegs,
                            int whitePegs);
   void Reset();
private:
   bool* m_possibilities;
   int   m_numPossibilities;
};
&#91;/sourcecode&#93;

The static functions just map a numerical code 0...1295 (6^4) to a particular code string and vice versa.  0 is AAAA and 1295 is FFFF.

The heart of the intelligence is in GetGuess.

&#91;sourcecode language='cpp'&#93;
void MasterMindAI::GetGuess(CODE* code,int len) const
{
    int maxGuess = 252;
   int numRemainingPos = 0;
   for(int i = 0;i < m_numPossibilities; ++i)
   {
      if(m_possibilities&#91;i&#93;) ++numRemainingPos;
   }

   if(numRemainingPos != m_numPossibilities)
   {
       int maxScore = -1;
       for(int i = 0; i < m_numPossibilities; ++i)
       {
           CODE aGuess&#91;GUESS_LEN&#93;;
           GetPossibility(aGuess,NUM_ELEMENTS(aGuess),i);
           int thisScore = INT_MAX;
           for(int j = 0; thisScore > maxScore && j < m_numPossibilities; ++j)
           {
              if(!m_possibilities&#91;j&#93;) continue;
              CODE possAns&#91;GUESS_LEN&#93;;
              GetPossibility(possAns,NUM_ELEMENTS(possAns),j);
              thisScore = std::min(thisScore
                                   ,CountRemovals(aGuess
                                                 ,possAns
                                                 ,NUM_ELEMENTS(possAns)));
           }
           if(thisScore > maxScore)
           {
              maxGuess = i;
              maxScore = thisScore;
           }
       }
   }
   GetPossibility(code,len,maxGuess);
}

The key part is minmax counting of the possibilities eliminated. We loop through all the possibilities, and for all the remaining possible answers we record the worst case removal. We then pick the guess with the best worst-case removal.

CountRemovals calculates how many of the remaining possibilities would be eliminated with the given guess with the given answer.

int MasterMindAI::CountRemovals(CODE* initGuess,CODE* ans,int codeLen) const
{
int numRemoved = 0;
int blackPegs = 0;
int whitePegs = 0;
Block poss(m_possibilities,m_numPossibilities);
int code = GetCode(initGuess,codeLen);
if(poss) ++numRemoved;

CalculateDiff(initGuess,ans,codeLen,&blackPegs,&whitePegs);
CODE posAns[GUESS_LEN];
for(int i = 0;i < m_numPossibilities; ++i) { if(!poss[i]) continue; int tb = 0; int tw = 0; GetPossibility(posAns,NUM_ELEMENTS(posAns),i); CalculateDiff(initGuess,posAns,codeLen,&tb,&tw); if(tb != blackPegs || tw != whitePegs) { ++numRemoved; } } return numRemoved; } [/sourcecode] Next, we have its pair, update possibilities which updates the internal possibility array based on what actually happened. At no time will we eliminate less possibilities than we predicted in CountRemovals. [sourcecode language='cpp'] void MasterMindAI::UpdatePossibilities(CODE* guess, int codeLen, int blackPegs, int whitePegs) { int numEliminated = 0; Block poss(m_possibilities,m_numPossibilities);
int code = GetCode(guess,codeLen);
if(poss)
{
poss = false;
++numEliminated;
}
for(int i = 0;i < m_numPossibilities;++i) { if(!poss[i]) continue; CODE ans[GUESS_LEN]; GetPossibility(ans,NUM_ELEMENTS(ans),i); int tb = 0; int tw = 0; CalculateDiff(guess,ans,codeLen,&tb,&tw); if(tb != blackPegs || tw != whitePegs) { poss[i] = false; ++numEliminated; } } } [/sourcecode] Finally we have the main loop. [sourcecode language='cpp'] CODE ans[GUESS_LEN]; MasterMindAI::GetPossibility(ans,NUM_ELEMENTS(ans),i); mai.Reset(); int numGuesses = 0; CODE sample[GUESS_LEN]; bool done = false; while(!done) { int blackPegs = 0; int whitePegs = 0; mai.GetGuess(sample,NUM_ELEMENTS(sample)); PrintCode(&std::cout,sample,NUM_ELEMENTS(sample)); CalculateDiff(sample,ans,NUM_ELEMENTS(sample),&blackPegs,&whitePegs); if(blackPegs == GUESS_LEN) { done = true; } else { mai.UpdatePossibilities(sample,NUM_ELEMENTS(sample),blackPegs,whitePegs); } } [/sourcecode] The one thing I find surprising is how many possibilities are actually eliminated in the first guess. The computer employs a strategy with a precision and speed that I just can't. So, we can train a computer to be more intelligent in specific instances, and it thinks in a way that is rather alien to the way we, as humans, do. This isn't surprising in a world where the reining intellect itself is based on a kluge. It also seems to be a property of this kluge-iness that we wish to impose the particulars of our thinking onto the machine. It is unlikely this will be for the sake of efficiency or good design, but rather because we so limited that it is the only way we could make work for certain problems we would like to solve.

June 24, 2008

Kanzius Redux

Filed under: culture, media, science — Tags: — codesmithy @ 9:40 am

From the I can’t believe this story hasn’t died yet file, John Rossi III pointed out that the Naples Daily News ran an article on John Kanzius.  The headline asks: “can this man cure cancer?”  The answer is, of course, no.

As I wrote before:

[T]he difficult part is developing the nano-machines or viruses that will attach themselves to cancer cells, not killing the cancer cells after they have been tagged.

Apparently, Kanzius is getting some help from medical professionals on that part.

Somewhat more amazingly, the device is being touted as a way to desalinize water.  As I wrote in a comment.

Kanzius’ device is horrible for desalination. Breaking the hydrogen-oxygen bond is an awful road to go down from an engineering perspective, because the remainder of the process is going to be spent trying to recover that energy. Not to mention of radio waves that will invariably miss the bonds.

However, because one Professor emeritus at Pennsylvania State University examined the device, Rustum Roy, the article is able to report that research is ongoing.  According to Roy’s general biography, he is described as “the leading contrarian” among U.S. scientists. Being a “leading contrarian,” he doesn’t seem to answer the most basic scientific question when he examined the device, what is the device’s output/input efficiency.

http://www.rustumroy.com/Scans/Observations%20of%20polarized%20MRI%20vol%2012%20is%201.pdf

Kanzius’ device can be used for desalination, but it has an incredibly low probability of being practical given the technology that already exists.

Tellingly, what should have been a minor intellectual curiosity has become a phenomenon through repeated credulous reporting.  Case in point:

The possibilities about what the machine might accomplish run rampant. Can it defeat viruses? Heart disease? No research has begun on those hopeful thoughts, but Kanzius has submitted patents for the treatment of other diseases. “One of those viruses could be HIV,” Kanzius says. “The viruses are actually easier to work with than cancer cells,”

Kanzius also says it may be possible to target plaques in arteries.

The article later provides information on where to donate.

No big company has stepped in to fund research into Kanzius’ machine, so the money has to come from somewhere else. He’s established the John Kanzius Cancer Research Foundation. Its Web site — http://www.kanziuscancerresearch.com — has drawn a rash of donations as media reports on the device have spread.

It never ceases to amaze me how circularly driven this whole enterprise surrounding John Kanzius is, how the media repeats the most outrageous speculation unchallenged, then seeing little pieces sprout up from the credulous.  How do you counteract that?  How can we promote critical thinking when we are constantly assaulted with the most credulous, mindless blather.  What is the speed of stupidity?  Here is one clue.  RF Induced Hyperthermia (apparently the name for Kanzius’ desalination method) has a stub on the Wikipedia page for desalination.

June 22, 2008

Starting Down the Road to Serfdom

Filed under: books, capitalism, politics — Tags: , , — codesmithy @ 9:22 am

As promised, I picked up Friedrich A. Hayek’s “The Road to Serfdom” from the most socialist of institutions the library.

The book’s aim is ambitious.  It sets out to show how socialistic institutions, such as public schools, libraries, medicare, medicaid, social security, etc. invariably lead to totalitarian regimes like the Nazis and Soviets.  Hayek asks “have not the parties of the Left as well as those of the Right been deceived by believing that the National Socialist party was in the service of the capitalists and opposed to all forms of socialism? (pg 6)”

Yes, deceived by the facts.  Nazism was in service of the capitalists.  It was not in service of Hayek’s conception of free-market capitalism, but it was capitalism nonetheless.  I don’t think any one claimed that Nazism was opposed to all forms of so-called socialism.  Certainly, they were interested in the general welfare of the members of the Nazi party.  One of the reasons Hitler was so loved by the business leaders in this country was because he banned Trade Unions.  This move can hardly be construed as an action of a socialist.

I was somewhat disappointed that Hayek doesn’t provide a time-line for when governments will fall into totalitarian collapse.  He just continually assures us that they will.  Soon.  In a generation or two.  Just wait, you’ll see.

Among his more bizarre allegations was the apparent difficulty of getting his book published.  It was a conspiracy he assures us.  It wasn’t until editors at Reader’s Digest condensed his book and published excerpts to a warm reception that a publisher was willing to publish it in the United States in full.  One would think that this story has enough cognitive dissonance to make Hayek’s head spin.  I’m always surprised by those who advocate a doctrinal adherence to free-market principles in every aspect of the economy (even to go so far to argue that any variation of the principles leads directly to a totalitarian regime), bemoan its injustice as it presents obstacles to dissemination of their ideas.

Hayek also bemoans the fact that people don’t properly refute his main thesis.  To wit, as Christopher Hitchens said, “what can be asserted without proof can be dismissed without proof.”  The strength of any argument rests on the evidence supporting it and its logical consistency.  Hayek can present a perfectly consistent argument, but so far, he uses the most loaded examples imagniable.

This brings me to labels and definitions.  Hayek presumably thinks that socialism is state ownership of the means of production.  The answer of course, is that state ownership of the means of production can be socialism, but it is not necessarily socialism.  Civics matter.  It is socialism if the means of production are controlled democratically.  If the means of production are not controlled democratically, it is something else, but the one thing it certainly isn’t is socialism.  Without this fundamental understanding, his argument is nothing more than a straw-man.

To Hayek, a state, is a state, is a state, regardless of the particular system of government.  However, Hayek assures us that any collective ownership of resources or implementation of services will lead to totalitarianism.  His solution to this situation is therefore to hand all resources and implementation of services to unaccountable private entities.  The possibility of a few of these private entities becoming dominant and eventually colluding is apparently impossibly in Hayek’s conception, in direct opposition to historical experience.

States, by their very nature, have a tendency to drift towards totalitarinism.  The founders of this nation recognized that problem and instituted a government with separation of powers, limited power, checks and balances, periodic elections, etc.  There are a few issues, in retrospect, they probably didn’t get right, such as election financing, the voting schemes employed and term limits.  Thankfully, they also gave us the ability to correct those imperfections.

Therefore, Hayek’s thesis is absurd on its face.  Did the Roman Republic fall because of socialism?  Did Greek democracy?  No, it is nature of all government to implode.  It is human nature.  Hayek’s solution is to capitualate all economic power to fundamentally unaccountable private tyrranies in the vain belief the power will remain dilute (another historical fallacy).  This ensures we remain free.  Free to find yourself in a world where the only option for your survival is to rent your labor power to a capitalist.  In this view, totalitarianism and Hayek’s “freedom” are virtually indistinguishable.

June 21, 2008

I Get An Interview Request

Filed under: meta — codesmithy @ 9:39 am

I got some spam comments from Ghazala Khan from “The Pakistani Spectator.”  The interview was actually a little bit interesting, so if Ghazala Khan wants my answers, feel free to take them.

Would you please tell us something about you and your site?

See the about page.

Do you feel that you continue to grow in your writing the longer you write? Why is that important to you?

Yes. I think that writing can be good mental exercise. Mental fitness, like physical fitness, is an important aspect of one’s general welfare.

I’m wondering what some of your memorable experiences are with blogging?

Getting linked to from the one of the New York Times blogs for my post on Robert Murray.

What do you do in order to keep up your communication with other bloggers?

Read them, occasionally comment on things they have written.

What do you think is the most exciting or most innovative use of technology in politics right now?

Donation pages/money bombs. We are seeing some remarkable pooling of resources and the ability to raise cash on short notice. Small contributions from lots of donors is markedly better than large contributions from a few donors for the health of a democracy.

Do you think that these new technologies are effective in making people more responsive?

People’s responsiveness to issues is being improved by their use of the technology.

What do you think sets Your site apart from others?

Me.

If you could choose one characteristic you have that brought you success in life, what would it be?

Focus on the task that remains unfinished. Don’t rest on the laurels of what you’ve already accomplished.

What was the happiest and gloomiest moment of your life?

That is for me to know and you to find out.

Do you think [the use of Twitter and other social networking tools by politicians] is bandwagon jumping or what?

Politicians are people with a motivation to get elected. Sometimes what they do is authentic, other times it is public relations. In general, it tends to be more of the latter than the former. But, I don’t think you can single them out as a class.

If you could pick a travel destination, anywhere in the world, with no worries about how it’s paid for – what would your top 3 choices be?

If we could remove the political repercussions from certain countries and some degree of safety, I’d like to visit Iran, Cuba and Vietnam.

What is your favorite book and why?

Catch-22. I feel it captures the inanity and tragedy of being human.

What’s the first thing you notice about a person (whether you know them or not)?

Usually, it is their ability to reflect light, followed by their ability to make a sound or embarrassing, their ability to occupy space.

Is there anyone from your past that once told you you couldn’t write?

No one that I really listened to.

How bloggers can benefit from blogs financially?

How a blogger benefits from a blog financially is by getting someone to pay them more money than it costs the blogger to run the site after taking into account opportunity costs.

Is it true that who has a successful blog has an awful lot of time on their hands?

There does seem to be a correlation between effort and success.

What are your thoughts on corporate blogs and what do you think the biggest advantages and disadvantages are?

Advantage – capital. Disadvantage – driven by a for profit entity.

What role can bloggers of the world play to make this world more friendlier and less hostile?

Bloggers could help promote understanding. When people understand all the ways people of different cultures, religions, race, etc. are like them, instead of focusing on the superficial differences and initial shock, people tend to have more nuanced views and more tolerant generally.

Who are your top five favourite bloggers?

I don’t know. PZ Myers. John Amato. Glenn Greenwald. Jane Hamsher. Phil Plait.

Is there one observation or column or post that has gotten the most powerful reaction from people?

The fact that burning water doesn’t tend to be energy efficient is apparently news to some people.

What is your perception about Pakistan and its people?

I hope Pakistan and India can relieve their tensions, especially surrounding nuclear proliferation and contain the religious extremists that exist in the country. I believe the Pakistani people want peace and democracy, but there are various forms of extremism that exist in their country.

Have you ever become stunned by the uniqueness of any blogger?

I’ve left a blog utterly frightened after chatting with the author a little bit.

What is the most striking difference between a developed country and a developing country?

The capital of developed countries are owned by entities in the country. So called “developing” countries, the means of production tend to be owned by foreign entities.

What is the future of blogging?

Blogging, much like the pamphleteers of the past will evolve. I don’t think any one can say with certainty what the future will look like, except that eventually it will die when the universe goes cold. In the meantime, it will be guided by the same forces that shape all of history.

You have also got a blogging life, how has it directly affected both your personal and professional life?

Can’t say.

What are your future plans?

Sleep.

Any Message you want to give to the readers of The Pakistani Spectator?

The unexamined life is not worth living. – Socrates

June 20, 2008

Iraq: The Colonial War

Filed under: politics — Tags: — codesmithy @ 9:10 am

The New York Times is reporting that “Four Western oil companies are in the final stages of negotiations this month on contracts that will return them to Iraq, 36 years after losing their oil concession to nationalization as Saddam Hussein rose to power.”

These are no bid contracts.  However the most disingenuous part of the article is the following:

While the current contracts are unrelated to the companies’ previous work in Iraq, in a twist of corporate history for some of the world’s largest companies, all four oil majors that had lost their concessions in Iraq are now back.

Really? You think that awarding no bid contracts to corporations in countries that are currently occupying Iraq is mere coincidence? Corporations that have direct ties to people now in power?

As Stephen Kinzer’s book “Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq” shows, the vast majority of American interventions follow this pattern.

In a certain sense, separating politics and economics is a lie. The slightly archaic but holistic term political economy represents a proper quantum of study. The study of one, without the other, impoverishes the understanding of both, since the two topics are intimately related. Clausewitz said “war is a continuation of politics by other means” although apparently the obvious interpretation of this statement is not what Clausewitz meant. However, the obvious interpretation appears true, so I would go one step further: war is a continuation of economics by other means.

Oil as a commodity isn’t the sole reason we invaded Iraq. Understanding how the political and economic factors inter-relate provides the proper basis for its comprehension.

Iraq is an imperial project. As Chalmers Johnson argues, we can have a Republic or we can have an Empire, we can’t have both. Right now, we are on the road to empire.

June 19, 2008

Derren Brown – Person Swap

Filed under: books, science — Tags: , — codesmithy @ 9:29 am

I’ve been reading “Kluge: The Haphazard Construction of the Human Mind” by Gary Marcus.  The book builds on a few points in “The Logic of Failure: Recognizing and Avoiding Error in Complex Situations” by Dietrich Dorner.  However, Marcus goes a bit further and tries to provide an evolutionary basis for our errors in judgment.

Human beings have a number of quirks.  The egotism of the human species is somewhat astonishing in this regard.  One would think with our brains, we would be most able to recognize our faults and limitations.  “Kluge” goes through a number of ways humans behave irrationally from the ability to be primed to bias one towards a particular answer, to confirmation bias and motivated reasoning.  We are definitely creatures that very much live in the moment with some limited deliberative capabilities hooked in.

As such, the book recommends watching Derren Brown’s Person Swap.  It shows just how flaky our immediate memories can be.

So, without further ado:

Recognizing that we are creatures with limitations and whose reasoning is imperfect is the first step in avoiding some of the problems that can befall us.

June 18, 2008

FISA: Not This Again

Filed under: politics, protest — Tags: , , , — codesmithy @ 8:42 am

Glenn Greenwald writes about Steny Hoyer’s back room dealing to enable telecom amnesty.

Keith Olbermann had a special comment about the matter back in February.

As is usually the case, I’ve eventually come around to Olbermann’s use of terminology.  There is increasingly no other way to describe our government other than fascist.  Back in February, I thought the word was too much of a distraction.  However, as the 5-4 decision to restore Habeas Corpus demonstrates, we are only hanging on by a thread.  5-4, think about what that means.  Four judges on the Supreme Court endorse the notion that the leader can jail a person without any charge, indefinitely.  Their dissent isn’t based on any constitutional principle but rather the chilling belief that placing our complete trust in the executive leader is the only way to keep us safe.  Their utter contempt for the legal system which they are a part of is palpable.  So I ask this not the least bit rhetorically: how would a fascist argue differently?  Can anyone demonstrate a tangible difference in the thinking beyond the superficial?

Next comes Steny Hoyer, working to ensure if the glorious leader told you to break the law, then it is legal.  As Glenn Greenwald shows, Hoyer argued for the rule of law when it applied to Libby and now stands opposed to it.  That rank corruption and cynicism is only exceeded by his seeming plan to vote against the legislation once he feverishly ensures there are enough votes to guarantee its passage.

The only way to change this behavior, including but not limited to lying about the role they are playing, is to make them pay a political cost.  With an election closing in, this is the best time to affect change.  The plan to run an advertising campaign against Hoyer seems to be as good of a tactic as any.  Complaining about Hoyer on a blog is fine, but injecting something into the mainstream media via advertising is sure to get notice, not just from Hoyer, but from all the people like him.  Please consider donating some money to Act Blue for the campaign.  This isn’t a democrat versus republican issue, it is a people versus the fascists issue.  Do you want the government secretly spying on you without warrants?  Do you want the leader to be able to throw you in jail without charge indefinitely?  Do you want those who break the law to be able to get away with it if they are politically connected?  One set of laws and rules for us, another set for our rulers?  Unless you do something about it, your tacit answer to all those questions is yes.

$5?  Is that really going to break the bank?

Here are some quotes to ponder while you decide:

Eternal vigiliance is the price of liberty.

Freedom isn’t free.

June 17, 2008

Biology From Chemistry

Filed under: science — Tags: — codesmithy @ 9:34 am

The question of how life arises from chemicals that we think of as inert is called abiogenesis.  The following video provides an overview of Dr. Jack Szostak’s work at Harvard Medical School.

(h/t PZ Myers)

Neat.  Life is so much more interesting when you actually study it.

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