Tuesday, 27 February 2007

Another Modest Proposal - the STFU scale

Thanks to Digby for this post on Dick Chaney running around the world drumming up support for the next War On Little Brown People.

I note this particular comment:

"US Vice-President Dick Cheney has raised the possibility of military action to stop Iran acquiring nuclear weapons.

He has endorsed Republican senator John McCain's proposition that the only thing worse than a military confrontation with Iran would be a nuclear-armed Iran.

Now, this is interesting, given that more people around the world consider the US than consider Iran the major threat to peace these days.

We are told that every person is equal. I suggest a Modest Proposal based on this - the Statistics Towards a Fairer Universe scale.

The US has about 10,000 nuclear warheads in total. It has a population of 300 million. Iran, as we understand it, has no nuclear warheads - yet. It has about 70 million people.

I propose that Iran be allowed to continue to research nuclear weapons, and the US not be allowed to bitch in public about it until Iran gets 2,334 warheads. This can be enforced simply by everyone in the UN walking out whenever the US starts moaning, by every newspaper refusing to print any of the US's complaints on this matter, and by every government simply ignoring President Bush whining on this matter.

But I don't want to be anti-American. Therefore, a large, prominent chart should be kept in the UN General Assembly and Security Council halls, displaying the rankings of each country on the STFU scale. We should not single out the US - any country on the list should be required to keep quiet about any country below it on the list, and should be reminded of this by people pointing out "STFU, dude, STFU."

And the nifty thing about this is that when the US reduces its own nuclear arsenal, it automatically gets to whine about more and more other countries. Seems perfectly fair to me...

Saturday, 24 February 2007

Channelling the inner Dr Mengele

Having just watched the Carnival in Cuba Street (*), I'm just consuming some shrimp as a late night meal. I recall a time when I would have been squeamish unpeeling these suckers. Indeed, I recall a time when I would have been blase unpeeling these suckers.

Now I'm careful to detach their little heads and place them in front of me as I eat, their beady looking eyes staring at me while I feast on their flesh. I like to imagine squeaky little voices whimpering in fear and terror. I give them little names, the same as certain people I work with. And, tonight, I shall leave them there alone staring into the dark contemplating the fate that has just befallen them.

It rubs the dressing on its skin...

(*) LAVs! Girls in body paint! Um, there were probably other things as well, but I'm both shallow and forgetful.

Friday, 23 February 2007

To give the Bush Administration credit where credit is due...

Last year, George Bush in the State of the Union Speech railed against the dangers of animal-human hybrids. As The New Yorker has just reminded all readers, to this date America remains thankfully free of the threat of centaurs.

Well done, George.


For the benefit of hystericalwoman, a classic head-in-the-sand liberal:

Centaur tribes share their property, and are therefore collectivists if not outright communists. Centaurs roam over land without appreciation for property rights, and value hippy-dippy values like the "eco-system" over usefully profitable things like mineral extraction. THEY ARE AGAINST THE AMERICAN WAY OF LIFE and America NEEDS protection against these mutant freaks. Which Bush has provided.

Bloody moonbats.

Sunday, 18 February 2007

Time for yet another astute political prediction...

Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov declared Turkmenistan's new president...

... Prediction - this wasn't a write-in vote.

A minor moral dilemma

Having got some spare ratty bookcases for the bedroom, I'm sorting out my collection and consigning all the old sf/general stuff out of sight. This will allow me to bury the occasional John Ringo, Ann Rice or even Piers Anthony embarrassment my pack-rativeness won't allow me to get rid of.

But then I came across a copy of Ayn Rand's "The Fountainhead".

I'm philosophically against burning or destroying books, but - Jesus. I think I got it cheap once just to see how bad it really was (answer "bad"). I don't wanna sell it or give it away on the grounds that it's toxic waste.

I guess I may keep it and use it to fuck up impressionable arrogant teenagers. I recall fondly one snotty Milton Friedman fan on a university BBS that I pushed towards "Atlas Shrugged" in the hopes that it would screw him up for at least five years...

Friday, 16 February 2007

On hubris

A brief note to all - never, ever make a boast such as this on your afternoon tea-break on a Friday.

I, madam, am one of the Elect Of God. I am a cataloguer.

It is my job to take whatever boring, incomprehensible crap you people throw at us, eat it, digest it, and excrete out a perfect level 1 AACR2-compliant MARC-formatted record. I’ve seen taxonomy papers, abstract maths, economics, corporate newsletters, friggin’ women’s magazines and, yes, legislation and case reports. I’ve been through hell and I’ve applied LCSH to it.

Sure enough, on picking up some work an hour later that Friday afternoon:

- "Castellnuovo-Mumford regularity and defining equations of a locally Cohen-Macaulay algebra."
- "Extending Hadamard conjugations to model sequence evolution with variable rates across sites"
- "On domain decomposition approach for a singularly perturbed diffusion-convection problem"

If there is a God, He doesn't love us. Or me, at least. But He does have a fine sense of humour.

Wednesday, 14 February 2007

My precious little razorblade

As I was on the bus on St Valentine's Day,
That same image came to me again.
You, pinned against his mattress.
You, with your heels and hands clutching at him.
You, with your eyelids fluttering against his shoulder.
Like a little razorblade lodged in my heart.

And I realised it no longer hurt.

It wasn't that I was too tired, or too bored,
Or had burned myself cold since you'd left,
(Like the ember of some star flung out beyond hope).
It was just that I'd grown to like it.
It was still there cocooned in scars,
but the scars were harder than the steel;
Where it once cut, it now caressed.
I moved it back and forth within my heart,
And it warmed me.
It was just that I'd grown to like it,
My precious little razorblade.

And that's where we were on that St Valentine's Day,
You with your new lover,
And me with mine.

Wednesday, 7 February 2007

A modest proposal to boost troop numbers

Proposed for consideration by the US Congress: Ex-Presidents and their Administration officials shall, as they leave office, automatically be signed up for a four year tour of duty in whatever hellhole they got the US involved in on their watch that needs the most troops.

This would mean, of course, that Bill Clinton would be forced to spend four years on patrol in Kosovo. How on Earth could Republicans object to that?

Tuesday, 6 February 2007

The difference between science and policy

A dirty little secret of mine - I don't have a TV. Haven't had one since, oh, Twin Peaks started - rushed about a bit in the throes of video-withdrawal trying to find what it was like, and then said "stuff it". Haven't missed it.

What I do do is watch DVDs on the computer. Works for me, even if I am a little behind the current events of "Lost".

So I'm watching the first series of "Numbers", for the first time. Charlie-the-mathematician is pondering an equation that might give a statistical chance of predicting "success" for children based on demographic data. The implication throughout the episode is that if the Big Bad Government gets ahold of this, it will use it to skew funding, away from the probable "losers" and towards the probable "winners". Charlie's friend advises him to drop it on the grounds that it will be a self-fufilling prophecy and is thus not science.

Sorry, no. There's again a confusion between science and policy there.

That the chances of a kid's success might be predicted by demographic data is a scientific question - regardless of what anyone does with it. That some people might be genetically better than others in defined areas is a scientific question regardless of the history of eugenics (and, really, if it's true for every domestic animal we've ever bred...). That women, as a group, might have different mental capabilities or tendencies than men due to genetics rather than socialization is a scientific question. That blacks and whites might be different is a scientific question, or at least it would be if anyone could define "black" and "white" in meaningful genetic terms.

That anthropogenic climate change may be occuring is a scientific question, regardless of what doing anything about it might mean for the economy. That neuro-linguistic programming as a description of a functioning mind might have something to it is a scientific question, regardless of the sordid uses it seems to be associated with.

Science asks meaningful questions of the world around us. These are available to be answered whether we like the implications or not. That you don't like the policy they may or may not support does not invalidate the science - cf creationism's continual confusion between evolution and all the myriad sins Fundamentalists like to rail at.

Making policy requires we look at the real world, that we understand the science. But the science does not determine our choices - we are not limited to the relentless march of logic. John Ralston Saul has laid this out better than I ever could - go read him.

So let's get back to "Numbers" - what happens if this is true? If we can predict which kids are more likely to succeed, the obvious policy implication is to skew resources to them in order to get more "bang for the buck". To seek efficiency.

As Saul points out, efficiency is a secondary virtue. First you have to know what goals you desire from a policy. To blindly promote efficiency because we have cold hard data enabling optimization for efficiency is to implicitly make a statement about the ends of education which it is difficult to support explicitly in a liberal democracy. An explicit debate on the purposes of providing education to children - ALL children - would be needed.

Therein lies the difference between science and policy. Science asks the "what is" questions, but policy must go further and explicitly ask "and how does that fit in"?

Not making this distinction leads to two deformations - a choice of policy just because the science is there - as was considered the case for eugenics - and a denial of science because of the implied policy - global climate change.

The rational thing for the anti-climate change people is to say "Okay, the science appears to support it - so what? Do we want to trash the economy to help alleviate environmental problems?" and move the debate into that area. They won't do that, because they're pretty sure they'll lose in an explicit examination of the issues - it won't trash the economy, and the environmental impacts may be more significant to actual human lives. So they smear the science and throw smoke bombs around.

Thursday, 1 February 2007

Quote for the day - Why Leonard Cohen is Cool and we ain't.

"If I was Leonard Cohen,
or some other songwriting master,
I'd know to first get the oral sex
and then write the song AFTER..."

- Jeffrey Lewis, _The Chelsea Hotel Oral Sex Song_

John Edwards and the Great Blog-Rush of 2008

Let us congratulate Amanda Marcotte and Melissa McEwan. They're both "Men of Goodwill" (despite not being Masons, fraternal or, to the best of my knowledge, Men) (*), and the Edwards campaign is better for having them. And money is the sincerest form of appreciation.

Now, let's consider the implications. The Edwards campaign is obviously making a play for positioning its image among an important demographic. It's not just the people who read Pandagon and Shakespeares Sister directly, it's the flow-on effect - many of those in the audience also blog, and are opinion leaders, and by associating the campaign with these two high-profile bloggers, the campaign is disseminating a specific image to a key audience. This was not the case when Kos was picked up as a consultant or when he endorses candidates - Kos is selling his expertise and his central role as a tactician for Democratic-leaning voters. Marcotte and McEwan are selling their alignment with the Edward's campaign, implicitly stating that his views are in sync with the political personas they have established and explicitly communicating based on people's prior understandings of their positions.


Which makes me wonder whether this is going to be a common tactic of the future. Edwards is targeting the progressive voter (well, duh!), but what happens when other candidates aiming at other targets try the same thing?

Which Democrat is going to go after other liberal bloggers? Which after moderate or sane conservative bloggers? Is John Cole up for grabs?

Which Republican is going to make a play for Jim Robinson of Free Republic? Which will go for Jeff Goldstein? Will anyone invite Pamela Geller (aka "Atlas Juggs") to the dance?

This might be getting interesting...

(*) Me, I'm an asshole. And proud of it. It's an important function in the discourse ecology. Somewhere above bedrock, but below slime mold as I understand it.