Thursday, May 12, 2005

Real (Bad) IDea


The whole "show meh yoh papazz, pliss" from East Germany....coming soon to a state near you. And me.

Bruce Schneier on why Real ID is a bad IDea. Plenty of links once you get in there.

Senate passed the thing unanimously, because it was tucked into a spending bill as a rider.

Now heads to Prez, for his signature. And, he signed it.

Ick. Maybe we can use the below as an example. It still has the original Nazi stamps.

Review of "Accidental Death of an Anarchist"

(Seen May 7, 2005)

Summer’s here, and the time is right for…visiting the theater.

I’m not talking about movies. I mean live people, acting. Get out of the house, away from the tube, and go see one of the many productions available in the next few months.

I have one for you: Burning Coal Theatre’s “Accidental Death of an Anarchist” is at Legget Theater at Peace College in Raleigh. (You can find a copy of the script here, though this is quite different from the adaptation used by BC)

“Accidental Death” is a farce. It’s funny; but at its core it is political. George Bush gets abused, but the play’s target is larger than any person or party. Dario Fo’s script is ANGRY. Hierarchy, convention, politicians, the media: This play spills acid on everything.

There are a few hooks to hang the plot on. The only sane and moral person is the crazy guy, “The Maniac.” Phillip Mutz, as the Maniac…well, he was born to play this. It is demanding acting, having to maintain that level of manic power, driving the play along, moving the exposition, creating our only focus for sympathy. Mutz is terrific, a wayward orb in a broken pinball machine, one only he can make flash and ring and pop.

The other characters are good, too, but the script makes them cartoons. There is so much coming at you at once that you start to laugh about something from ten seconds ago, but if you do laugh you’ll miss the next bit. Let me two examples. Both examples occur after the reporter, played by Lynne Marie Guglielmi, comes on stage in the second act.

I should note that her entrance sucks all the oxygen out of the room, as it is supposed to. She is dressed more like a prostitute than a reporter. The police chief looks at her closely, and demands, “Aren’t you the theater critic?” She answers with her own question, waving her arms, “Isn’t this a theater?” We all laugh. Look, they have crossed the proscenium barrier and included the audience; it IS a theater, so why shouldn’t the reporter be the theater critic?

But that is not what the line means, though it takes 10 seconds to sink in. The POLICE STATION is the theater. The characters write and rewrite the “facts” of the case, mocking the very idea of facts, or justice. Why shouldn’t the newspaper send the theater critic to write crime stories? Isn’t the police station a stage, and we citizens just an audience?

And, then, a few minutes later. The maniac adapts (misquotes might be better) Pope Gregory the Great, in this passage: "Like it or not, I will impose truth and justice; I will do everything humanly possible to make sure that scandals are clamorously exposed; and do not forget that, in the stench of scandal, all authority is submerged. Let scandal be welcomed, for upon it is based the most enduring power of the state!"

The play goes on, but I couldn’t hear anything for a while. This is the core message, Fo’s enraged indictment. Remember how, in the book 1984, the authorities would say that “We are at war with Oceania, and we have always been at war with Oceania!” Orwell thought wars and battles would be the distraction that kept citizens from focusing on problems at home.

But Fo’s Maniac says something else. Who needs Oceania when you have Michael Jackson, or Tom DeLay? Scandals, on TV, blogs, and newspapers….those are our new wars with Oceania. There is constant war between celebrities, politicians and the media, but they all peek at us out of the corner of their eye. It’s as real as professional wrestling, the outcomes no more meaningful than the OJ Simpson trial. But we are distracted, and that’s really the point.

Go see Accidental Death of an Anarchist. Then go see some other locally produced plays. The Triangle can have as active a theater scene as you want. But you have to go.

“Burning Coal’s ‘Accidental Death of an Anarchist’ plays at the Legget Theater at Peace College through May 22” Tickets!!!

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Mind/Body Duelists

Interesting exchange on THE EDGE.

Pinker v. Spelke

I think that Pinker gets rather the better of this, but it is a hard question.

Was playing pick-up basketball with some grad students a while back. Two of the players were female, both about 5'3" and 100 lbs. I am more than 6', and more than 240 lbs. Some of that is fat (okay, a lot), but I lift weights enough that I can remain in posession of most rebounds I can get two hands on. If you try to take the ball from me, expect to move around a little against your will.

One of the young women decided she would contest a rebound. Grabbed the ball; I didn't see who it was, and without thinking I swung my shoulders and elbows with the ball. She was lifted up in the air, lost her grip on the ball, and fell heavily.

She started shrieking at me, "You can't do that. That's too rough!" I didn't hit her with an elbow, or with anything else. I just took the ball from her. Hard, full speed.

The point? There are three.
1. She was right, in a way. We had a pretty strong norm of not treating the female players that way. That is why we usually needed two women, so they could guard each other. They were both pretty good shooters, and frankly it was a better game that way.
2. Coming down in the paint to contest a rebound with me, or any of the other widebodies, is a different thing altogether. There is a big difference between trying not to knock a woman down if she sets a pick, and just letting her take a rebound away from you.
3. Is there any reason to believe that mathematics and physics are like basketball? That is, the only way women can play basketball with men is to have special rules ("Don't be too rough; I'm a girl!"). I tend to think that is NOT true, and that women can compete straight up. But then why are there so few women in the physics and math fields? That is the most interesting part of the debate.

SPELKE: I'm glad you brought up the case of the basketball and baseball players. I think it's interesting to ask, what distinguishes these cases, where you remove the overt discrimination and within a very short period of time the differential disappears, from other cases, where you remove the overt discrimination and the covert discrimination continues? In the athletic cases where discrimination disappears quickly, there are clear, objective measures of success. Whatever people think about the capacities of a black player, if he is hitting the ball out of the park, he is going to get credit for a home run. That is not the case in science.

In science, the judgments are subjective, every step of the way. Who's really talented? Who deserves bigger lab space? Who should get the next fellowship? Who should get promoted to tenure? These decisions are not based on clear and objective criteria. These are the cases where you see discrimination persisting. You see it in academia. You see it in Claudia Goldin's studies of orchestra auditions, which also involve subtle judgments: Who's the more emotive, sensitive player? If you know that the players are male or female, you're going pick mostly men, but if the players are behind a screen, you'll start picking more women.

PINKER: But that makes the wrong prediction: the harder the science, the greater the participation of women! We find exactly the opposite: it's the most subjective fields within academia — the social sciences, the humanities, the helping professions — that have the greatest representation of women. This follows exactly from the choices that women express in what gives them satisfaction in life. But it goes in the opposite direction to the prediction you made about the role of objective criteria in bringing about gender equity. Surely it's physics, and not, say, sociology, that has the more objective criteria for success.


(Nod to JB)

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

My Pyramid, My Pyramid

I want you to play with

My Pyramid.

Pretty cute site, spoofing the new food pyramid.

Nod to Fey. (Actually, to Joanna)

Okay, now this CAN'T be right

John Lott didn't really do this, did he?

Either someone set up a pretty elaborate hoax (possible), or else...well, it's sad, is what it is.

UPDATE: Nod to BN, who is well on his to becoming a politically moderate HL Mencken. He enjoys this kind of thing a little TOO much. If you ask me.

Mencken (and it could be Nyhan): "It is inaccurate to say that I hate everything. I am strongly in favor of common sense, common honesty, and common decency. This makes me forever ineligible for public office."

UPDATE AGAIN: William Sjostrom has some words on Lott and Levitt, from a while back.

Cave Man HTML

I fixed my SiteMeter account, using cave man "programming": delete all the HTML around the faulty SiteMeter counter stuff in the template, and then reinstall from scratch using the old account info.

Has to be a better way, but that will certainly work.

I had tried getting SiteMeter to overwrite the code, or just change the account associated with the meter, but it wouldn't do it. It would SAY it was done, and that the changes were made, but they wouldn't show up.

Academic Freedom: Writing and Teaching Are Different

As I have argued several times, it seems to me there is a difference between what scholars can write (answer: anything, absolutely anything at all) and what they can "teach" (answer: stick to your subject, keep your political views out of the classroom except as a foil for discussion, never use political conformity as a grading criterion, and consider the impact of readings in terms of their pedagogical effect, not just your own "good" (meaning selfish) intentions).

So, I have read of the case of one Dr. Jonathan Bean. From the SIU-Carbondale student newspaper, and from some other sources, and another.

The gist:

Bean's History 110: 20th Century America class, an SIUC core curriculum course of roughly 270 students, studied the usual litany of readings by Rosa Parks, Malcom X and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. for its section on the Civil Rights era at the beginning of April.

Bean also distributed what he said were additional, optional reading handouts through his three graduate assistants assigned to the course. Among those papers was an abridged article from James Lubinskas of titled, "Remembering the Zebra Killings," which recounted a series of 71 murders perpetrated by a group of black men against white civilians in San Francisco between 1972

and 1974. also hosts writer David Horowitz, who visited SIUC last year on the subject of academic freedom at universities.

Bean had pulled the article from the Web site and thought it would be material students could possibly go over in the course discussion sections.

At that point, Bean said, the wheels began to turn.

"It sparked what I called "handout hysteria," he said. "I handed it out on Tuesday. On Friday afternoon I'm called into the department chair's office, with a hysterical department chair waving the handout at me."

Bean said at that point he wasn't sure what had caused the problem.

"What I took away from it, the concern was about sensitivity," he said.

I am trying to put myself in the positon of the department chair. And here is what I would have said to Bean, if it had been my meeting. "Jonathan, this really comes down to presentation. I don't think you can give equal historical credibility and factual status to the material in this handout, compared to the other historical events you teach about in class. I'll back you up on this, but in terms of pedagogy this is a very close call. Documenting black violence against whites is quite possibly useful, but allowing the perception of moral equivalence (There were white racists and black racists, and so both sides were racists) is a gross misrepresentation. And, to use THIS source...That's not good teaching. I think you made a mistake, but it was an honest one. In any case, you can count on my support publicly."

The point is that professors have an obligation to be careful, not just to hand out random internet tracts in an attempt to be provocative.

On the other hand, if Bean had written something, even something where he expressed approval of the Zebra killings, or the Ku Klux Klan, or anything else, then he would have my full support. I would argue with him, but I would try to protect him.

Write what you want, but teach what you should.

(Nod to OY)

Monday, May 09, 2005

Taverna Bora

Fun stuff at Tar Heel Tavern. You can get there from here. Most recent entry is here.

I also enjoyed reading Coturnix's entry on his boyhood fascination with horses in Belgrade. Coturnix doesn't do anything halfway. If I could only find the TV remote, I'd look for some horseracing. But, "Cops" is on, and I might see some of my family get arrested. Look! There's my cousin! I wish he'd wear a shirt...Yeeek. When he runs, he exemplifies heavily damped harmonic motion. Maybe he should just wear a bra.

The Chicken Thing Has Nothing To Do With the Motorcycle Thing

News from rural America, as reported here....

Linc and Helena Moore may have finally learned the answer to that age-old question: Why did the chicken cross the road?
Because the chicken doesn't know jaywalking is illegal.
Kern County Sheriff's Deputy J. Nicholson does know, however. The deputy issued a ticket March 26 because one of the couple's chickens allegedly impeded traffic in Johannesburg, a rural mining community near Ridgecrest, some 220 miles northeast of Los Angeles.
The Moores were in Superior Court on Friday to plead not guilty. A trial was scheduled for May 16.
Nicholson has declined to discuss the matter, but sheriff's Sgt. Francis Moore said chickens on the roadway have been a problem in the community of 50 residents. Officials didn't believe it could be resolved by simply issuing the couple a warning.
"Sometimes you have to let people talk to the judge," Moore said.
The chicken's owners say they believe they were cited because they were among several people who complained that sheriff's deputies haven't done enough to control off-road vehicle riders who create dust and noise in their neighborhood.
Sheriff's officials say that isn't so, adding they are doing what they can to keep off-roaders away from homes.
"The chicken thing has nothing to do with the motorcycle thing," Moore said.

(Insert your own joke here.)
My question is this: Is this just selective enforcement? Will others who jaywalk be cited? Or will such behavior be egg-scused?

(Nod to JAR, who is incredulous)

Gosh Darn It!

I was trying to change the meter type on SiteMeter, and I reset the goldarn thing.

All that useless info, tracking visits and sources, gone. All that is left is....this.

On the other hand, the new meter (bottom of blog) is very pretty, if you like blood. Or fake blood, the kind pro wrestlers use.

I probably shouldn't beat myself up about it....

Lemons: Creature from the Blog Lagoon

Steven Taylor writes an interesting piece combining quotes, and analysis, on blogging and credibility.

If a major blogger had circulated false documents to damage either the Kerry or Bush campaigns in a manner similar to Rather, there is no doubt that they would have suffered the same kind of scrutiny and criticism (had a minor blogger done it, no one would have noticed–maybe. Of course, had a cable access tv show in Austin, TX aired the fake TANG documents, I am guessing they wouldn’t have gotten much scrutiny, either).

The Eason Jordan situation is harder to analogize, because there is no one to “fire” a blogger who made such comments, except in terms of losing readership.

And in terms of corrections: on balance, bloggers’ corrections are easier to see than those of major papers. If I find an error I usually go back and correct it within the post in question, and mark said correction with bold “Updates” and strikthroughs. Does the NYT go back into ita archives and makes actual changes in the text that clearly show a corrected error? I think not.

Another blogger technique in issuing corrections is to post a new story–which is the same thing as the NYT placing their corrections on the front page–something that they aren’t prone to doing.

My own view is that Akerlof tells us much of what we need to know about the problem. The reason that CBS, and the NYTimes, have value as brand names is that they trade on their credibility. But they suffer from the problem that they sell ads, and therefore have reason to distort and embellish and sell more copies (however you want to define eyeballs looking at content, those are "copies"). (Interesting analysis by Steckbeck and Boettke)

Bloggers potentially suffer from the "lemons" problem: no monitoring mechanism, so no reason to be honest, fair, or accurate. But (and here's the thing) bloggers don't charge, and most don't sell many ads. More technically, most bloggers have no profit motive, and so the incentive link necessary for adverse selection to operate is severed. I think Taylor has it exactly right when he talks about the means for showing corrections and updates.

So, you heard it here first: Blogs are a better news source, as a group, than the NYTimes. But, if you are only going to read one thing and act on that first reading, read the Times, because they have the clearest financial incentive to get it right, fastest. Because that is how the market for information works.