eirias: (Default)
2017-08-28 10:24 pm

(no subject)

August 23 2006
August 22 2017

Not the trajectory I expected over that eleven-year span.

Oh well. August 23 2012 was pleasantly Nazi-free, anyway.
eirias: (Default)
2016-12-18 06:37 am

(no subject)

I squatted on this URL three days after its beta opened, and now I've finally moved in. At this moment in history, I'm thinking maybe I don't want the keeper of my diary to be a Russian media company?

I've imported old entries and comments. Props to the DW team that made that astonishingly easy to do.
eirias: (bluebird)
2014-07-03 04:32 pm

(no subject)

That Facebook Experiment has gotten me thinking about ethics in data science. Well, OK, I'd been thinking about it anyway, so this fifteen minutes of moral panic was well timed.

I've been thinking that there is really no code of ethics this young profession, so maybe I need to develop my own, where by "develop" I mean "steal cleverly from others." I've got a start.

I. First, tell no lies.
II. All models are wrong; some are useful.
III. Punch up, not down.
eirias: (Default)
2011-07-09 12:55 pm

"I had a better form letter to send my constituents, but the dog ate it"

So we have a newish Senator, Ron Johnson, and I've come to the conclusion that he isn't very smart. I mean, he can tie his shoes and run a company, I guess, but as far as I can tell that's about the limit. (That and/or he got some serious litter-runt-age on the legislative aide front.) Maybe when he's had more than six months in office he'll make a splash and I'll be surprised. I'm not holding my breath.

What gets me is -- why does this offend me so deeply? Is it even legitimate to expect that my leaders be smart?

Context: I got an email from him in response to something I sent him about the Patriot Act, and yes, of course the content made me cringe (it's not every Tea Party type who takes useful if quixotic libertarian stands) and yes, it pissed me off that it took so long (I think I contacted him like six months ago?) but what made me the maddest of all was that the letter was so damn empty. A smart middle school student could have constructed a more cogent argument, one that involved more words and less white space, perhaps.

I don't know. Maybe you can tell me if I am overreacting to perceived idiocy here? Am I just still mourning Feingold? Do I need to have a series of reckless flings with unsuitable Congressmen before I can give my heart to another?

I told [livejournal.com profile] ukelele that it feels like someone stole all my Vicodin1 and replaced them with Pez.

Johnson's actual letter )

1this is a metaphor
eirias: (Default)
2011-04-05 05:53 pm

specific problem, general problem

Headline in the New York Times today: Wisconsin Election is Referendum on Governor
Unfortunately, the headline isn't strictly true, because we're actually electing a Supreme Court Justice. But you know, careful deliberative justice, grassroots partisan political movement, what's the diff?

A recurring theme in my thoughts lately is: when you're in a game with rules you dislike, how do you choose your move? Do you act according to your own principles? Or do you choose the move that will best serve your interests, given the rules as they are?

Left to my own devices, I try to construe my self-interest broadly: I much prefer to act in accordance with general principles that make my conscience quiet than to act in a way that gives me short-term gains, but presupposes long-term losses. In the case of the Supreme Court race, the long-term losses are twofold. I hate judicial elections because judgments ought to follow the Constitution, not popular will. (Anyone who is a minority of any kind -- which is, I suspect, most of my readers -- should be conscious of this.) And I hate this one in particular because the circus that surrounds it is a reminder of what happens when that is not true: leaders think it's OK to ignore court orders, and their base agrees. Judicial impartiality, like human rights generally, is a collective delusion; but if we lose the delusion, I don't see how we can preserve a decent society.

Nevertheless, I can't change the game by pretending I'm playing a different one. The rules of the judicial game in Wisconsin, and the stakes in this particular election, both encourage a partisan view. Prosser has not done much in the last year to win my affection; he hasn't written any recent opinions and he seems to vote with a bloc whose decisions, on balance, I don't like that much. He issued a press release in December allying himself with Walker, which is not really appropriate for an ostensibly nonpartisan campaign. The court itself is reportedly contentious and dysfunctional and he is rumored to be a large part of that; at one point last year, in a dispute related to official court business, he admits to calling the Chief Justice a bitch and threatening to destroy her. (Today's research at least taught me that I DO like the Chief Justice -- she is a scholar and her opinions show it.) I gather Prosser is not the only inappropriate person on the bench, but changing the lineup sounds wise and he's the one whose term is up. Overall, I think that my short-term self-interest will be served in two ways if Prosser is removed.

But it doesn't have to stop there. Years ago, apropos of I-don't-know-what, [livejournal.com profile] dolohov reminded me that democracy doesn't end on election day. Perhaps a gentle curmudgeonly rant about judicial elections is in order, for some place more public than here.
eirias: (Default)
2011-03-19 05:03 pm


Hello, theater #3.

Why Libya? Yes, Qaddafi is reportedly an awful man; yes, a substantial faction in the country actually seems to want our help; yes, it's good that this is a multilateral effort; yes, I'll be excited if this works and he goes away. But this has not been the White House's approach to any of the other revolutions of a very revolutionary time in history.

Why Libya? Not morally, but practically -- what is actually motivating this choice? Why them, why now?
eirias: (Default)
2011-03-10 03:59 pm

(no subject)

I have this tl;dr thing I've been drafting about our protests for two weeks now. I don't know if it'll ever be finished (what's the point in tl;dr?) but I need to put a shorter thing out there in the meantime.

If you asked me how I felt about this mess I wouldn't be able to do it in a hundred words or less. My mind and heart are spinning on so many levels right now.

  1. On a shallow level: This is the most entertaining thing that has happened in my town, like, ever. It is like the Real World. Every day some politician pulls some outrageous stunt that gets everybody's attention and we can't talk about anything else. Every day someone capitalizes on all this excitement for profit in some breathtakingly obvious way. Today I ordered a T-shirt from the official restaurant of the revolution -- "Ian's Pizza: This is what democracy tastes like."
  2. On a deeper level: I'm worried by these shenanigans because when the dust settles, I still have to live here. I supported my Senator's exit (and told him so) because I think it did something important -- it gave us time. Three weeks of daylight have given us all a pretty good idea what's in the bill and what its effects might be. Three weeks convinces me that union busting is not, by and large, something this swing state favors. But life goes on and politics goes on and I'm really concerned that the atmosphere right now is so hostile that the minority party can no longer serve effectively as the loyal opposition. Until the balance of power in our Capitol changes, they are all lame ducks.
  3. On an intellectual level: I am totally bowled over by all the stuff that this has taught me about Wisconsin history, state politics, and activism. Yeah, there are some eyeroll-inspiring signs out there, with bad grammar or bad politics or just bad jokes; but the deeper lesson of the protests is that it IS possible to dissent with humor, without bitterness; and it IS possible, with cleverness and with patience, to change the story.
  4. On another intellectual level, where I am both amused and annoyed: I actually think there is probably a decent, grownup conversation we could be having about whether public employees ought to have the right to unionize. It's an open question in my mind. But that's not the conversation any leader in our state has tried to have -- and that's the point, to me. I am convinced that our Governor has made these moves not to protect his citizens (since when are no-bid contracts to sell state resources in the best interests of any state? do we even need to have that conversation?) but to advance himself. And here's an heuristic for you: when someone makes an aggressive push to enact an unpopular law that removes established rights and reduces middle-class income in a recession without having a grownup conversation about why, that is a law we should not have, and that is a person who should not lead.
  5. On a personal level: I've got a horse in this race. Although very little in my own life will change once this bill becomes law, the environment of my employment may change considerably, and not in a way that serves my interests. I'm also seriously worried about the many and varied economic impacts that the repair bill and the budget both will have on my town's economy. These cuts are synergistic in a way that has me wondering whether buying property in this state was a mistake. And maybe that's something my leaders should hear, too.
eirias: (Default)
2011-02-27 09:49 pm

(no subject)

The protests downtown start their third week tomorrow, and though there's a lot more to say about them, I need to mark something that is particularly startling. Several hundred protesters have been sleeping in the Capitol for most of the last two weeks. They have been peaceful and have cleaned up after themselves. The goodwill between police and protesters has been remarkable.

But what is more remarkable is this: The executive branch has asked the police to clear the building of protesters, twice. And today many of these protesters affirmed that they were willing to get arrested, peaceably, to make a point. And the police said no. The sleepover goes on.
eirias: (Default)
2010-11-02 06:13 am


I'm going to vote for Russ Feingold for Senate today. He's been a consistent voice for civil liberties in the Senate. Wisconsinites, I hope you're voting for him, too. This isn't a case of "marginally better than the alternative." This is a case of "the alternative is actually terrible, and he is actually good."
eirias: (Default)
2010-09-11 07:54 am

bitterness; a bleg

I am unreasonably bitter about airport security. I don't like being touched by strangers; I'm priggish when someone suggests I might be dishonest; I hate arbitrary and shifting rulesets; and the erosion of civil liberties that the TSA represent to me infuriates me. Consequently, every time I have to go through security, my adrenaline spikes. Best case scenario is that I get through with no additional screening, but I'm still tense and angry ten minutes after I get to my gate. But when TSA decide to touch me or go through my things for whatever reason, I feel this irresistible compulsion to mouth off, just so I feel like I have some sense of agency. This is about as sensible as refusing to give your wallet to a mugger, I know. But wouldn't you, on some level, deeply want to punch the mugger in the schnozz?

Does anybody have any strategies for coping with this? I will say that bromides about how "they're just doing their job" do not impress me; I'm the child of a history buff whose favorite war was WWII, so you can imagine my mental associations with that phrase. Other suggestions, however, are welcome.
eirias: (Default)
2010-09-04 10:49 pm

(no subject)

We saw The Fog of War tonight, a documentary about, well, ostensibly it's about war but I really think it's a character study of Robert McNamara. It was a good movie, but uncomfortable. I left the theater with the feeling that McNamara died with a lot on his conscience, a lot of things he was only half owning up to. He said some interesting things. But his face made my own conscience feel itchy.

It's not so much that I think McNamara was a terrible person, or more of one than anybody else. I think that nobody would be graceful in a situation where doing their job meant being an accessory (at least) to hundreds of thousands of deaths by fire and bombs and poison. What I take from that is that we probably shouldn't give people the power to kill hundreds of thousands of other people by fire and bombs and poison. I know, I know, a long list of "shoulds" that starts with flossing and doesn't make it out the gate. What can you do, you know.
eirias: (Default)
2010-07-23 04:37 pm

(no subject)

BP alarms failed because... dum da dum... someone didn't want to be woken up by false alarms. link

This resonates with two themes of my thoughts over the last few years:

- Type II errors matter too, and

- If your system pays more attention to what people should do than what they actually do, then you are a jerk, or misguided, or maybe just an idiot. Which of these I infer depends heavily on my mood.
eirias: (Default)
2010-04-18 04:07 pm

stray thought about preparing scholars

I know a fair number of people who found graduate school, shall we say, not that satisfying. This may not surprise you if you've ever known any graduate students, but it probably should. Grad programs filter their entry pool pretty heavily on traits like academic achievement and interest; among the set that makes it in, you'd think hating school should be a fairly rare occurrence. What's going on here?

The canonical answer is that the unhappy ones are doing something wrong. The culture of higher education places the burden for success squarely on students, especially at the graduate level: no one can do the work of learning, or of career planning, for you. And there's some truth to that, for sure. However: graduate stipends are small, compared to the salaries of entry-level jobs that students would likely qualify for, and the justification is that tuition is part of compensation. When mentorship is weak or lacking, when professors' failure to read and comment on submitted work renders its completion meaningless, when standards for success are so ill-formed that decisions seem arbitrary -- those things, in a sense, constitute a reduction in pay.

So I started wondering the other day: why do we treat graduate school as school in the first place? Instead of pretending that learning to be a scholar is anything like learning to be a lawyer or a surgeon, why not move to a model more like other jobs -- where people are paid entry-level salaries for a few years while they learn enough to be hired later as independent workers (aka postdocs, instructors) and managers (professors)? I am not sure that it would have to cost more; compensation that currently goes back into the Graduate School could go instead toward salary for TAs and RAs, which, given professors' frank acknowledgement that graduate coursework is a waste of time, seems entirely appropriate to me.

My hunch is that this model would take some pressure off the mentor-mentee relationship, which is often fraught with expectations that go unmet. Rather than trying to turn everyone into Supermentor, it seems more sensible to adopt a structure that acknowledges reality -- your professor is just another boss -- and encourages scientists to take responsibility for their careers by paying them and treating them as young professionals instead of as students.
eirias: (Default)
2010-03-19 05:37 pm

(no subject)

Interesting Cat and Girl on career and identity. (Or at least -- it's partly about career and identity.)

I was thinking a while ago that it's probably a better policy not to stake your identity on something -- like a job -- that somebody else can take away from you. But I think Girl is right that the obvious alternatives are things, like religion and clan membership, that come with their own problems. Hmmm.
eirias: (Default)
2010-01-19 06:06 pm

(no subject)

Follow up from Harper's on those Gitmo deaths.

I was musing on this yesterday, and -- here's the thing. Part of what made the years under Bush so very demoralizing was my conviction that institutions, given power, do not give it back; that is to say, the damage Bush did to our way of life seemed very likely to me to be permanent. A lot of people called me a cynic. At one point a good friend told me to stop channeling her anarchist husband (you know who you are). But I really couldn't see where I was wrong.

Obama was -- and I still believe this -- a best-case scenario for a follow-up to Bush. His civil liberties credentials were higher than most, certainly better than Gore's or Kerry's were, as he pushed for and got a significant victory for due process in Illinois, a corrupt state if I ever saw one; he came to power with a decently-sized mandate; his biography marks him as a man who thinks deeply, the most likely kind of man to care about the principle of a thing. And he's worked really hard to move the country in the direction that Democrats prefer... on most issues. But I can't help but notice, since January 22 of last year, the civil liberties issues have gone pretty much nowhere.

It's possible that he's just got other priorities, yes. I see why he'd want to put healthcare at the top of the agenda, especially with an ailing Kennedy at the helm, especially now that we see what happens when a Kennedy dies. "Events, my dear boy, events." I see why war is something where the slowest you can possibly be is reactive and most of the time that's too slow. I see why a collapsing economy would get your attention, and it should. I know all this.

But. But the government is big -- really goddamn big, the kind of big where I suspect any effort to map it on paper would risk creating a black hole -- and there is no reason he couldn't be paying a whole passel of brilliant young feds to work on these issues from the policy side while Congress and the military sort out healthcare, the economy, and the war. No reason, perhaps, but sheer self-interest.
eirias: (Default)
2010-01-18 04:47 pm

the guantanamo "suicides"

Three suicides reported in Guantanamo detention facility in 2006 are now alleged to have been murders. This is an article in today's Harper's.

Why is there nothing on the New York Times' main page about this? Perhaps I'm missing some obvious reason I shouldn't trust the Harper's story? But shouldn't an allegation this important at least be mentioned somewhere in the NYT? If you search for the names of the involved, you find an anemic piece on the story, written as though the news were not the alleged crime itself, but the reporting thereof! But you don't even find this story on the first page of a search for either Guantanamo or suicide.

And this on the heels of finding out that the NYT wants people to pay for online access? Dudes, I might pay you for journalism if you wrote credible pieces on the things I actually care about. Yes, yes, I care about Haiti too, and the Massachusetts election. But as a matter of long-term US policy I really, really care about us not torturing and killing people.
eirias: (Default)
2010-01-18 08:45 am
eirias: (brain liposuction)
2009-12-01 01:56 pm

evil credit cabal; also, a business opportunity

I spent six hours today running around trying to figure out why I couldn't get my free credit report online. I'll spare you the suspense and disclose up front that it was that nobody ever found me at my last address, so listing that as my "previous address" made me look like an impostor.

But the path to get that answer was really twisted and involved a few nice librarians and a lot of rude everybody else. Equifax makes their customer support number really hard to find. Don't believe me? Try to find it yourself. Every number on their website goes to an automated system, which is no help when the system doesn't believe you're you. A librarian was able to hook me up, but as soon as I got off the phone with that number, I wondered -- where did she get that number? "Google," she said. So how do I know for sure that it's really Equifax?

This is what I realized today: businesses who are difficult to contact comprise an utterly amazing opportunity for phishing. If you are energized enough to want to call a business, and to need to speak to a live human, it's probably because you are upset and anxious. In that state today, worried about my credit report, I was uncritical: when I found a phone number that was linked to the company, and I called and someone answered "Equifax, how can I help you," I didn't think to question their identity until I'd hung up the phone. That's a big problem. That's a fantastic niche for some enterprising person out there to harvest a whole lotta data.

In the end, verifying that I had not been phished took almost as much time as solving the credit report problem had. Once I got bona fide numbers for Equifax, I called, but the people had no idea how to help me. It had not occurred to them that people would not be able to find their main customer service number; they were certain that Equifax had no other phone numbers (!). I had to sit on hold for half an hour and wait for a manager to agree to check out the number I had dialed previously, and this didn't happen until he'd already yelled at me twice.

This is what else I realized today: the credit bureaus have absolutely no incentive to be nice to me. I can't tell them to shove it; they are my only ticket to some things I'd like to be able to do. I'm not a customer, I'm a datapoint. And, well, to tell the truth... that makes me feel kinda Fight Club.
eirias: (Default)
2009-11-11 07:39 am

Ode to Meep

Hat tip to Language Log.
eirias: (Default)
2009-10-30 12:29 pm

(no subject)

NYT reviews new Ayn Rand biography

Prize quote -- ouch, man, you are painfully right:

Rand’s particular intellectual contribution, the thing that makes her so popular and so American, is the way she managed to mass market elitism — to convince so many people, especially young people, that they could be geniuses without being in any concrete way distinguished.