eirias: (Default)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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.


Mar. 19th, 2011 05:03 pm
eirias: (Default)
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)
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)
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.


Nov. 2nd, 2010 06:13 am
eirias: (Default)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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: (brain liposuction)
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)

Hat tip to Language Log.
eirias: (Default)
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.
eirias: (Default)
On my walk home from lunch today, I saw a couple of black-capped chickadees tussling near the sidewalk. They fell to the ground and wriggled; they seemed to be stuck to each other. They stopped moving. Hmm.

I came up close and I could see them breathing -- it looked pained, but then, everything is fast on chickadee scales. They were belly-to-belly, head-to-tail. One chickadee had its claws in a death grip on the other's wing. Were they hurt? Should I separate them? Touching them with my hands could be bad for them and for me. I took a twig and tried to gently move them apart, but no dice.

I thought, well, maybe Animal Control has some idea. I spent a while listening to an unhelpful recorded message, keeping my eye on the birds. Suddenly, in a flurry, they separated and flew to a nearby rooftop, as if everything were normal.

I have no idea what that was about.
eirias: (Default)
While walking to the bagel place this morning, I encountered a small tan thing on the sidewalk. I stopped and bent down to look at it. A mouse! A blind mouse, mewing soundlessly. With a squished face and no hair. Wait, no. I looked closer. Are there voles that size? Or moles? What IS that thing?

Its jaw opened and closed freakishly as it looked at me. A limb popped out to the side. A webbed limb. Then another. Suddenly it was alive. I gasped and recoiled, and it did the same, and flew madly away.
eirias: (Default)
I have two sentiments about privilege today.

One is that it's fascinating to think about -- in part because it's like pulling back the curtain on the Wizard. I think it tickles the same part of the psyche that responds to books like The Da Vinci Code -- the part that likes invisible, unifying, infuriating threads. Maybe it also appeals to the part of the psyche that likes to get high and stare at its hands. Seeing the world in a new way is always -- well, a joy isn't the right word, exactly -- but a meaningful experience. Things just make sense that didn't before.

The other is that, nevertheless, there is something kind of creepy, perhaps even prurient, about privileged people talking about privilege. It's like the bastard child of self-flagellation and noblesse oblige. So maybe I should think about that the next time I'm tempted to spout off.

On another note, I was recently reading about sickle cell anemia and it struck me, for some reason, as a weird example of unmarked vs. marked class -- weird-shaped blood cells contrasted with normal-shaped ones. But isn't that just the fallout of history, of how evolution has gone? Maybe there is a universe somewhere where sickle-shaped blood cells are the normal ones for humans, where the advantages it confers outweigh the disadvantages, or where something else came up to compensate for those disadvantages. Every species has an Achilles heel that's just considered normal for that species. Maybe there is a universe where dogs can eat chocolate and humans can't. Well, I'm glad I'm not in that universe, anyway. I'll gladly benefit from human privilege if it tastes like chocolate.


Aug. 11th, 2009 09:02 pm
eirias: (clover)
One of the things I like about having friends is that they can do stuff I wouldn't do and I can see how it works. It's a very low-cost way of expanding my horizons.

One of my horizons that maybe needs expanding is my vision of what adult life is supposed to look like. I think I have a fairly rigid, implicit idea of The Responsible Adult Thing, and it looks very placid, all the ducks lined up just so. But I know some perfectly responsible adults who have done all manner of wild things involving career changes and unexpected moves and extra degrees and family upheavals and visa struggles and houses bought and rented and sold again, and somehow they all seem to land on their feet.

Thanks to everyone out there who's done something crazy while I was watching. It's good for me.
eirias: (Default)
Yesterday I made the mistake of looking at Christopher Hitchens' piece on waterboarding that was in Vanity Fair some time ago -- an essay and a short video segment in which he submits himself to the process to get a sense of what it's really like. I immediately burst into tears.

Last night I woke up several times, with Hitchens' words in my mind, feeling like I was drowning.

Some days I just fucking hate what we are.
eirias: (gay)
If you, like me, follow the debates about gays and civil rights, you have probably heard the following argument:

Gay rights supporter: This is just like the civil rights struggle for blacks!
Member of the black community: No it isn't -- your identity is a behavior and one you can hide -- we can't stop being black!

I think both parties are right here, actually. I think the gay rights supporters are right in that the existing structures are obviously unjust and are maintained at least in part because people who got a good spot in the hierarchy don't like people trying to butt in line. This is where they are similar.

But I think the black community is right in that there is some fuzzy space between being a thing and doing a thing. The simplistic way it's often put, between unchanging identity (on the black hand) and a chosen lifestyle (on the gay hand), is misleading. "Being black" isn't just about skin color: like any community, there are ways-of-behaving that carry meaning for group membership, too. And conversely, "the gay lifestyle" isn't something most people choose at random out of a catalog, but falls out of inclinations that are themselves very difficult to change. (Witness the relatively low success rates of reparative therapy even among the extremely motivated.) Nevertheless, I'm not convinced that blackness is the neatest parallel to gayness.

So lately I have been pondering a different parallel: fatness. Here's what I think they have in common.

Both fatness and gayness result from a very deep biological urge that is calibrated to make you want something different from what is considered normative. In the case of gayness, you want to have sex with people of the same sex; in the case of fatness, you want more calories than you will actually burn. While it is popular to talk about self-control, I think most people who are not fat probably don't have to exercise much self-control to eat the amount that they do: their satiety mechanisms very likely kick in at an earlier point and make the idea of more food unappealing. I think this compares rather well with gay sex, a behavior most people avoid chiefly by not being very interested in it in the first place.

This leads well to the next point: moral panics. Both fatness and gayness have inspired an awful lot of tsk-tsking in their day, sometimes at fever-pitch. Sometimes it is couched in moral terms, sometimes in public health terms -- but in both cases I am pretty convinced it is not actually about health. Not that you don't see different health risks faced by (some) gay individuals and (some) fat individuals. It's just that that's not what the conversation is really about. Underneath the moralizing, it's really about class; and disgust; and sex. And I don't have a lot of patience for that.

Finally, the most important commonality here: Even if there were solid scientific consensus that These People Must Change And Here's Why, solid science doesn't have a hell of a lot to offer either group. Reparative therapy, as I note above, has pretty low success rates... but in my understanding, dieting is even worse, if getting to "normal" is the goal. Yeah, in the short term you can abstain from sex or follow a calorie-limiting diet, and maybe you'll be "less gay" in some sense, and you'll probably lose some weight. We know the behaviors to target, in other words. But we don't know how to change the thing beneath the behaviors, the thing that made you gay or fat in the first place, some mix of genes and experiences and the choice landscape you live in. And without changing that, after the intervention is over, you're likely to revert to doing what comes naturally. So in both cases, the question emerges: Even if you're convinced that change is a good thing here (and, I should note, I'm not), are such modest changes worth the cost of shaming people on purpose?

I'm sure there are also a lot of ways that the two things are not parallel. (Feel free to point them out to me.) Still, the next time I hear someone bemoaning Fat America, I'm going to listen through my new gay filter and see what the conversation sounds like. It might be instructive.
eirias: (Default)
I've never done anything really different with my hair. No perms, no dyes. It's not that I love the color I was born with, an unassuming medium brown. The texture isn't the one I would've chosen, either, and while I imagine chemical treatments wouldn't improve that in the long run, that's not the real reason I've stuck with what I've got. The real reason is that perms and dyes feel like cheating.

What does that reaction say? I actually think it says something pretty awful, something I don't want to endorse: that what we deserve is what we got in the birth lottery; that using human capacities like planning, social interaction, and technology to improve our position is an alteration of the natural order of things. That people are supposed to know their place, and redheadedness ain't mine.

I think this hair dye example (trivial though it is) is a good way to illustrate the tension between two ideals of my culture: self-determination and authenticity. You can be anything you want to be! But only losers try to be something they aren't!

And I think this sort of tension is everywhere in modern society. Everywhere! It's in the outrage about steroids (chemical differences are cheating; genetic differences are not). It's in the outrage about test prep (a high score counts if your parents' genes, wealth, and culture gave you good g, and not if they just gave you good strategy). It's in the outrage about Botox, and breast implants, and liposuction. Hell, it's in people's deep discomfort with transsexuals, too.

This isn't just a philosophical problem. It's also a measurement problem, which is deeper than philosophy, and this is why it comes up so much: very few things in life are immune from the constraints of what you can measure. If the raven in the office is really dyeing her hair black every morning, and her roots never show -- unless I put cameras in her bathroom, how am I going to know? And suppose it's not just that I don't know -- suppose that at bottom, I can't know. In that case, on what grounds do I retain the theoretical distinction? All we can trust is what we can observe.

If I were Dorothy Gambrell I would find a way to turn this into a comic, and then I would frame it and put it on my wall. But I still wouldn't dye my hair.
eirias: (Default)
People who've talked to me about the economic crisis have probably heard my take on home-buyers who bit off more house than they could chew. To wit: Think of your high school class; try to imagine how many of them understood compound interest at the time; recall how many years have passed since the tenth grade. Morally you can say whatever high-minded things you like about signing a contract and responsibility and blah blah blah, but on a practical level, expecting the median American to understand home financing to the point of being able to think critically about loan offers is just a losing proposition. If you don't want people to leave the thinking to the experts, you're gonna have to ditch the ideal of homeownership for the common man.

So: I think my attitude is about as sympathetic to the mortgage-screwed as you can get. And even still, there are people out there, apparently, who make me wonder: What on earth were you thinking?
eirias: (Default)
Two prongs of computer advice needed.

  1. My computer has gotten incredibly unstable -- it freezes constantly, the pointer freaks out and moves with random velocity, and tonight it developed the charming behavior of taking >60sec to respond to any button press. I am typing this now from safe mode, and am having no difficulties, which tells me that a large chunk of my problem is software. What should I do? It is a just-past-warranty Dell (how many of you are surprised?) running XP Service Pack 3. It has antivirus software (Norton?) with automatic updates, IIRC.

  2. Obviously, it will soon be time for a new machine -- probably a laptop given all the travel I'm still doing. I will probably not get another Dell -- their service is (mostly) exemplary but their hardware just isn't. At the moment my main needs are word processing, spreadsheet, Internet, and some random proprietary programs. I am somewhat committed to Windows because of some software I used in grad school, but as that world fades my need for the software may fade, too. However, it would be nice to publish the dissertation first. I am very open to a suggestion that includes Windows XP as a second system, if such a thing exists.
eirias: (Default)
So I have a dreamwidth account now. Not sure what I'll do with it yet, but a number of my friends have made accounts here. And it does seem likely that LJ's lifespan will be limited -- I'm not angry with them, per se, just aware that they've made a number of missteps in the last few years. So it seemed worth staking out my territory now, mindful of the fact that sometime in the next couple of months, it may become home.

I really like that they've made it very easy to differentiate between granting access and reading. This is doable in LJ's interface, too, but not as straightforward.
eirias: (Default)
I want you all to go read a fantastic blog post by linguist Mark Liberman. It will explain in very clear terms, if you didn't already know, why mass-media reports of scientific findings about group differences are so frequently misleading in a way that engenders and supports stereotype. It is THE most important statistical fact I know and I never learned it in school even though I have a PhD. I learned it from Mark Liberman.

Go read it now.
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In this very space:

Haiku2 for eirias
ever tempted to
say you know what never mind
the united states
Created by Grahame

More silliness under the cut. )
eirias: (Default)
So I am reading this book, which my in-laws kindly got me for Fake Christmas (so long had passed since Real Christmas that I'd forgotten I asked for it). The book is about the effect of, as an economist friend put it, low-probability, high-cost events: things whose impact dwarfs the events we can predict, making prediction itself a fool's errand. I am so far really blown away by how he's taken a topic and ideas that are very exciting to me and encased them in a book that deeply annoys me.

  • The author is, simply put, a jerk. This is his attitude: "Look at me! I'm a Real Intellectual! Not one of those effete morons who have tenured professorships and publish in peer-reviewed journals, oh no, that's not for me! Tenure is for charlatans! Peer review is for sheeple! Editors enforce mediocrity! The mark of truly Novel and Important ideas is that you develop them on long walks with brilliant people and then publish them on an ugly website!"
  • Ahem. Anyway, while discussing most of the social sciences in a way that veers past provocation into simple bad manners -- for instance, liberal use of scare-quotes, as when describing economics as a "profession" -- he inexplicably spares psychology. I genuinely don't understand this; I think that to the extent that the criticisms he levels at social science are apt, the judgment and decision-making world he loves has to cope with them also. I'd love to ask him to clarify, but see exhibit A, and also it appears from his site that he's getting a lot of email.

Perhaps I will flesh out my thoughts more thoroughly when I have finished the book, but I just had to vent a bit.
eirias: (Default)
Because I needed cheering up, and maybe you did too:

Courtesy of the National Zoo -- and also [livejournal.com profile] littlepurple.
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Or so you'd imagine. But so far he's doing fine.

Me, on the other hand? I'm a puddle of blissed-out confusion. Since when have leaders been concerned about abuses of power once the power is theirs alone? Since when has a president spent his first week in office keeping campaign promises?

I voted for this man with muted hopes and in three days he's done more to fulfill them than I thought he would do in a year. I read about the Guantánamo closing at work and I actually cried.
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Recent conversations prompt this poll!

[Poll #1321348]
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Two insightful recent posts from Bruce Schneier: one on the Internet and freedom of assembly and one on ephemeral communication.
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Nobody does cynicism quite like Fafblog.
eirias: (gay)
Okay, so I am totally thrilled about the presidential results. I have to get that out there. This victory was all the more wonderful for its unsurprisingness. I could have gone to bed at eleven but I couldn't bring myself to do it.

But the night wasn't all victories. It looks like Prop 8 is going to pass in California. I don't want my frustration about this to be lost in the joy today. I remember two years ago when the anti-union amendment passed in Wisconsin and part of the reason it was so awful was that none of my friends seemed to understand that even though the Democrats had won in Congress, I lost.

I want to state publicly: the success of these amendments does not protect my marriage; it makes me feel less secure in it. When other people get to set boundaries on who we can and cannot love, we are all diminished in power and possibility. I do not cherish the feeling that my marriage is a contingent thing, dependent for its existence on the consent of others. That's not the reality, of course. We would love each other even without the tax break. But government-sanctioned marriage is so entrenched in this culture that when they parade their ability to deny it to people for no good reason, I feel naked and vulnerable and small.

If Massachusetts has the right to go one way, California has the right to go the other (legally speaking). But make no mistake: California, you deeply, deeply suck, and I will hold this against you until you make a change.
eirias: (bluebird)
Bush's approval ratings, 2001-2008

The trajectory is kind of fascinating. I want to see what other two-termers' ratings look like over time.

The blog post that goes with the image makes the broader point that McCain's campaign has been crippled by the long-term trends in sentiment toward his party. A man who spoke at our orientation about his presidential prediction business noted similarly that voter behavior, in aggregate, is rational, and responds primarily to long-term rather than short-term information. If the incumbent party has been doing well, by certain measures of "well," the incumbent party gets reelected; otherwise, the main challenger wins. If he is right (and he has correctly predicted the popular vote in every election since 1980), this race would have ended up being a tough one for the Republicans no matter who was in the seat.

But, of course, it's not over yet. Tonight I've got a date with the TV, some pizza, and some beer to take the edge off the nerves. Tonight is one night where I wish I had cable.
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Reading Obama's memoir, you learn that as a kid he was called Barry. As a young adult he reverted to using his full name. That's not all that striking; a lot of young people change their self-presentation in this way. But I think it is a fairly striking choice for anyone with political ambitions. I think a lot of people would have switched back to the more "American" (more on that in a later post, I hope) -sounding name on entering Harvard. Obama's success with the other route is a reminder, I think, that squashing your identity is no way to get elected.
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Tales of a term-paper miller

One thing that's interesting about this business is that it gives the lie to typical moralizing about plagiarism. Ordinarily, teachers equate plagiarism with theft: use of a person's words without attribution is implied to mean use without permission. But the whole business model here is that the student pays the author for rights to an entirely new paper, which the student may then modify (to some unknown extent) and sign with his own name. The original author is undeceived. Theft is not the true nature of the crime.

In other fields, of course, this is common practice: everything produced by the government is either ghost-written or has no author, and nobody comments about intellectual dishonesty there. But it also exists within academia, specifically in rec-letter culture, where it is not uncommon for teachers to ask their students to write their own letters, which the teachers may then modify (to some unknown extent) and sign with their own names. I don't see much difference between this and the above, but I've seen professors go to strange lengths to defend the one practice and not the other. (Fortunately, none of my own mentors has ever been this crass.)
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Catbus, anyone?

Link courtesy of roommate-in-law [livejournal.com profile] gomi_no_sensei.
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A poll!

[Poll #1276034]

In other news, once I register, I am totally hitting you guys up for donations.
eirias: (Default)
The financial crisis this fall has made me wonder, for the first time, whether major-party presidential nominees are ever tempted to say, "You know what? Never mind."