Friday, March 30, 2007

If This Were Another Country's Story...

...everyone would quickly agree that the "law enforcement" officers involved were murderers. But I bet most Americans reading this story didn't think so. (BTW I googled around and this account matches the local newspaper's.)

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Why. Is It.

Considered. Cool. On teh. Internet. To Type. Things. Like. This?

And to spell it "teh Internet"? I mean, it could have been it was cool like the first 10,000 times, but still?

Friday, March 23, 2007

Trivia Questions

1) Which American state borders three Canadian provinces, and what are the provinces?
2) From which American city will the next state you enter when travelling due north, south, east, or west be the same state?

What's Funnier Than Translation Software?

The Mac translator widget just translated the German: "Zum Abschluss des Tages fuhren wir ans geliebte Mittelmeer, brachten Baguette, Käse und Wein mit und natürlich die kleine Wasserpfeife von Sebastian und genossen den Abend" as "For the termination of the daily we drove the small water whistle of Sebastian to the loved Mediterranean, brought Baguette, cheese and wine also and naturally and enjoyed the evening."


Ha! Just kidding by not linking to the above! Here you go.


Our family dog has a bag of treats called "Baa-Baa-Qs" that turn out to be dried lamb lungs. (Really.) Along with a lot of other blather, the package says the company that bags these lung chips, Old West, "is all about... mixing lessons from the old West with modern science to create unique treats that pets love..."

Were the people of the Old West especially adept at caring for pets? What are the "lessons" the Old West holds for pet owners? I mean, breakin' treaties with Injuns or stringin' up horse thieves, sure, then we look to the Old West for lessons. But cat care?

And don't you hate it when people or companies say they're "all about" something? An essay or a documentary is about something, but a person or company is not.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

The Ultimate in Not Getting the Web

Paste a web address into a web article, but then don't link to it. It's shocking to see how often people do that.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Washers and Dryers

Is there a reason that washing machines usually are started by pulling a knob out, while dryers are usually started by turning a knob? Even when you get a twinned set from one manufacturer, the interface to starting the washer is different from that of starting the dryer. Is there something about washing machines that makes them naturally a "pull-the-knob-to-start" sort of machine, while dryers are characteristcally "turn-the-knob-to-start" devices?

Thursday, March 15, 2007

banana republic briefs

Today, Chiquita Brands International was ordered to pay $25 million in protection money, I mean fines, to the Justice Department because they paid about $1.7 million in protection money to Colombian thugs on a terror watchlist.

VDH on Western Soldiers' Freedom

I think we've touched on this subject before, but from a different article. Can someone please explain what Hanson has in mind with the below quotation from this movie review?

So almost immediately, contemporary Greeks saw Thermopylae as a critical moral and culture lesson. In universal terms, a small, free people had willingly outfought huge numbers of imperial subjects who advanced under the lash. More specifically, the Western idea that soldiers themselves decide where, how, and against whom they will fight was contrasted against the Eastern notion of despotism and monarchy — freedom proving the stronger idea as the more courageous fighting of the Greeks at Thermopylae, and their later victories at Salamis and Plataea attested.

Cool Camille

Camille Paglia is probably scorned by many right-wingers, but she's actually pretty cool. The following quote comes from the bottom of the 3rd page of this article:

This kind of outreach to expose and remedy injustice represents the finest spirit of leftism, a practical, compassionate activism -- not the pretentious postmodernist jargon and sanctimonious attitudinizing that still pass for leftism among too many college faculty. Capitalism, which spawned modern individualism as well as the emancipated woman who can support herself, is essentially Darwinian. It expands any society's sum total of wealth and radically raises the standard of living, but it leaves the poor and weak without a safety net. Capitalism needs the ethical counter-voice of leftism to keep it honest. But leftists must be honest in turn about what we owe to capitalism -- without which Western women would have no professional jobs to go to but would be stuck doing laundry by hand and stooping over pots on the hearth fire all day long.

Ungrateful, Unfree Iraqis

The point of this Slate article is to criticize Bush's belief that the world owes us gratitude (as opposed to appreciation). Fair enough (and make sure you skim to the press conference episode on page 2). But here's what's really interesting:

In his memoir of his year in Baghdad as head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, L. Paul Bremer recalled that President Bush once told him that the leader of a new Iraqi government had to be "someone who's willing to stand up and thank the American people for their sacrifice in liberating Iraq."

Umm, this almost makes it sound like the Americans have some influence over who rules Iraqis. I must be missing something.

The Monty Hall Paradox

A ilttle while back on this blog I proposed that probability is fundamentally an epistemological matter. If someone had exact knowledge of the location of all of the particles in a "fair coin" as well as all of the relevant force vectors in a particular toss, then for that person the odds of heads coming up would not be 1/2 but 0 or 1. John G. in the comments section argued that while my contention is true, it is trivially so.

I think not, and as a paradigmatic case of why not, I offer the Monty Hall problem. In the TV show Let's Make a Deal, a contestant would choose among three closed doors. Then, often, Monty Hall (the host) would call for one of the unchosen doors to be opened, revealing the "booby prize" of, say, a goat. Then he would present the contestant with the option of switching her pick to the other, still-closed, door. Most people's intuition is that there is no statistical advantage to either sticking or switching -- the odds the contestant initially faced of any door concealing the top prize were 1/3, and that's still the case. But it turns out that that intuition is incorrect, and that the contestant interested in maximizing her odds of winning should always switch. Here's the explanation of why that is so from Wikipedia:

"The chance of initially choosing the car is one in three, which is the chance of winning the car by sticking with this choice. By contrast, the chance of initially choosing a door with a goat is two in three, and a player originally choosing a door with a goat wins by switching. In both cases the host must reveal a goat. In the 2/3 case where the player initially chooses a goat, the host must reveal the other goat making the only remaining door the one with the car.
"More formally, when the player is asked whether to switch there are three possible situations corresponding to the player's initial choice, each with probability 1/3:
"The player originally picked the door hiding goat number 1. The game host has shown the other goat.
"The player originally picked the door hiding goat number 2. The game host has shown the other goat.
"The player originally picked the door hiding the car. The game host has shown either of the two goats.
"If the player chooses to switch, the player wins the car in the first two cases. A player choosing to stay with the initial choice wins in only the third case. Since in two out of three equally likely cases switching wins, the probability of winning by switching is 2/3. In other words, players who switch will win the car on average two times out of three.

"The solution would be different if the host did not know what was behind each door..."

The alteration in the "objective" probabilities faced by the contestant hinges on the fact that Monty Hall knows what is behind each door, and is not picking randomly. It is the state of his knowledge that alters the contestant's odds.

Since many, many people have had a very difficult time accepting the correct solution to this problem, it suggests to me that the dependence of probability on states of knowledge is far from being an immediately obvious relationship.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007


John G. reviews PUCK:

"It's a rollicking good book. I have only minor criticisms. I think at times Callahan will opt for the more humorous way of expressing something over the most fitting, and I think there were a couple elements in the story that might have been pruned or more focused; but these are very minor qualms. PUCK is brilliant in its scope and vision and imbued with rich, recondite mysteries and puzzles that compose its rich fabric.

"I wholeheartedly recommend the novel and suggest you buy it. PUCK is worth reading once and then reading again."

The Candidate

Ron Paul for president.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Condemned to Be Right Once Again

A while back, I was criticized for contending that Barack Obama had a barrier to be elected president because his name sounds like Osama. Well, now who's the fool?

Thursday, March 08, 2007

New Podcast Series: Easy Pieces in Austro-Libertarianism

This is the inaugural broadcast of a new series. I aim to produce one per week.

Speaking of Liars...

I was just watching Garrett Fagan of Penn St. blow up Victor Davis Hanson's "scholarly work" on the Battle of Salamis. Hanson claims that the Greek navy's discussion of tactics before the battle was a key to their victory over the Persians, and shows how the "Western value" of open discussion is militarily superior to the easterners autocracy. But Fagan points out that the single source we have for the discussion, Herodotus, describes it as not a discussion of tactics but only one over whether to fight or not, and that the Greeks were tricked into fighting!

In other words, once again, Hanson has been caught just making up history to suit his current foreign policy recommendations.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

A Soldier's Tale

Well this is pretty bad. I think even Victor Davis Hanson would have to admit that it is quite plausible up until the end.

Mangled Utility Economics

From security expert Bruce Schneier:
" * Alternative A: A sure gain of $500.
" * Alternative B: A 50% chance of gaining $1,000.

"The other group was given the choice of:
" * Alternative C: A sure loss of $500.
" * Alternative D: A 50% chance of losing $1,000.

"These two trade-offs aren't the same, but they're very similar. And traditional economics predicts that the difference doesn't make a difference.

"Traditional economics is based on something called "utility theory," which predicts that people make trade-offs based on a straightforward calculation of relative gains and losses. Alternatives A and B have the same expected utility: +$500. And alternatives C and D have the same expected utility: -$500. Utility theory predicts that people choose alternatives A and C with the same probability and alternatives B and D with the same probability. Basically, some people prefer sure things and others prefer to take chances. The fact that one is gains and the other is losses doesn't affect the mathematics, and therefore shouldn't affect the results.

"But experimental results contradict this. When faced with a gain, most people (84%) chose Alternative A (the sure gain) of $500 over Alternative B (the risky gain). But when faced with a loss, most people (70%) chose Alternative D (the risky loss) over Alternative C (the sure loss)...

"The authors of this study explained this difference by developing something called "prospect theory." Unlike utility theory, prospect theory recognizes that people have subjective values for gains and losses..."

This is no "traditional economics" with which I'm familiar! Neoclassical economics:
1) Does not hold that utility is measurable;
2) Recognizes that valuation is subjective;
3) Certainly never does anything so crude as equate utility with dollars in such a straightforward manner; and
4) Recognizes that different units of the same good certainly do not have the same value placed on them.

Where did this bizarre interpretation of utility theory come from?

Monday, March 05, 2007

New Cops Given Guns, Badges Without Training

But the practice is okay, because it saves the police departments money. (As if we thought they were doing it because they wanted to maximize accidental shootings.)

Sunday, March 04, 2007

I'm The Lyrical Analyst

In previous posts I've wondered about who did shoot the deputy (if not Bob Marley), and why we should be impressed that Tom Cochran wants to ride life all night long. Today's post is remarkably simple: What the heck kinda poker game does Kenny Rogers play? Consider the following:

You never count your money
When you're sittin at the table.
There'll be time enough for countin
When the dealin's done.

So we must ask: After the dealing is done, does everyone stand up, perhaps on his chair?

Zeno for the computer age

If you wish to better understand Zeno's worry about the continuum, you could do worse than to consider loops in software. Case 1: You...