Your Lying Eyes

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21 December 2006

Odds and Sods

U.S. news is boring, so I thought I'd check out some Brit news to see what they're talking about.

I, Whiner: The BBC reports on some predictions for the next 50 years, in particular that robots will demand "rights."
The research suggests that at some point in the next 20 to 50 years robots could be granted rights. If this happened, the report says, the robots would have certain responsibilities such as voting, the obligation to pay taxes, and perhaps serving compulsory military service.

Conversely, society would also have a duty of care to their new digital citizens, the report says.
Hardly sounds like robots are going to work out any better for us than have any of our other attempts to secure endless supplies of cheap labor.

Darker Shade of Black: The Telegraph reports on a ruling granting former Procol Harum keyboardist Matthew Fisher partial royalties to "Whiter Shade of Pale." Originally-credited-composer Gary Brooker denounced the decisions' far-reaching implications: "It is effectively open season on the songwriter. It will mean that any musician who has ever played on any recording in the last 40 years may now have a potential claim to joint authorship."

Song writing credits though are not necessarily as straight forward as they seem. Many an artist has insisted on song-writing credits on their hit songs (think Elvis) as well as managers (e.g. Norman Petty) and producers (Phil Spector). On the flip side, musicians have been known to grumble about their contributions being ignored (Mick Taylor comes prominently to mind). It's probably best for courts to stay out of it unless there's an obvious injustice or a clear case of theft or "borrowing," as songwriting credits appear to be as much a business arrangement as recognition of creative input.

Pedophile/Bigamist/Con-man Arrested: Police in Oxford arrested a man who used the old "I work for the CIA" line on some unsuspecting British women, who apparently were unaware of the hoary scam.
But not satisified with having relationships with two women Jordan also slept with his real wife's nanny, having two children with her. And in May 2005 he then struck up a relationship with yet another woman, Denise King, who was then based in Blackpool. "All this would not have been uncovered if it were not for his relationship with Ms King," said prosecutor Sophie Eloquin. Jordan had set up a recruitment firm, registered in his bigamous wife's name, and he used this to lure Ms King south to Kent with the promise of a better job. At the same time, he began a relationship with her and obtained her credit card details.
Not sure where the pedophile charges come in, but I'm guessing he tried the "wrong door scam" at one point in his illustriously duplicitous life. At any rate, I find the amount of energy and determination that would be required to pull off such fraud to be positively unfathomable. I'm sure he'll be quite the little enterprising con in prison.

Conflicting Global Warming Signals: The Independent reports that bears have stopped hibernating in northern Spain, while the Times reports on the sudden emergence of human hibernation in Japan. So how is the lay person supposed to make sense of this whole climate change stuff with all this noise in the data?


19 December 2006

Death Sentence for the Tripoli Six

I haven't really followed this case too closely (just google on 'Tripoli Six') - 5 nurses and a doctor accused of deliberately infecting 500 children in a Libyan hospital - but it's another data point in the argument that we ought to generally keep a safe distance when dealing with the Mideast.

16 December 2006

Stereotyping at the Philharmonic

Last year I posted about diversity at the New York Philharmonic (and this was followed by near identical articles in the NYT and WaPo). The general trend of women becoming more dominant in the strings continues. I attended this concert last night, and did my best to count up and remember the basic demographics of the players. Of the 13 first violins, 8 were women, and 3 of these East Asian. There were also 8 women among the 14 second violinists, of whom 6 were Asian and two of the men were Asian - 8 asians in all. In the viola section, 7 of 12 were women, but no Asians. I was surprised by the dominance of women among the cellists - my recollection is that out of 9 cellists there were only 3 men. Only 2 were Asian (one of whom tried to trick me with streaked blond hair). But then when we got to the double basses, things changed dramatically - all 8 were men (I couldn't tell if any were Asian from my vantage point, but of the ones I could see clearly none were).

The woodwinds were what you'd expect - the flutes were played by women, the clarinets, oboes and bassoons mostly played by men. And the several percussionists and 10-strong brass section were all men. And of course the harpists were women. All in all, the more delicate the instrument (requiring very fine and nimble finger movement), the more likely we are to find women playing it, while the bigger the instrument or the rougher its playing style (e.g., swinging sticks or blowing hard into long brass tubes), the more likely men will be wielding it.

Now this is interesting right now because Gene Expression's Razib has gotten into quite a little dust-up over a short post on how amazed he was to find an astonishingly good looking young woman avidly discussing science fiction at a coffee house. His accusers are essentially arguing as follows: Razib is stereotyping; stereotyping is evil; therefore Razib is evil. His defenders counter as follows: Good looking women are rarely interested in science fiction; Razib saw a good looking woman who was interested in sci-fi; Razib saw something rare.

You can see the problem here: the two sides have completely incompatible mind sets and so could never even settle on a middle ground or even on a "let's agree to disagree" point - there is no reconciliation of the two attitudes. For one side, the "validity" of the stereotype is completely irrelevant to its use - the very act of making an assumption about someone based on - well, anything - is out of bounds. I personally believe these people are full of shit - they are more than happy to make generalizations about men (or white men in particular). The other side sees patterns and is curious to what extent these patterns hold true and what might lead to them. That discussing some patterns (stereotypes) might be "harmful" irregardless (I love that word!) of how statistically convincing they may be is madness.

Then there is the Sailer-Gladwell dust up over car salesmen. Here, the clueless Gladwell, who's never done anything but write and go to school, is certain that car salesmen, the most manipulative and bottom-line focused group of people on the planet, don't know anything about selling cars because they typically take a different initial bargaining position depending on the race or sex of the customer. The gullible (though successful) Gladwell thinks the salesmen are victims of unconscious stereotyping - since the notion that men and women or whites and blacks might actually differ in their bargaining methods (as a general rule) is unthinkable.

That's why I find these patterns in the New York Philharmonic's make up so interesting. There are few more rarefied milieu's than that. These musicians are the cream of the cream of the crop, occupying a position of extraordinary prestige [imagine meeting someone at a party: "And what do you do?" "Oh, I'm a violinist. I play for the New York Philharmonic." Impressed?]. To be hired, they go through blind auditions, but that is after years of unimaginably rigorous training and single-minded dedication (from parents and student) and navigating through the most sophisticated cultural filters (think Juilliard). Yet after all that, the crudest generalities prevail - how small and nimble are your hands, are you big enough to handle a double-bass, do you like to bang on drums? To deny a woman a job playing timpani because of her sex would be wrong. Yet while orchestras use blind auditions, there are still almost no women timpanists (there might well be none for all I know) or percussionists or horn players.

By the way, this concert was a bit of a strain for me. Two Debussy pieces (ugh) sandwiched around two works by Finnish composers - a short Sibelius work (the evening's highlight - Sibelius was ethnically a Swede) and an excruciating new work by a female Finn, Kaija Saariaho. A Finnish female composer - talk about breaking stereotypes! I can assure you, though, that few left that concert wishing there were more of them.

13 December 2006

Botswana Celebrates Diversity!

Literally - as in people are different and let them be different. The Botswana high court has ruled that the Kalahari Bushmen, also known as the San (it's hard to keep up with which term is politically incorrect), have the right to return to their Kalahari desert homeland to live their traditional hunter-gatherer lives.

The bushmen are an ancient people, representing what may be the most ancient lineage on the planet. They look different than the dominant Bantu-speaking population on the continent and they speak an ancient click language (here's a YouTube sample of Xhosa, a Bantu language with borrowed clicks). It would be a terrible shame if these people's contribution to humanity's diversity were lost, so good for the Botswana high court in protecting them.

11 December 2006

General Pinochet, RIP

General Augusto Pinochet died at age 91, sparing us all the spectacle of his trial. I pretty much agree with what Jerry Pournelle has to say on the man. I have no personal knowledge of his crimes, but do know that he is singularly responsible for Chile being the most functional and prosperous South American country, and he gave up power voluntarily. (Although the assassination of Orlando Letelier on U.S. soil was a bit beyond the pale).

Until about 20 years ago, military coups and dictatorships were pretty much de riguer in Latin America. Pinochet's was singled out for particular outrage only because its victim was a Marxist and the general became a champion of free-market economics. That Pinochet's fate is still a hot topic illuminates the soft-spot the left still holds in its heart for Marxism.

10 December 2006

Bad Timing

Michele Goldberg writes today in
In fact, there is no war on Christmas. What there is, rather, is a burgeoning myth of a war on Christmas, assembled out of old reactionary tropes, urban legends, exaggerated anecdotes and increasingly organized hostility to the American Civil Liberties Union. It's a myth that can be self-fulfilling, as school board members and local politicians believe the false conservative claim that they can't celebrate Christmas without getting sued by the ACLU and thus jettison beloved traditions, enraging citizens and perpetuating a potent culture-war meme. This in turn furthers the myth of an anti-Christmas conspiracy.
Unfortunately for her, Drudge posts this item today as well:
Airport Christmas Trees Removed. SEA-TAC Airport - All 15 Christmas trees inside the terminal at Sea-Tac have been removed in response to a complaint by a rabbi.
Oh well - and she wrote such a long article, too.

FBI Bags Another Loser

The War on Terror continues apace, as another pathetic muslim is entrapped by the FBI into a laughable terror plot.
A Muslim convert is in custody accused of trying to trade two stereo speakers for a 9 mm pistol and the grenades authorities say he wanted to carry out an attack on holiday shoppers.
When you're offering up "two stereo speakers" - I'm guessing they weren't Klipsch RF-5's - it's probably a pretty good bet you're a tad short of funds. So when U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald says "at no time was the public in any imminent peril" I think we can take him at his word.

Don't get me wrong - I'm all for rounding up crazy muslims and putting them away. Anything that discourages fanatical muslims - crazy or not - from settling in these here United States is fine with me, and the threat that the FBI might be watching your every move is probably as good a discouragement as we have right now. Indeed, harassing muslims is a perfectly sensible approach to fighting terror - much more sensible than harassing every single citizen regardless of risk - and the more the War on Terror turns up nothing but pathetic entrapment cases, the more we should start letting everyone else live their lives normally.

09 December 2006

'Stance Draws Ire'

Ah, the Times. You'd think a story headlined 'Romney’s Gay Rights Stance Draws Ire' and led with "Gov. Mitt drawing sharply increased criticism from conservative activists for his advocacy of gay rights in a 1994 letter" would be replete with quotes from frothing right-wing extremists denouncing - in no uncertain terms - Mr. Romney. Are there such quotes? I mean, what kind of reporter would make such a claim without some evidence to back it up?

Let's's one: "This is quite disturbing," said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, who had praised Mr. Romney as a champion of traditional values at the group’s conference in late September. [Sounds promising - the "quite disturbing" is probably just the start of a real broadside against the wayward candidate. Let's keep reading:] "This type of information is going to create a lot of problems for Governor Romney. He is going to have a hard time overcoming this." Oh...well that's not really an attack, more a head shake by a supporter over a tactical setback. I'm sure there's more.

Ok, here we go: Paul Weyrich, a founder of the modern conservative movement, said:[Ooh, this guy sounds like a real right-wing nut job - this is going to be a doozy...] "Unless he comes out with an abject repudiation of this, I think it makes him out to be a hypocrite. And if he totally repudiates this, you have to ask, on what grounds?" Huh, that was no fun...really, a rather cool-headed, sensible assessment of the effect this new information might have - but I certainly don't detect any "ire" there. Anything else in the article to bolster the reporter's claims? Afraid not, just a background on the governor's apparently shifting positions.

It's rather obvious the point of the article was to discredit Mitt Romney and to bash him for his recent rightward shift on social issues, and the lede about angry conservatives was a ruse to make it look newsworthy. Yes, the Times is the greatest paper in the world, but these little nuggets of [thinly] disguised bias do make me chuckle from time-to-time.

08 December 2006

Another 'Star Wars' Failure

Via Drudge, looks like a programming or other minor technical glitch caused a launch error. We don't really spend enough on Star Wars - less than $10b per year. Contrast this with Google spending $1b to buy YouTube. $10 billion sounds exactly like the wrong amount - way too little to get enough advanced technological momentum to accomplish anything really big, and too much to ensure a lean, efficient operation to achieve effective small-scale gains.

07 December 2006

Tornado Hits London!

Just in - Fox is showing the Sky News feed. It's no wonder they're all up in arms over global warming over there. From the helicopter view, it looks like roofs were torn off but not much other structural damage as London structures are pretty solid. Hopefully tornadoes over there don't catch on and start attacking the more vulnerable caravan parks up north.

06 December 2006

Udolpho's Advice for the dating single parent

Some terrific advice from the great Udolpho - do pass along to anyone you feel may benefit (like a single guy). Sample:
Another goal is to acquire a positive role model for your children. Particularly during prepubescent development, a male authority figure is essential to making sure that your son does not grow up to rape boy scounts and that your daughter does not die with a d*** in her mouth.[Censorship Added]
Yes, the discussion is frank, but what good would it do to sugar-coat it?

05 December 2006

'Yeah, Right' of the Day

In an article about the clash of the scientific method and the adversarial system of law when issues of science arise in the courtroom, Times writer Cornelia Dean seeks to sharpen the distinction thusly: [W]hen scientists confront a problem, they collect all the information they can about it and then draw conclusions. That does happen, surely, but since the context of this article is the recent case argued before the Supreme Court about global warming, that statement is disingenuous in the extreme. Does she really expect us to believe climatologists who publish studies on temperatures over the last 1,000 years are just naively sifting through piles of data and then at the end of their analysis are shocked, shocked to find that it says that the earth is warming? I don't think so. I'm pretty sure most scientists have an idea in their mind about what the answer is, and then look for the data and the methodology to prove their point. You don't need to know anything about science to know that - you just need to know a little about people.

Brokerage Patronage

A NYC investment brokerage, Jeffries and Co., has been fined $10 million for trying to land clients the old-fashioned way - by bribing them. It appears that in return for some nifty perks aimed at some top traders, Fidelity Investments seriously pumped up its business with Jeffries.
[D]ocuments show that, between 2002 and 2004, Jefferies paid $46,000 to fly one Fidelity trader and his wife to St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands, more than $70,000 to fly another trader to Los Angeles for his honeymoon, and $75,000, including limousine service, to fly two traders to a Miami bachelor party.
And that party was quite an affair - according to the NY Post.
[Jeffries broker] Quinn booked a private jet and hired limos for the party in Miami; festivities included dwarf-tossing and ogling strippers. Danny Black, The Lansing, Mich.-based dwarf at the center of the party, confirmed to The Post that dwarf tossing was part of the activities. "What's a party without drunken dwarf tossing?" asked Black.
And it appears to have worked out as planned, at least before the chickens came home to roost.
Before the NASD caught Jefferies during a routine audit in late 2004, Quinn's obsessive entertaining and gift-giving catapulted Jefferies from $1.7 million in commissions with Fidelity in the first six months of 2002 to $24.5 million in business by September 2004.
When I hear something like this I immediately think that means some poor schmuck is getting screwed somewhere along the line, but Jeffries is not out scouting little old ladies with idle savings accounts. Sure, when your clueless uncle gets hoodwinked by some Merril Lynch hack into some crappy mutual fund with outrageous admin fees, you figure someone's getting some kickback somewhere along the line. Jeffries' clients are mid-size institutional investors. I guess in the end they're no brighter than your Uncle Mo?

And perhaps some good reader could help me out here - what exactly is the service Jeffries provided to Fidelity? It's not clear from the articles, but since Jeffries is a broker and Fidelity an asset manager, I would think the kickbacks would be going in the opposite direction - Fidelity bribing Jeffries brokers to sell their funds - so I'm a little at sea here.

04 December 2006


My deep blogging funk remains seriously debilitating. Unable to muster the strength for a sustained rant on anything, I will settle for some micro-observations that will hopefully serve as a kind of therapy. With your indulgence...

Hugo Chavez wins in a romp. Obviously Chavez will eventually destroy Venezuela, as Castro did Cuba, because that's what socialism does to countries. But while the oil money's good the country will muddle along just fine, and that could last awhile. He'd better hope that global warming turns out to be a hoax, so no serious conservation efforts end the party.

E. Coli infects dozens of Taco Bell patrons in NY area. If you eat at Taco Bell, you deserve to get sick, but many of these cases are rather serious. If repulsive food and gooey Pepsicola soft drinks aren't enough to keep people away, let's hope the thought of consuming intestinal bacteria will finally bring people to their senses. Taco Bell must die!

TV Land is playing the Andy Griffith Top Ten right now. Here's my favorite Andy/Barney routine.

What do Public TV Pledge Drives say about the upper middle class? PBS claims its audience reflects the nation's demographics. That may be. PBS has some very good programs - Frontline, American Experience, American Masters, History's Mysteries, Nature, etc. But when it's pledge week, the programming changes. Tonight, instead of NOVA, I'm expected to sit through 2 hours of Johnny Mathis followed by 90 minutes of this cretin. All weekend long there were geriatric Fifties acts and folk concerts right out of A Mighty Wind. So obviously this is what sets a fire under the butts of people with money (you either have to have lots of disposable income to contribute to public TV or be a pathetic sap, as your measly $100 isn't going to make a dent in their budget). That's pretty scary. Fortunately PBS has the good sense to ignore its clueless patrons' tastes when it returns to regular programming and goes back to the good stuff - at least it has so far.

I listened to a bit of the arguments before the Supreme Court today on the use of race in high school assignments in Seattle (available here). I thought Justice Kennedy was clearly leaning against the school districts - and Kennedy is all that matters, as the other 8 votes are set in stone before the case even arrives. The Times agrees. I'd prefer that the court, rather than striking down these arrangements, instead make a clear ruling that forced integration will no longer be required of school districts, and then let each district handle it from there. I think each locality should be better able to judge their particular circumstance and design appropriate policies than federal courts. The lessons of integration should be clear to everyone by now - above all else, it tends to eliminate the white middle class from cities. That alone should keep it in check. But I doubt my preference will bear any relation to what eventually happens.

And down in Durham, behind the scenes, some serious pressure is coming D.A. Nifong's way as complaints and grievances pile up, including requests for a federal civil rights investigation.
The request for federal intervention is aggressive and rare, said Richard Myers, a UNC-Chapel Hill law professor and former federal prosecutor. "It's a fairly strong indication the defense has nothing to hide if they want more eyes on the ground," Myers said. "How effective it's going to be, who knows? You cast a wide net and hope someone gets interested.