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Unknown Knowns

Posted by Ogged
on 11.12.05

From Lucy Mangan, this fantastic true tale.

A young teacher from Leeds had accepted a temporary job teaching a class of four-year-olds out in one of the most isolated, rural parts of north Wales. One of her first lessons involved teaching the letter S so she held up a big colour photo of a sheep and said: "Now, who can tell me what this is?" No answer. Twenty blank and wordless faces looked back at her. "Come on, who can tell me what this is?" she exclaimed, tapping the photo determinedly, unable to believe that the children were quite so ignorant. The 20 faces became apprehensive and even fearful as she continued to question them with mounting frustration.
Eventually, one brave soul put up a tiny, reluctant hand. "Yes!" she cried, waving the snap aloft. "Tell me what you think this is!" "Please, Miss," said the boy warily. "Is it a three-year-old Border Leicester?"

Mangan, by the way, has been great lately. She even wrote a funny abortion column.


 

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Another sucker dead-- LA Times front page

Posted by Fontana Labs
on 11.12.05

Sad news from Drum: David Gelernter has been dropped from the LA Times. Too bad, since his columns are so jaw-droppingly weird. Let's take this moment to revel in the bizzaro-world strangeness of his recent hit:

Of course, saying "never" instead of "almost never" is a trap that well-meaning, lazy people have been falling into for a long time. In a celebrated passage in "The Brothers Karamazov," Dostoevsky tells a story designed to end that error forever about a rich, powerful general and an 8-year-old boy serf who "hurt the paw of the general's favorite hound." The next morning, the child is stripped naked. The general looses his pack of wolfhounds on the boy, who is torn to pieces before his mother's eyes.
What should be done to the general? The gentle monk Alyosha, who can't stand the thought of bloodshed, answers, "Shoot him." He has decided that capital punishment should be "almost never," not "never."

My new criterion for torture: never, except for those who drop in a little literary allusion as if it, like, makes a point or something.

(Title not a death threat, thanks for not suing.)


 

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Formatting

Posted by Ogged
on 11.11.05

Holy cow, it's even worse than evolvetv! At bloggingheads.tv, Robert Wright and Mickey Kaus talk over the issues of the day, while sitting in their homes, and chatting, apparently, over some kind of web connection. And Kaus is the charismatic one! If Wright were supposed to be a robot, we'd say it was an unsubtle portrayal.

I like Kaus's disclaimer.

I'm not sure it's a 100% good plan for me to try to argue through a problem with a camera running. But that was the idea.

It's actually not a bad format. But you need two things to make it work. 1) Some idea of what's supposed to be accomplished. Two guys shooting the breeze = not-interesting-tv. And we surely don't need another show with two partisans trading talking points; not only because there's already plenty of that, but also because it's almost impossible to make compelling drama in a five-inch window on a computer desktop. But I'm not sure what would be compelling. I was about to seriously suggest that they take a Foreign Affairs article (or similar) each week, and try to talk through the issues. Compelling! Shoot me! Ideas? 2) Interesting and complementary personalities. I'm surprised the camera on Wright's end didn't slowly pan to the ground, as if nodding off. Obviously, I haven't seen enough bloggers on tv or in the flesh to know which ones would be good in a format like this. You could have Yglesias and Andrew Sullivan, but you never know if Sullivan means what he says or is just trying to win the argument, and Yglesias talks too fast and scratches his beard a lot. My guess is that for it to have a chance, one of the participants should be a woman. Belle Waring maybe (too snarky for tv?). I expect that if the format takes off, the stars will be home-grown people who have a talent for talking to a camera, rather than crossover bloggers, who really ought never be seen.

And this reminds me, I still have half a mind to do audio interviews. Last time I suggested this, people were all, "But I can read so much faster than I can listen," and then I realized that of course people who read blogs are going to say that. The interviews would be for a different audience, and the advantage of audio is that you can still "get information" when you're mobile, or otherwise minimally occupied (and some people just prefer listening to reading).

[Note: I stipulate in advance that Mickey Kaus is funny-looking and you all hate him. I really am curious about people's suggestions for programming like this, though.]


 

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Why I suck

Posted by Fontana Labs
on 11.11.05

I honestly believed that no one had thought of Calvin peeing on Calvin peeing.


 

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The eternal return

Posted by Fontana Labs
on 11.11.05
To take a principled stand that you know will make people loathe and vilify you that's what integrity, leadership and moral courage are all about. This time Cheney is the hero. McCain is taking the easy out.

But if McCain is taking the easy way out, and Cheney is the hero...then Cheney is taking the easy way out, and McCain is the hero...which would mean that McCain is taking the easy way out, and Cheney is the hero...then...then...

calvins_final.jpg

I'm so confused.


 

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What th---?

Posted by Fontana Labs
on 11.11.05

Those of you who sometimes get some kind of sick enjoyment out of Powerline should read this. I don't have time to make any substantive point right now-- but I don't really have to. Just go read.

Gelernter, quoted with endorsement:

McCain is a bona fide hero. But there's nothing courageous in standing firm with virtually the whole cultural leadership of this nation and the Western world, under any circumstances. It's too easy. To take a principled stand that you know will make people loathe and vilify you that's what integrity, leadership and moral courage are all about. This time Cheney is the hero. McCain is taking the easy out.

Stopping torture-- so weak, dude. Scott:

Shouldn't the foreign terrorists seeking to commit mass murder against our fellow citizens have some fear of detention? I don't know the answer, and I'm not sure that Professor Gelernter's column adequately address Senator McCain's amendment, but I think that Senator McCain's amendment is another example of the kind of moral vanity that brought us his odious campaign finance bill undermining Americans' basic First Amendment freedoms. Subtract from the rights of Americans at home and extend the rights of Americans to foreign terrorists abroad -- it doesn't make much sense to me.

Rights: a zero-sum game of the soul.


 

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Encore! Encore!

Posted by Ogged
on 11.11.05

Blogpulse has some nifty tools for tracking mentions of topics on the web. I see that Paul Deignan's traffic maximization strategy worked, but seems to be losing steam.


 

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Use your illusion, Instapundit version

Posted by Fontana Labs
on 11.11.05

Glenn Reynolds:

I've never understood why Wal-Mart makes some people crazy, but it clearly does.

Actually, Wal-mart doesn't make me crazy. I like shopping there because I can get basic goods for cheap. I also get to avoid the mall, which is, for me, a much more aesthetically disturbing place. But if I were to be made crazy by Wal-mart, it would be the stuff about locking workers in for the night, or trying to hire only people not likely to use their health benefits, or Barbara Ehrenreich's descriptions of what it's like to work there...And when I reflect on these facts, I tend to think that I should buy less stuff at the Wal. (Part of the fun, I admit, is that many people are driven into a frenzy, and annoying my pious liberal colleagues is amusing. But this is like ordering veal because of the presence of moral vegetarians: a childish thrill to be resisted.)

Reynolds has another explanation:

I think there's a class issue: Wal-Mart is unavoidable evidence that the American working classes don't think, or live, the way the American thinking classes want to imagine. For this sin, Wal-Mart can never be forgiven.

Yes, that must be the source of my counterpart's discomfort.


 

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A Man With A Plan

Posted by Ogged
on 11.11.05
Something I was reading sent me back to this Dick Cheney appearance on Meet the Press on September 16 of 2001.
We also have to work, though, sort of the dark side, if you will. We've got to spend time in the shadows in the intelligence world. A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion, using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies, if we're going to be successful. That's the world these folks operate in, and so it's going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal, basically, to achieve our objective.
It was all there at the beginning, wasn't it? At the time, the reasonable reading of this passage was that there would be clandestine operations: Delta forces swooping in in the dead of night. Woohoo! Now we know he meant torture. Christ, he even says we have to work "the dark side." The whole interview is pretty fascinating, given what's happened since then.

 

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Keep My Ex Off The Streets, Win Valuable Prizes

Posted by Ogged
on 11.10.05

Hey, Unfogged New York, the Ex's sublet has run out and she's looking (rather desperately looking) for a place to live in downtown Manhattan. Her budget is $1600/month, for a place with no roommates. If you know of a place, or a person, or a person who knows of a place, or anything else that might be helpful, leave a comment or drop me an email. And, since my visiting New York depends on her finding a place, if one of you helps her land one, I'll take you out to dinner when I'm there, at the restaurant of your choice. (It seems uncouth to rule out any restaurants, so let's just say that I'll leave the choice to your good upbringing.)


 

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Paul Deignan, Prince of Peace

Posted by Ogged
on 11.10.05

Say this for the Hettle/Deignan affair: it got me and BitchPhd talking again. She and I are back friendly, which means that I'll be posting naked pictures of her any minute now (and also that she's free to comment here as she pleases).

Next week: Brian Leiter takes Josh Cherniss to prom.

Update: B makes it official.


 

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Wallace Hettle [redacted]

Posted by Fontana Labs
on 11.10.05

We've been so obsessed* with Paul Deignan that we're in danger of overlooking another giant [redacted], Professor Wallace Hettle. [redacted]

*not in an actionable way.


 

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Did Someone Say Deignan?

Posted by Ogged
on 11.10.05

What the heck, I'm following it, so I might as well post about it.

Let's admit that this Deignan mess is fascinating, and not just for petty or soap-operatic reasons. Two things make it an interesting drama. First, there's Deignan's double role as victim and villian. The nastiest thing that's actually been done so far--contacting the advisors--was done to Deignan. The next nastiest thing--threatening to out B--was done by Deignan. So we swing back and forth, between wanting to strangle him, and feeling bad for him. It's clear from reading the comments at various sites that people have a very hard time thinking about justice without ascribing characteristics to the various actors: they try to figure out who's good and who's bad, and go from there. But that doesn't work here.

Then there's the opacity of motivations and mental states on our beloved internet. We still don't know if, or to what extent, Deignan is serious. Or if he started off serious,and is now backing off. So we don't really know how to respond. It's a lot like the question about Hindrocket at Powerline: is he being sincere, or is it a perverse sort of performance, intended mainly to manipulate the audience? And again, as with Hindrocket, at a certain point, it doesn't matter anymore: the words have consequences that might not have been foreseen, Deignan is a real guy's real name, lawyers are involved, and it's already gone too far.


 

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Unfogged: a Paul Deignan-based online journal

Posted by Fontana Labs
on 11.10.05

Inside Higher Ed picks up the Deignan story. Paul has some follow-up on his blog, ending with this rather poignant note:

BTW, Drs. Meckl and King have been good advisors. Let's put that in the record also. Also, if you are in this field of system identification, information theory, datamining, system theory, controls, etc., may I call your attention to my actual reseach? Information-theoretic system identification has proven to have great potential in application across many fields and the results have been very good. Papers are available by links via my profile.

The prominent theme in the commentary section is that the blog is or will be billed as an experiment in traffic enhancement, or opinion manipulation, or whatever. I would buy this without hesitation if the blog were authored pseudonymously. But there's a real Paul Deignan in the real Purdue ME department, so the experiment's costs are pretty high. It's like someone investigating pain-sensations by repeatedly punching himself in the face. (Paul Deignan is the Chris Burden of information theory: he died for our sins.)*

*Note: neither Burden nor Deignan is literally dead, as the linked biography and weblog illustrate. The idea was just that they took serious punishment to make their points.


 

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Thinly disguised open thread (part 391)

Posted by Fontana Labs
on 11.09.05

I find myself weirdly obsessed with the Ballad of Paul Deignan-- as if I'm entitled to a whiz-bang fictional ending in which all loose ends are tied up (a sitemeter-driven experiment? genuine lunacy? pursuit of justice?) and the plot resolved (Paul's father-- is he really Darth Vader?). At the same time I'm completely tired of talking about this. I just gave a bad lecture on something that I managed to make completely boring (we're now in the vicious feedback loop of the course, where sullen students make for sullen faculty make for....), and now I have to perform stupid paperwork tasks. A pox on you, academic life!


 

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A tribute

Posted by Fontana Labs
on 11.08.05

All of this discussion of the utterly Hildtastic Paul Deignan prompts me to reflect on the many virtues of my adviser. In particular: (a) my adviser would not email someone else's adviser to say "your student is being a jerk on the internet"; (b) my adviser would not really make a big deal of things if someone sent an email saying "your student is being a jerk on the internet." Even though I'm sort of being a jerk on the internet right now, I still appreciate these fine personal qualities. Here's to academics not behaving like children.


 

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Paul Deignan: folk hero

Posted by Fontana Labs
on 11.08.05

Paul Deignan really is a rare find.

Update: thanks, Apostropher. Typo quibble deleted.

images.jpg

More update: like Depeche Mode, I just can't get enough.

Since the purpose of this blog is the application of game theory to the problem of the day, I will explain how this game is going to go. First, I will uncover the identity (one way or the other) of Wally's friend. We need that for the lawsuit. This information will become public as the lawsuit will be public. In fact, I am very close to determining that individual at this point down to the school in Toronto, Canada (yes, our friend that is so concerned about domestic US politics is a Canuck or exPat).
Secondly, I will ensure that the lawsuit has the proper publicity. Wally may think it foolish for a student to blog under his real name, but he is about to find out how foolish it is to libel an identifiable person. Dumb Wally, real dumb. Is this a threat? Most certainly. It is a legal threat. Why am I publishing this? Glad you asked.
1. To make an example out of miscreants. The internet should be a place where free speech is respected.
2. Because, I am a nice guy. I am allowing Wally one more opportunity to save himself and his friend a lot of grief. Ever been sued Wally? It goes on forever and it is no fun at all (except for me). And I'm going to enjoy spending a lot of money in attorney fees because I like lawyers.
Wally, you got until 3:00PM EST to e-mail your reply. My attorney is doing some billable work this weekend and I'm not going to want to see that wasted. If you don't see this post before then, tough. Remember, if I sue you, I sue your friend. It's a twofer (like Bill and Hill).
Don't think I'm serious? Did you read my CV? I just spent $1500 to help take down Miers and I thought she was a nice lady. What do you think I will spend to take you down (legally)?

 

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Olden Days Were Teh Suck

Posted by Alameida
on 11.08.05

So, Deadwood. Pretty great. Pretty cocksucking great. A thought: every time I see a new Western, I think, wow, they made it look so shitty. I keep thinking they have reached some kind of nadir, some awful, dirt-encrusted, scrofulous point beyond which no new Western can look worse. But then they prove me wrong. Mud in the street? How about 4 feet of mud! Prostitutes are getting mistreated? How about if we beat the crap out of and almost kill them! Rough justice? Watch me kill this guy with a dull file, just because he wore his hat in a disrespectful way! I think only the introduction of sensurround smell-o-vision can keep us on the downward spiral, but I keep getting proved wrong. Keep in mind, it's not like The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly made olde timey life look spanking clean or anything. Hey, did I ever tell you guys I have a thing for the young Clint Eastwood? Mmmmm. Also, the young Lee Van Cleef (check some High Noon out).


 

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I urge you not to SLAPP the Bitch

Posted by Fontana Labs
on 11.08.05

BitchPhD is apparently facing a threat of legal action intended to rid her of pseudonymity. I haven't done all the followup, but this appears on the surface to be immensely stupid, as any dispute about blog comments must be. Playing the lawsuit card is inane, as is outing people who prefer to remain pseudonymous.

(As an aside: I've been assuming that my top secret identity won't remain that way forever, and I wonder what sort of damage would be involved in, say, my institution learning about the blog. I mean, is it that a big deal? I haven't said anything critical about the institution. But who knows?)

PS my real name is Saul Kripke.


 

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Let's Call It, "South-East Asian City-State X"

Posted by Alameida
on 11.07.05

I went shopping in Johor Bahru today (it's the Malaysian city just across the bridge from Singapore) for the first time. Well, I've been shopping there before on my way back from somewhere else, but I've never just crossed over for the day. The bus is only $2.40. Somehow, the whole passport-control, other-country thing seemed intimidating, but of course it's not. It is kind of a wonder to me that Malaysia hasn't spruced up the JB border crossing in the interests of national pride. OK, you know the Singapore side is going to be a gleaming marvel of efficiency guarded by stony-faced Gurkhas with tilted hats and machine guns. I'm willing to believe that a Singapore government sub-committe decided to spend slightly more than was needed, just to look especially kick-ass. But does the Malaysia side have to be so grungy that miniature dust bunnies have formed all over the little Malaysian flags adorning the passport officials' booths, adhering evenly to the surfaces on a visible film of grease? Step up, Malaysia.

UPDATE: see update below.

But when it comes to commerce, tasty food, and violatin' copyright, the Malaysians have got it all going on. Most things in Malaysia cost the same numerical amount in ringgit as they would in Sing dollars, but there are 2 Sing $ to the ringgit ringgit to the Sing $! It's like everything is half-off! I think you begin to see why the Singaporean government requires Singaporean motorists to have at least 3/4 of a tank of gas when they cross the checkpoint. This suddenly makes me think, just as there are bullshit places in California where you "pay extra" for a guaranteed pass on the smog test, do you think there are shifty garages out in Eunos somewhere fixing people's gas gauges permanently at 4/5? The gas gauge on my brother's old car broke early in the car's life and he had to just figure it out himself, so it could be done. You would have to alternate between the two checkpoints, I think. (Note: I do not have a car.)

Anyway, pirated DVD's! Hot damn! Sing $4.50 delivered to your home in Singapore (thus avoiding awkward questions in the "nothing To Declare" lane). So. Cool. Naturally Husband X is all "is that safe?" Gee, this one outlet delievers to the hotels of the crews of every major airline...I wonder? This is just the kind of thing he doesn't want me to blog about. Mmmmm, pseudonymity. (Honey, if you're reading this, I love you. And I got you the first season of Deadwood.)

UPDATE: Umm, remember how I told you how awesome this was? And it is, like, amazing. But, umn, I decided to smuggle just one disc home, to watch tonight and all? And it was a Battlestar Galactica movie, but not the series, with a picture of the doctor and the cybernetic blonde hottie from the new BG on it? And I just figured the Sci-Fi Channel had made a 2-hour movie before starting the series (didn't they, actually?) Well, it's more of the original Battlestar Galactica movie from 1978. With the A-Team's Faceman as Starbuck. Or maybe Apollo. Still, dudes, it was only $2.75! And it can have Thai subtitles, if I want! Aw, pickles.


 

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David Brooks: the legend continues

Posted by Fontana Labs
on 11.06.05

Since the start of TimesSelect, I've mostly given up on my part-time hobby of making fun of David Brooks-- but surely his recent column on Harry Reid, excerpted in large part here, deserves a few good thumps.

Surely he didn't really write this:

Harry Reid sits alone at his kitchen table at 4 a.m., writing important notes in crayon on the outside of envelopes. It's been four weeks since he launched his personal investigation into the Republican plot to manipulate intelligence to trick the American people into believing Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.
Reid had heard of the secret G.O.P. cabal bent on global empire, but he had no idea that he would find a conspiracy so immense.
Reid now knows that as far back as 1998, Karl Rove was beaming microwaves into Bill Clinton's fillings to get him to exaggerate the intelligence on Iraq. In that year, Clinton argued, "Iraq still has stockpiles of chemical and biological munitions ... and the capacity to restart quickly its production program and build many, many more weapons."
Harry Reid sits alone at his kitchen table at 4 a.m., writing important notes in crayon on the outside of envelopes. It has been four weeks since he began investigating this conspiracy and three weeks since he sealed his windows with aluminum foil to ward off the Illuminati. Odd patterns now leap into his brain. Scooter Libby was born near a book depository but was indicted while at a theater. Karl Rove reads books from book depositories but rarely has time for the theater. What is the ratio of Bush tax cuts to the number of squares on a frozen waffle? It is none other than the Divine Proportion. This proves that Leonardo da Vinci manipulated intelligence on Iraq and that the Holy Grail is a woman!

Haha! making fun of mental illness! It's so hilarious! This is like Charles Krauthammer saying that Gore has gone mad, only with even less professional integrity. (This shows yet again that the limits of my imagination are a poor guide to what's possible.)

You're right, Brooks-- intelligence wasn't manipulated. We weren't culpably sloppy in making the case for war. What possible evidence could there be for such charges? (An amusing thought prompted by Drum's post: the Administration had one set of reasons for the war, but used another in public, because the real case wouldn't persuade the many to do what the wise knew must be done. Democrats, remember, are the people who think that government bureaucrats know better than you.)

And this is content we're expected to pay for?

Minor second thought: I'm not making any strong claims about intelligence manipulation here. The point is partly that you don't need to buy those strong claims to see that it looks, as it has for a long time, that it's not at all implausible that there were serious moral failings in the way information was handled. (Forget terminological worries about "lies." We don't need them, and they're a distraction, just as debates about "the existence of something that might be called a connection to al Qaeda" are a distraction.) As the probabilities keep rising, it's more and more inane to make the accusation Brooks is making here.


 

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