Saturday, April 28, 2007

Wishfulness

The easiest thing of all is to deceive one's self; for what a man wishes he generally believes to be true.

- Demosthenes

Friday, April 27, 2007

Thursday, April 26, 2007

An Iraqi Emigre's Despair and our Shame

Informed Comment's daily coverage of the Iraq War is on my must-read list. Professor Cole does a great job of exposing the Republican disinformation on the war.

Retired general Barry McCaffrey, a veteran of the Gulf War... has recently carried out a study of the situation in Iraq. Highlights (not in original order):

"We’re in trouble."

"The Iraqi government in power is dysfunctional."

"There is essentially no province in Iraq where the central government holds sway."

"Iraq’s neighbors are bearing no good will toward a favorable outcome in Iraq."

" . . . collectively the American people have said that the conduct of the war has been so incompetent that we’ve come to disbelieve the administration has the ability to carry this off."

"The next president, unless the situation in Iraq is dramatically turned around, is pulling the plug."

Gee, I guess Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi are in pretty good company after all. It is Dick Cheney who is living in fantasyland.

In contrast, it seems clear that former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld routinely sent spokesmen out to lie to us about cases like that of Jessica Lynch and Pat Tillman. Lynch says she was no Rambo, and that Tillman was killed by 'friendly fire' was covered up. |Informed Comment|


The Iraqi blogger Riverbend is emigrating from Iraq and is furious that our dumbass president decided to ruin her country. Some freedom... the freedom to live under the thumb of a blueblood moron.
There are moments when the injustice of having to leave your country, simply because an imbecile got it into his head to invade it, is overwhelming. It is unfair that in order to survive and live normally, we have to leave our home and what remains of family and friends… And to what?



It's difficult to decide which is more frightening- car bombs and militias, or having to leave everything you know and love, to some unspecified place for a future where nothing is certain. |Informed Comment|

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Perception dictates reality in gun debate

Over at Concurring Opinions, Donald Brahman provides an explanation for why the gun debate generates so much heat, but very little light.
Persons who hold egalitarian and communitarian worldviews worry more about crime and gun accidents, an anxiety that coheres with their negative association of guns with patriarchy, racism, and selfish indifference to the well-being of others. Persons of a hierarchical and individualistic worldviews, in contrast, tend to see guns as safe, and worry much more about the danger of being rendered defenseless against attack; this perception of risk coheres with their positive associations of guns with traditional social roles (father, protector, provider) and individualistic virtues (self-reliance, courage, physical prowess). |The Cultural Cognition Project|


So your views about life and liberty determine your views on guns. That seems reasonable.

The blog post goes on to point out that Americans don't just disagree about matters of abstract principle, but that these disagreements make us distrust (if not dislike) people who hold the opposing view.

Americans not only prize different principles, they view the world as working in fundamentally different ways. In fact, it's probably a good bet that using this kind of emotionally laden illustration of just how good or bad guns are at protecting or harming people is certain to not make headway in the gun debate. Because people conform their understandings of the way the world works to their deepest cultural commitments, claims that school shootings clearly supporting one side of the debate strike opponents as profoundly deceptive and disingenuous because to them the opposite inference is just as obviously supported by the same facts.

Opposing parties come away from this sort of debate not just believing that their opponents prize different values (say autonomy, martial prowess and individual self-reliance v. collective responsibility, pacifism and reliance on the state for protection, for example), but that the other side is decidedly deluded or untrustworthy when it comes to the facts. And the less trustworthy or more deluded the opponents in this debate believe each other to be, the less willing they are to make even reasonable concessions for fear that if they give an inch, they'll be taken for a mile. As a result, those claiming that school shooting "prove" something are having the paradoxical effect of hardening their opposition and further polarizing the debate. And that's a shame because it decreases that chance that reasonable, moderate measures will prevail. |Concurring Opinions|(emphasis added)


That seems totally reasonable to me. But where do we go from here?

By framing the problem in this way, it suggests that the answer lies in a compromise between the viewpoints and I think that is true. We need collective action as well as personal dedication for solving our problems.

Some suggest that bipartisanship is a one-way street in this country where Democrats essentially cave into the demands of Republicans, and that is certainly true of our current administration. But we must change that if we're going to make any progress in reforming the really serious problems facing our society. Gun violence pales when compared to problems like fossil fuel dependence, global warming, overpopulation, contamination of fresh water, and the looming mass extinction event due to the foregoing issues.

Monday, April 23, 2007

France Poised for Political Change

After the first round of the French presidential elections, the run-off will be between the conservative Nicolas Sarkozy and the socialist Ségolène Royal.
For months, the candidates' buzzword has been "change". Mr Sarkozy has preached ... loosened labour laws and easier hiring and firing in a more free market economy. A hardliner on crime, he wants tighter laws on delinquency and more convictions, and has promised to restore France's "pride in itself", setting up a ministry for "immigration and national identity". His supporters say he is the only one strong enough to curb strikes and force economic change; his detractors say he is divisive and dangerously authoritarian.

Ségolène Royal has run on "less brutal" change that would preserve social safety nets and raise the minimum wage, promising to "listen to the people" and reform the monarchic, all-powerful presidency and weak parliament. Supporters say she understands people's everyday concerns; critics say she lacks political experience and cannot unite her fractured party. |Guardian|(emphasis added)

I think France is an important country in this day and age. France has a large Muslim population but they are trapped in the estates, which I understand to be similar to ghettos in the US. The rejection of le Pen as candidate is hopefully a good sign that race relations can be repaired in France.

Image courtesty Portable Planet

Google Emerges as a Greater Threat to Online Privacy

Google in the last week has made a couple of ominous announcements that seem to threaten any shred of online privacy.

First, their new Web History feature makes the extent of their tracking of your online browsing more apparent.

Web History lets you look back in time, revisit the sites you've browsed, and search over the full text of pages you've seen. All you need is a Google Account and the Google Toolbar with PageRank enabled. The Toolbar, as part of your browser, helps us associate the pages you visit with your Google Account. |Lifehacker|

The good news is that you can opt out of Google’s web tracking, or (if you aren't worried) you can sign up for Google History at this link.

Google has also announced plans to merge with the online ad agency Doubleclick. Bespacific has some nice coverage of Google’s proposed merger with Doubleclick.

While the Internet has never been anonymous, it has at least had some elements of being pseudonymous*, and it is that psuedonymity that is threatened by Google's recent moves.

* See Tal Zarsky's paper on these topics for more: Thinking Outside the Box: Considering Transparency, Anonymity, and Pseudonymity as Overall Solutions to
the Problems of Information Privacy in the Internet Society
|PDF|

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Country Music?!?

Last night I went to a 50th birthday party, it was a collective birthday party. One of the clinical professors I work with turned 50. The band Trailer Trash played and they were tight; I'm not a big fan of country music, but I liked the band a lot.

I do like some songs by the Eagles and Johnny Cash, although I don't want to listen to them every day.

Gardens & Wildlife

This will be my first Spring in this house and with my garden. We have lots of birds, rabbits and squirrels; we've even seen turkeys, butterflies and bees in the past couple of weeks.

The plants are just now erupting from the ground, but I'll have pictures when things start to bloom.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Tragedy


by zehhhra.

The State of the Art in Psychiatry

With all the discussion about America's ailing mental health care system following the shooting at Virginia Tech, I was reminded of an interview in Rake magazine:

[Question:] How well do psychiatrists understand the human brain?

[Answer:] We don’t. We’ve learned a lot in the last ten to fifteen years, but look at how that’s translated into action. If you see five different psychiatrists, and you have a mental problem, you are likely to get five different diagnoses.

Fortunately it doesn’t make much difference because whatever diagnosis you get, you are likely to get the same hodgepodge of medications regardless: an antipsychotic, a mood stabilizer, an antidepressant, a minor tranquilizer. It’s fair to say that we don’t know what causes any mental disorders and we don’t know how any of our medications actually work. |Rake| (emphasis added)
I'm not a total skeptic about mental health professionals, they are doing the best they can and we are learning more about the brain every year.

But the amount we don't know about the brain and how these drugs work is positively disconcerting.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

NASA's learning initiative in virtual worlds

Last November, Dr. Daniel Laughlin, project manager for NASA Learning Technologies gave a presentation in Second Life discussing NASA's plan to develop a virtual environments that would mimic conditions on the International Space Station, the Moon or Mars.


Sloodle: Second Life meets Moodle

This is a video of a person blogging from Second Life straight into a Moodle site using Sloodle.


I haven't spent a lot of time in Second Life (SL) or World of Warcraft (WoW), but they're an interesting vision for Web 3.0 as an interactive, three dimensional virtual world populated by avatars and autonomous code. I think SL more closely resembles the virtuality imagined by Neal Stephenson's in Snowcrash rather than the matrix of William Gibson's Neuromancer.

Moodle is an open source virtual learning enviroment (VLE) like Lexis' Blackboard or TWEN (The Westlaw Educational Network).

I used Moodle at UCLA for my information-seeking behavior class with Dr. Leah Lievrouw and it worked well, except we didn't enough dedicated bandwidth to support the chat function.

Sloodle is the integration of Moodle with Second Life.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Ramblings about Violence

Juan Cole reminds us that the Virginia Tech massacre is a blip on the radar compared to the slaughter occurring every day of the week in Iraq.

They have two Virginia Tech-style attacks every single day. Virginia Tech will be gone from the headlines and the air waves by next week this time in the US, though the families of the victims will grieve for a lifetime. But next Tuesday I will come out here and report to you that 64 Iraqis have been killed in political violence. And those will mainly be the ones killed by bombs and mortars. They are only 13% of the total; most Iraqis killed violently, perhaps 500 a day throughout the country if you count criminal and tribal violence, are just shot down. |Informed Comment|


IraqSlogger points out that the violence against Iraqi students and faculty is destroying the educational system within Iraq.

One tragedy is not better or worse than the other... these are all tragedies.

But no one has any idea how to stop the violence here or abroad. We cannot even agree on what causes the violence.

I rarely visit NRO but the Bellman pointed me there with some recent criticism of their wacked out views and I ran across an article by John O'Sullivan that discusses the lessons to be learned from this tragedy:

Lessons will undoubtedly be drawn from this so that we may avert such tragedies in future. Some will be technical — greater controls on guns. Some will be moral — attempts to make our culture less brutal and obsessed with violence. Some will be medical — seeking to discover and treat in advance the personality traits that are associated with these crimes.

Some of these are sensible ideas...Some are palliatives to make us feel better...Some are interesting but also sinister, such as the therapeutic notion of preventing and punishing crimes before they happen.

None, however, seems up to the task of defeating radical evil when it appears. |NRO| (emphasis added)
I'm with him all the way to the end... and then he just becomes incoherent in my view. I don't think that evil is a useful concept in moral discourse, it's just emotive and not helpful, whatever one dislikes or fears becomes "evil". But I'm intrigued by his use of the the adjective radical.

To my mind his talk of evil is simply another palliative, something to soothe his troubled mind, blaming our problems on superstitions and Biblical fictions.

He wants to blame Hollywood movies and our "debased culture", he thinks gun control is a palliative.

Personally, I'd like to see more funding and treatment for mental health issues and more restrictions on the sale of firearms.

I'm a gun owner and gun enthusiast myself, but I've been saying for years that no one should be able to buy a gun without talking to a psychologist. Only stable, well-balanced people should be allowed to own firearms.

I'll also admit that there are certain situations where we have quite a bit of empirical evidence that even well-adjusted people go a bit crazy such as divorce or the death of a child... but I won't even bother to address these issues when we cannot even get a waiting period for firearms enacted.

I'm not sure how Mr. O'Sullivan and I could ever agree on good public policy when we cannot even agree on the existence of evil.

Where'd my snooze button go?

Just saw this item over at Slashdot, an alarm clock that runs and hides.

I don't need such a thing because I have a furry alarm clock that finds me and whines if I don't get up.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Debunking myths about the "Third" World

The Legal Value of Wikipedia

I was just over at Slashdot and I saw this quote:

“Greg Aharonian, publisher of a patent newsletter and a longtime agency gadfly [said:] ‘From a legal point of view, a Wiki[pedia] citation is toilet paper.’”

– Lorraine Woellert, Business Week, Citings: Kicking Wiki Out Of The Patent Office, Sep. 4, 2006. |Link|

While I think Wikipedia is great as a place to begin research or as a link in a blog or other informal document, I agree that it's definitely not something that should be cited for serious scholarly or legal purposes.

Bush's Abstinence Campaign... Another Failure

I think Bush has the anti-Midas touch. Everything he tries to do ends in total disarray. According to the Guardian's Ed Pilkington, new research shows that Bush's vaunted abstinence program is another total failure.
Since his days as governor of Texas, George Bush has been a firm advocate of abstinence education programmes, which teach that keeping zipped up is the only certain way to avoid unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, and that to deviate from the norms of human sexual activity is to risk harmful psychological and physical effects. "Abstinence hasn't been given a very good chance, but it's worked when it's tried. That's for certain," he said.

But even in 1990s Texas, where Mr Bush spent $10m a year on abstinence education, the state had the fifth highest teen pregnancy rate in the US. Over the past six years he has stepped up the programme to more than $100m a year. He recently braved ridicule by extending it to adults aged 20-29, an age range in which 90% of people are sexually active.
Many of Bush's programs fail because of cronyism. This adminstration prefers to hire "loyal Bushies" rather than those qualified for the job. This is one of the things that doomed the Iraqi reconstruction project. It's also at the heart of the US Attorney firings scandal. (See the Boston Globe's coverage for more on Monica Goodling and Regents Law School.)

But in the abstinence program case, it's not so much cronyism as the very concept underlying the program is unworkable, on its face. I'd even go so far as to say moronic.

So we've wasted a billion dollars on abstinence-based sex education and have higher rates of disease and teen pregnancy to show for it.

Worst. President. Ever.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Emanuel!

Stephen Colbert cracks me up.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

When Nietzsche Wept

Recently I read When Nietzsche Wept: A Novel of Obssession by Irvin D. Yalom available from Amazon or Powell's Books. It's a fictional story of the German philosopher meeting with an Austrian physician, Joseph Breuer, who was Sigmund Freud's mentor and one of the founders of psychoanalysis. The book deals with depression and investigates how philosophy and conversation work to help us deal with despair. One paragraph struck me with its powerful expression of the need to use reason to evaluate life's turmoil and for its powerful rejection of religion:

[W]henever we abandon rationality and use lower faculties to influence men, we end up with a lower and cheaper man. When you say you want something that works [relieve your despair], you mean that you want something that can influence emotions. Well, there are experts in that! And who are they? The priests! They know the secrets of influence! They manipulate with inspiring music, they dwarf us with towering spires and soaring naves, they encourage the lust for submission, they proffer supernatural guidance, protection from death, even immortality. But look at the price they extract -- religious thralldom; reverence for the weak; statis; hatred of the body, of joy, of this world. No, we can't use these tranquilizing, antihuman methods! We must find better ways of honing our powers of reason.
The book gave a concrete context to Nietzsche's philosophy and was an interesting expression of his philosophy. But it also made me realize just how new psychology and psychiatry are as intellectual disciplines.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Roman Rule

The band Death Cab for Cutie has a recent song titled I Will Follow You into the Dark and one of the lines keeps running around my head:

In Catholic school, as vicious as Roman rule,
I got my knuckles bruised by a lady in black.
And I held my tongue as she told me
"Son, fear is the heart of love."
So I never went back.

|A-Z Lyrics|

Friday, April 06, 2007

Sproinggg!

There are still many things wrong in the world, but at least it's Friday, that makes things a little better in my world. I have to work tomorrow, but that's cool. Saturday shifts are usually nice and quiet in the morning, about the time reference questions start to boil over at 5 PM, I leave for the rest of my weekend. I've suggested we change the weekend schedule once, but movement is slow on that front.

You can amuse yourself this weekend with Kitten War.

I was able to do some gardening yesterday. I increased the drainage and cut down a bunch of volunteer trees. The garden is slowly bending to my whim.

Our birdfeeders and squirrel feeding stations have also been marvelously successful. I saw a female cardinal just a few hours ago less than four feet from me. We even have a hawk and a mole that frequent the property. Most people dislike moles, but they seem harmless enough to me.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Trivia

Did you know that TinyURL has a new preview feature?

E.g. http://preview.tinyurl.com/36ax6r

This links to Holy Fire by Bruce Sterling on Amazon. It's all about the future of the medical-industrial complex and it's terrifying. I loved every page.

April Snow Storm

We're getting an April snow storm here in Minnesota. Minnesota and its flora have to be pretty hardy to survive the Winter and the Spring here!