Sunday, October 31, 2010

Is Islam A Religion Of Peace?

I am watching this debate:
A team of experts argued both sides of the motion "Islam Is a Religion of Peace" in a recent Intelligence Squared U.S. debate. Two argued in favor and two against.
The debate is also here, where there appear to be a lot of other good debates. Here is the debate outcome was a big NO:
Prior to the debate, the audience was polled as to what they thought about the issue, and results showed 41 percent were for the motion, 25 percent were against it and 34 percent were undecided.

While a number of arguments were brought to the table, the dialogue was mainly rooted in questioning the original Islamic principles of violence against the doctrine of peace, both of which are dealt with in the Quran. The main issues raised included the necessity to put the more violent passages of the Quran into historical context.

Those speaking against the motion said absolutist believers failed in their attempts to contextualize the Quran. But Khan said extremists were simply circumnavigating the issue at hand.

"[The absolutists] are using Islam to cover for their political grievances," he said. "Their real issue lies with Western domination."

At the end of the debate, the opposing side concluded that while reformed Muslims do exist in the Western world, existing extremists are living by the Quran in its entirety, including the violence it contains.

After the debate, poll results revealed a drastic change from the results at the beginning of the night — 36 percent were for the motion, 55 percent were against it and 9 percent were undecided.
A high point of the debate is when the pro-Islam-peace guy is asked why more moslem do not denounce terrorism. He said that some do, and more would if it were not for the fact that they get murdered if they speak out against terrorism.

To learn more about Mohammedan violence, see www.thereligionofpeace.com.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Monkey morals at Harvard

I am beginning to think that Harvard's Marc Hauser is a victim of a witch-hunt:
Under Harvard’s faculty policy, the university cannot make known its evidence against Dr. Hauser, nor can he defend himself, until the government’s report is ready. That leaves both in difficult positions. Harvard has accused a prominent professor of serious failings yet has merely put him on book leave. Dr. Hauser, for his part, cannot act publicly to prevent the derailment, at least for the moment, of his rising scientific career.

Harvard’s investigation has been “lawyer-driven,” says a faculty member who spoke on condition of anonymity, and has stuck so closely to the letter of government-approved rules for investigating misconduct that the process has become unduly protracted — it lasted three years — and procedurally unfair to the accused.
I mentioned this case before here, and some of his research here.

My gut feeling is that trying to learn morality by studying monkeys is a wacky thing to do, with dubious scientific value. The experiments involve subjective monkey interpretations, and no one should believe his results anyway unless they were well replicated. If some Harvard big-shot got famous for claiming that human morals were hardwired 20M years ago by monkeys, and he turned out to have bad professional morals himself, then we could all celebrate his foolish error. He thought that humans have monkey morals, and his own behavior is a prime example.

But now I think that his persecutors are the ones with the monkey morals. Why does it take three years to figure out whether he did anything wrong? And why the secrecy? If someone thinks that his experiments were bogus, then it would be better to just publicly say so, and force him to make a public defense. Apparently Hauser has redone some of his experiments. The scientific community should be able to form its own opinion of the validity of his work, not just some secret Harvard committee.

There is a scene in the new movie, The Social Network, about Harvard's morals:
Tyler refuses to sue them, instead accusing Mark of violating the Harvard student Code of Conduct. Through their father's connections they arrange a meeting with Harvard President Larry Summers, who is dismissive and sees no potential value in either a disciplinary action or in Thefacebook website itself.
A three-year secret investigation of monkey experiments is not going to improve Harvard's reputation, no matter what it ends up saying.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Women emotional in the old paradigm

Here is an academic essay on patriarchy:
In the classical manner of scientific advances, the discrepant data proved most informative, the evidence that did not fit the reigning patriarchal construction. Thus women's voices were privileged in informing psychologists about aspects of the human condition that by being tagged feminine and associated with women had been at once ignored and devalued. A paradigm shift followed from this research, joining what had been cast asunder. Whereas in the old paradigm, women were seen as emotional not rational, as having relationships but no self, and men, conversely, were considered rational insofar as they were unemotional, autonomous in their sense of self, the new paradigm in its reframing undid the splits. But the old patriarchal values crept back in: "feminine” qualities were taken as modifiers of "masculine” strengths – hence, "emotional intelligence," "relational self," and most recently, "the feeling brain.” ...

Patriarchy's error lies in wedding us, men and women alike, to a false story about human nature and then characterizing our resistance to this story as a sign of pathology or sin. The long-standing divisions of mind from body, thought from emotion, and self from relationships enforce a kind of moral slavery in that they erode a resistance grounded in the core self and cause us to lose touch with our experience. Damasio's research demonstrated how the severing of thought from emotion leaves the capacity for deductive reasoning intact (the ability to deduce thought from thought) but impairs our capacity to navigate the human social world, which depends on an integration of thought and emotion. The associative methods of psychoanalysis were able to break through dissociations that were psychologically induced and/or culturally enforced, leading to a release of voice and a recovery of relational capacities, and imbuing psychoanalysis with a liberatory potential. But it is by looking through a gender lens that we are able to see the problem whole: not as a problem of women or men, or of women versus men, but rather a problem with the framework we have used in thinking about these questions. The artists to whom we now turn anticipated these insights, serving as early warning signals. Their associative methods broke through dissociation and allowed them to see the framework.
This is all nonsense. Students are paying a lot of money to take classes in junk like this, and their world view is being warped.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Witches denounce beer label

If you work for NPR, you cannot express fear of Moslem terrorists, and if you do business in Santa Cruz, you have to worry about offending the local witches. Here is a witch complaint:
Ms. [Vicki] Noble, who is famous in the pagan and Wiccan communities for her astrology readings, shamanic healing and writings about goddess spirituality, says she discovered Witch’s Wit last week on one of her regular excursions to 41st Avenue Liquors, in Capitola, Calif. ...

One recipient of Ms. Noble’s e-mail was Cynthia Eller, a professor of religion at Montclair State University in New Jersey. Ms. Eller is known for her pioneering book “The Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory,” which is widely loathed in the pagan community. According to Ms. Eller’s work, today’s pagans exaggerate the historical evidence for the worship of female deities in the ancient world.

The two women disagree on much. But Ms. Eller shared Ms. Noble’s disgust at the use of witch burning — the painting on the label is by the artist Sean Dominguez — to sell beer.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Big stones fall faster

The NY Times science section explains:
Q. I’ve heard that if a penny is dropped from the Empire State Building it could kill someone. But what about hail? It’s often much larger and falls from much higher, so why do I never hear about any deaths caused by it?
No, the penny will not kill anyone, as explained here and here.
The friction with other precipitation deforms a hailstone from a perfect sphere, making its velocity hard to calculate when it does become heavy enough to fall to earth. One estimate is that a half-inch stone falls about 30 feet a second, while a three-inch stone falls nearly 160 feet a second.
Occasionally I hear someone tell how Galileo's Leaning Tower of Pisa experiment proved Aristotle wrong about heavier rocks falling faster. Well, as the story explains, bigger hail stones do fall faster than smaller ones.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Rational preferences

Economist Steve Landsburg has explained the Allais paradox.(Update: His latest is here.) It is an argument that people make choices that are contrary to what is considered rational under common economic models. Allais won the Bank of Sweden prize (aka Nobel for economics) for the work, and died recently, and was also known for anti-relativity views.

Here is a variant of the paradox. Suppose I give you $10 if a coin toss gives heads. Before tossing the coin, I offer you two choices for additional money:

A. I give you another $10 is that coin toss is tails.
B. I give you $5 regardless.

Apparently rational utility theory says that your choices should be independent of what you already have, so you should just compare A and B. Both choices give you $5 on average if we did this many times, but B is a sure thing and should therefore be preferred by the rational person.

But people would normally prefer A. Choice A, combined with the previous offer, implies that you will get a sure $10. Under Choice B you could end up with either $5 or $15, depending on the coin toss. It is an unnecessary gamble.

I do not think that this proves that people are irrational. It only shows that economic models are deficient if they assume that people do not change their preferences after acquiring assets. A man might prefer a dog to a cat, but once he has a dog, he might not want another one. In the above case, one of the choices is correlated with what you have already been offered.

I think Landsburg disagrees with me, so you might want to read his analysis and decide for yourself.

Update: Apparently the object was to find a counterexample to the Independence Axiom in the Von Neumann–Morgenstern utility theorem. The above example does not quite do it. But there are still situations where people make choices contrary to the axioms.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The empathy deficit

The Boston Globe reports:
Young Americans today live in a world of endless connections ...

But new research suggests that behind all this communication and connectedness, something is missing. The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research, found that college students today are 40 percent less empathetic than they were in 1979, with the steepest decline coming in the last 10 years.

According to the findings, today’s students are generally less likely to describe themselves as “soft-hearted” or to have “tender, concerned feelings” for others. They are more likely, meanwhile, to admit that “other people’s misfortunes” usually don’t disturb them. In other words, they might be constantly aware of their friends’ whereabouts, but all that connectedness doesn’t seem to be translating to genuine concern for the world and one another.

“To me, that’s the basic glue,” said Sara Konrath, a research assistant professor and the lead author of the study on empathy. “It’s so rewarding to connect with human beings. It’s so good for our bodies to do this. Everything we know as psychologists tells us it’s the most wonderful thing. So if we’re losing that, I think that is distressing.”
There is now a consensus that Pres. Obama lacks empathy, even he himself has a record of blabbering about empathy. Obama has complained that terrorists lack empathy and judges lack empathy.

There seems to be a lot of confusing about what empathy means. It does not mean soft-hearted. It is a form of mindreading. Merriam-Webster defines:
Definition of EMPATHY
1: the imaginative projection of a subjective state into an object so that the object appears to be infused with it
2: the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner; also : the capacity for this
The Boston article recognizes confusion about what the word means:
Empathy might seem like a hard-to-define, touchy-feely idea, ...

Empathy is such a basic ingredient of the human experience that even babies exhibit it, crying when other children cry or reacting to the facial expressions of adults and parents. Yet the word itself is relatively new: It didn’t enter the English lexicon until the early 1900s, derived from the German word einf├╝hlung, according to Daniel Batson, a researcher of empathy and professor emeritus at Kansas University. And psychologists studying empathy still disagree on some basic questions about how it should be defined: Is it feeling for others? Feeling as others feel? Understanding how others feel? Or some combination of the above?

“It’s all over the place,” Batson said. “There’s no agreed-upon definition.”

But at the most basic level, most concur that empathy is some sort of emotional response to another person’s plight, pain, state, or suffering.
Yes, but empathy does not necessarily have anything to do with genuine concern for the world.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Much medical research is wrong

A Greek named John Ioannidis has been pointing out flaws in medical research for years. Here is a new article about his findings:
Some points made in the article: even the most respected, widely accepted, peer-reviewed medical studies are all-too-often deeply flawed or outright wrong; when an error is brought to light and the conclusions publicly refuted, the erroneous conclusions often persist and are cited as valid for years, or even decades; scientists and researchers themselves regard peer review as providing 'only a minimal assurance of quality'; and these shortcomings apply to medical research across the board, not just to blatantly self-serving pharmaceutical industry studies.
As examples, a lot of the studies behind a lot of dietary recommendations are bogus.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Judge has faulty opinion on public policy

I happened to hear an appeals court argument yesterday over whether a developer had to pay prevailing wages to construction workers. The developer bought the land from the city chose not to impose that requirement, but the other party argued that no such choice could be made under some obscure redevelopment agency law.

At one point, the other party said that the area was economically depressed, and the workers need the money. The judge interrupted, and said that there was no need to make such an argument because the public policy arguments are obviously on the side of requiring the prevailing wage.

The judge is an idiot. The prevailing wage is good for the local white union construction workers, but unlikely to be good for the broader economy. The city apparently required prevailing wage for some projects, and not others. Probably some of those projects would not get built if they had to pay prevailing wage. Requiring higher wages on all projects will mean that fewer projects get developed. The judge is obviously in no position to say how many projects should be developed. The legal briefs were only about the interpretation of some obscure statute.

This 3-judge panel will probably write a decision on the matter, based in part on a faulty analysis of public policy considerations. But the written opinion will probably just discuss the statute, and not mention their faulty logic.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Lawyer brags about suing father

A personal injury lawyer has this testimonial:
This story was featured on The Jay Leno Show.

We’ll listen to your story carefully. We will help you to understand the merit of your personal injury claim. If you can’t come down to our offices, we can meet you at home or by your hospital bed.

What Our Clients Say

“I slipped and fell while visiting my father’s house. Six law firms I consulted refused to take my case. Hy Bergel not only took my case, he settled it for $150,000″.
Leno was making fun of him for suing the father. I guess this is good publicity for an ambulance chaser.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

UK teenager jailed for keeping password

A British newspaper reports:
A teenage takeaway [carryout food] worker has been jailed for four months for refusing to give child protection police the password to his computer.

Oliver Drage was originally arrested in May last year by a team of officers from Blackpool tackling child sexual exploitation.

The 19-year-old's computer was seized but officers could not access material stored on it as it was protected by a sophisticated 50-character encryption password.
Drage, who worked in a fast food shop, was then formally requested to disclose the password, but failed to do so.

He was convicted after a trial last month of failing to disclose an encryption key, an offence covered by the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000.
Apparently, "takeaway" is some sort of British slang for fast food to go.

In the USA, you cannot be jailed for refusing to incriminate yourself. The authorities have to find some sort of evidence that you have committed a crime.

The Pres. Obama administration is seeking to expand its powers to eavesdrop on Americans. The last major expansion of those powers was during the Clinton administration.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Banning soda for the poor

The nanny state is joining forces with the welfare state. AP reports:
Using food stamps to buy sodas, teas, sports drinks and other sugar-sweetened beverages would not be allowed in New York City under a new government effort to battle obesity.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Gov. David Paterson announced Thursday that they are seeking permission from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which administers the nation's food stamp program, to add sugary drinks to the list of prohibited goods for city residents receiving assistance. ...

Spending government money on "foods of little or no nutritional value not only contradicts the intent of the program, it also effectively subsidizes a serious public health epidemic," New York officials wrote in their proposal. ...

The ban would apply to any beverage that contains more than 10 calories per 8 ounces, except for milk products, milk substitutes like soy milk and rice milk, and fruit juices without added sugar. ...

More than half of adult New York City residents are overweight or obese, along with nearly 40 percent of public school students in kindergarten through eighth grade.
The Coke actually has about the same nutritional value as orange juice, and a lot more than the sugar-free drinks.

But I think this is a great idea. They should ban using food stamps for organic foods and gourmet foods. Next they can test the BMI of food stamp recipients, and deny any food stamps to the obese. They are already eating too much anyway. They should just give the food stamps to skinny people who need the food.

Next, they should rate the foods in terms of energy efficiency, like household appliances. The store should have tags saying how much energy each food item has, in terms of calories per penny. The skinny food stamp recipients should be limited to buying high-calorie food, so that our tax dollars will be delivering the necessary nutritional value. They certainly should not be spending food stamps on sugar-free drinks because they have no nutritional value.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Telling the truth about Islam

Here is a sample of the opinions that have put the Dutch politician Geert Wilders on trial for hate speech:
Today, another specter is haunting Europe. It is the specter of Islam. This danger, too, is political. Islam is not merely a religion, as many people seem to think: Islam is mainly a political ideology.

This insight is not new.

I quote from the bestselling book and BBC television series The Triumph of the West which the renowned Oxford historian J.M. Roberts wrote in 1985: “Although we carelessly speak of Islam as a ‘religion’; that word carries many overtones of the special history of western Europe. The Muslim is primarily a member of a community, the follower of a certain way, an adherent to a system of law, rather than someone holding particular theological views.” The Flemish Professor Urbain Vermeulen, the former president of the European Union of Arabists and Islamicists, too, points out that “Islam is primarily a legal system, a law,” rather than a religion.

The American political scientist Mark Alexander writes that “One of our greatest mistakes is to think of Islam as just another one of the world’s great religions. We shouldn’t. Islam is politics or it is nothing at all, but, of course, it is politics with a spiritual dimension, … which will stop at nothing until the West is no more, until the West has … been well and truly Islamized.”

These are not just statements by opponents of Islam. Islamic scholars say the same thing. There cannot be any doubt about the nature of Islam to those who have read the Koran, the Sira and the Hadith. Abul Ala Maududi, the influential 20th century Pakistani Islamic thinker, wrote – I quote, emphasizing that these are not my words but those of a leading Islamic scholar – “Islam is not merely a religious creed [but] a revolutionary ideology and jihad refers to that revolutionary struggle … to destroy all states and governments anywhere on the face of the earth, which are opposed to the ideology and program of Islam.” ...

President Reagan showed that by speaking the truth one can change the course of history. He showed that there is no need to despair. Never! Just do your duty. Be not afraid. Speak the truth. Defend Freedom. Together we can preserve freedom, together we must preserve freedom, and together, my friends, we will be able to preserve freedom.
He is certainly correct that Islam is not merely a religion.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Blaming groups for crimes

A NY Times op-ed complains:
As a moderate Muslim American, I am at a loss as to why in 21st century America millions of law-abiding Muslim Americans stand accused, in the eyes of many, of crimes we didn’t commit, advocate or condone? Holding moderate Muslims responsible for crimes carried out in the name of Islam by a tiny minority of terrorists is akin to holding all Catholics accountable for murders of doctors in abortion clinics and child molestations in Catholic churches. It is no different than holding all Japanese-Americans responsible for Pearl Harbor, and all white Christian-Americans accountable for the Oklahoma bombings.
No, those are not good analogies. I have never even heard of any Catholics advocating abortionist murders or child molestations. I have only heard of one Oklahoma bombing, and Christian-Americans had nothing to do with it, as far as I know.

Maybe it is a little like holding all men accountable for the crimes of a few:
Tonight at 7 p.m., first-year men at Hamilton College will be attending a mandatory presentation of "She Fears You," a program at which they will be pressed to acknowledge their personal complicity in a "rape culture" on Hamilton's campus and to change their "rape-supportive" beliefs and attitudes.
Meanwhile, a Dutch political leader is on trial:
Prosecutors say Wilders incited hatred against Muslims with remarks comparing Islam to Naziism and by calling for a ban on the Koran. Wilders argues he has a right to freedom of speech and that his remarks were within the bounds of the law. ...''

If convicted he could face up to a year in jail, though a fine would be more likely. He could keep his seat in parliament regardless of the outcome. ...

The flamboyant, bleach-blond politician also has called for taxing clothing commonly worn by Muslims, such as head scarves -- or "head rags," as he called them -- because they "pollute" the Dutch landscape.

He may be best known for the 2008 short film "Fitna," which offended Muslims around the world by juxtaposing Koranic verses with images of terrorism by Islamic radicals. ...

Mohamed Rabbae, chairman of the moderate National Moroccan Council, said outside the court that he hoped judges would force Wilders to issue an apology for his past remarks.

"We are not for getting Mr. Wilders in prison. We are for correcting him," Rabbae said.
So this moderate Moslem wants to use the force of law to "correct" the opinions of others? If moderate Moslems want to be treated as less-threatening, then they could start by respecting the free speech rights of others.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

California but not federal law

The California sample ballot has this summary for Prop. 19:
LEGALIZES MARIJUANA UNDER CALIFORNIA BUT NOT FEDERAL LAW. PERMITS LOCAL GOVERNMENTS TO REGULATE AND TAX COMMERCIAL PRODUCTION, DISTRIBUTION, AND SALE OF MARIJUANA. INITIATIVE STATUTE.
Compare this to the official 2008 Prop 8 summary:
ELIMINATES RIGHT OF SAME–SEX COUPLES TO MARRY. INITIATIVE CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT.
It would have made more sense to just say, "defines marriage be between a man and a woman" or "restores popular marriage definition". Supposedly there will be an initiative to repeal Prop 8 and endorse same-sex marriage, so it ought to say, "legalizes same-sex marriage under California but not federal law." After all, states that legalize marijuana or same-sex marriage are in conflict with federal law in both cases.

Friday, October 01, 2010

The TARP hoax

The NY Times reports:
After supporting TARP, several Republicans have lost elections largely because of their votes. For many Americans, TARP is more than a vote; it is a symbol of big government at its worst, intervening in private markets with taxpayers’ billions to save Wall Street plutocrats while average Americans struggle through the recession those financiers spawned.

Fewer than three in 10 Americans say they believe the program was necessary “to prevent the financial industry from failing and drastically hurting the U.S. economy,” according to a poll in July for Bloomberg News. ...

The Treasury never tapped the full $700 billion. It committed $470 billion and has disbursed $387 billion, mostly to hundreds of banks and later to A.I.G., the car industry — Chrysler, General Motors, the G.M. financing company and suppliers — and to what is, so far, a failed effort to help homeowners avoid foreclosures.
The TARP plan passed with a bunch of govt officials told us that we were headed into another Great Depression unless we spent $700B to buy toxic assets from banks. The plan was a failure from the start. The money was never even used to buy the toxic assets.

Yes, those who voted for TARP ought to be kicked out of office. We need leaders who are not so easily conned.