Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Phone patent wars decline

ExtremeTech reports:
After years of relentless litigation, it seems the mobile/smartphone patent war might be drawing to a close. Rockstar, a patent trolling company owned by Apple, Microsoft, Sony, Ericsson, and BlackBerry, has agreed to cancel the lawsuits it had filed against Google and most Android device makers. Rockstar will also sell off its remaining patents (some 4,000 of them) to a company called RPX, which has promised to license the patents to anyone who needs them for defensive purposes. This follows on from news this summer that Apple and Google had agreed to drop all lawsuits between the two companies, and Apple and Samsung agreed to drop all lawsuits outside the US.

The patent wars — or patent trolling, depending on your point of view — originally started to heat up in the 1980s, as the Information/Digital Age began to gather a lot of inertia. Patents weren’t originally designed with software in mind, and they’re also not very good at responding to periods of rapid innovation. As you can imagine, this in turn meant that patents were rather ill-suited to protecting the innovations of tech companies that were quickly becoming very rich and powerful. At some point, these companies (or their lawyers) realized that patents were a great way of stymieing the opposition or extorting them out of a few million dollars. ...

“Peace is breaking out,” RPX’s CEO John Amster told the Wall Street Journal. “I think people have started to realize that licensing, not litigation, is the best way to make use of patents, and this deal is a significant acknowledgment of that reality.” ... It does indeed seem that the smartphone patent war, kickstarted by the iPhone in 2007, is finally drawing to a close.
Wikipedia defines patent troll as a pejorative term:
A patent troll, also called a patent assertion entity (PAE), is a person or company who enforces patent rights against accused infringers in an attempt to collect licensing fees, but does not manufacture products or supply services based upon the patents in question, thus engaging in economic rent-seeking.
In this case, there is an oligopoly of a few firms controlling the smart phone market, and they have pooled their patents. They pay big license fees to each other based on those patents. Their patent pool is not a troll according to the above definition. They sell products and services using those patents, and they use the patents against outsiders.

I realize that a lot of people don't like patents, but it is foolish to say that licensing patents is better than litigation. Almost all patent lawsuits are driven by someone's refusal to pay licensing fees.

There is no real reason for consumers to care if a few billion dollars changes hands between Apple, Google, and Microsoft. For them, it is pocket change. While patent lawsuits threaten to take products off the market, so far that has not happened. A few phones have had to remove features, but in the examples I know, the features were either worthless or allowed simple work-arounds anyway.

Steve Jobs liked to claim that Apple invented the smart phone, and that Google had no right to push a similar product. So he had Apple file a bunch of lawsuits. The patents tell a different story, and helped resolve the matter in an orderly way. They have a record of who invented what, and when. License fees can then benefit whoever invented the most.

The argument that patents are "not very good at responding to periods of rapid innovation" has not been proved. If patents were too strong, Apple would not have been able to enter the cell phone market. If patents were too weak, companies would not have bothered getting the critical patents, and court would be in much worse shape resolving unfair competition claims.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Econometrics and Causation

I listened to this interview on Econometrics and Causation
Roberts points to three controversial areas in microeconomic research- the effect of class size on student achievement, the employment effects of minimum wage, and the relationship between health insurance and health outcomes. What has econometrics been able to show about each of these, according to Angrist? Are these areas where knowledge has become more reliable and precise because of empirical study?
The guest made the point that there are a lot of studies in the social sciences that are effectively as good as the random clinical trials used for FDA drug approvals, because there is some dataset with randomness built in.

He says that Harvard grads do better than U.Mass. grads, but if you look at students who were admitted to Harvard and possibly went elsewhere, there is not much difference. He says that urban charter schools are effective, but small class sizes are not. He says that American health is worse than other developed countries, but that it cannot be improved by giving people health insurance.

If these studies are really as rock solid as he describes, then they should be central to public policy debates. They are not. I never heard of them. Is there really some body of econometric knowledge that is accurate but widely ignored? I guess I should read his book, but that may not tell me how political groups get away with ignoring the facts.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Leftist-atheist attack on free will

Philosopher Gregg Caruso has a video on the dark side of free will, and gives further details on a philosopher blog.

I posted these comments:
Your argument is that it is better to be a slave than a free man. I agree with that for many people. Some people are happy with arranged marriages. Some people appear to lack the agency to take responsibility for the personal decisions. A good test might be to give people some bogus smoke-and-mirrors argument against free will. If they are persuaded, then they are obviously not competent to be making any important decisions. ...

Most of the comments on these two article are not addressing the point of this essay, which is the effect of free will beliefs, not whether true or false.

Hard determinism (and free will skepticism) has become a leftist-atheist dogma like the Catholic transubstantiation. It is not usually taken literally. Yet it gets recited in order to show allegiances of beliefs.

Jesus said "Go and sin no more". Christianity teaches that you have to free will to accept or reject God. Other religions are more fatalistic and superstitious. To oppose free will is a way of opposing Christianity without mentioning religion.

Opposing free will is also a sneaky way of promoting leftist political goals. Conservatives (in America at least) celebrate individualism, personal and family autonomy, free markets, and libertarian ideals. Leftists strive for a society where everyone is dependent on everyone else, has involuntary empathy, and lets the government make all the decisions.

The philosophical and scientific arguments against free will are wrong, as Pigliucci explains here and here.

The right-wing authoritarianism (RWA) scale was created by a left-wing Obama supporter who was infuriated by the libertarian anti-government views of the Tea Party. Here is his anti-Tea-Party rant (pdf). The Tea Party is the least authoritarian political movement in the USA today. And yet he claims that the Tea Party is dangerously authoritarian because they believe that President Obama is dictator and that mounting debt and interference with the free market is destroying the country. This junk only gets uncritically published because the social science journals are overwhelmingly leftist.

Maybe if the Tea Party can somehow be convinced that they have no free will, they will go away and let the left-wing authoritarians take over the country. This is a leftist fantasy.

You argue that we should deny free will so that women can make rape allegations without being questioned about their choices and decisions. That was apparently the attitude of Rolling Stone magazine and most of the mainstream media that uncritically reported Jackie's story about a UVa frat party gang rape. Now it turns out that she invented the character of Haven Monahan, the date, the party, the rape, and everything else in order to arouse the feelings of another boy.

I guess the leftist anti-free-will view is that Jackie and Rolling Stone should have no moral responsibility for perpetrating this hoax, because the article has raised consciousness and empathy about a trendy leftist subject. It is not even clear that they wanted to hold the alleged rapists legally culpable, as they showed little interest in making a police complaint. No, they want Jackie's feelings validated, even if they are just symptoms of a mental illness, and to make a cultural statement against privileged blond fraternity members.

If your point is that belief in free will is contrary to certain leftist atheist goals, I agree.
Curiously, Caruso did not dispute any of this at all, and only noted that "There are plenty of free Will skeptics that are theists." Yes, of course, such as followers of Calvinism and Islam. But his "dark side" to free will is essentially a bunch of traditional American and Christian beliefs in personal freedom.

Caruso posts:
I’m surprised that no one has yet directly defended the claim that disbelief in free will would be harmful to society, our interpersonal relationships, meaning, etc.
I replied:
Yes, Gregg, a disbelief in free will would be harmful. If your goal is to promote leftist goals and undermine personal freedom and Christianity, then I agree that a disbelief in free will might help, as I argued in previous posts. You did not disagree, except to point out that beliefs among philosophers are not perfectly correlated. Of course some theists are free will deniers, as some believe in predestination.

Unless you are some sort of hard-core Marxist atheist, creating a nation of sheep is not a good thing. The Soviet Union tried it. It still exists in Cuba and North Korea. It partially exists in the Islamic world, where the mosques teach fatalism and the suicide bombers think that they are carrying out Allah’s will.

People want to be free. Modern civilization was created in Europe when Christian, Roman, and Greek influences created a system where people are free to do as they please, subject to a personal moral accountability for their behavior. I like it that way. So does most of the Western world, as far as I know.

You want to convince people of something contrary to common sense and modern science, in order to promote your personal left-wing atheist authoritarian ideology. Thank God it is not possible. My choice is for a free society.
Caruso replies:
Schlafly, you make some big leaps! I don’t know why you think I’m trying to undermine personal freedom and Christianity. First off, political freedom is not the same as metaphysical freedom. Secondly, we might end up with more freedom and better opportunities under the model I propose. I think what you are really opposed to is the idea that we should focus on addressing the social conditions and systematic causes that lead to criminality, wealth inequality, education inequity, etc, instead of blaming people on the tail end. I understand that we probably have different political philosophies, but to equate my ideas with the Soviets and North Korea is simply outrageous!
Really? He wants to convince everyone that they do not have free will or moral responsibility for their behavior, in order to promote an assortment of leftist ideological goals, and he wonders why I think he’s trying to undermine personal freedom and Christianity? Perhaps I did not make myself clear enuf. One commenter said that I connected the dots, so he understood me.

Another exchange, about his theory that studies showing benefits of free will can be better explained by "ego depletion":
[Caruso] My daughter, who is five, exercises self-control all day long at school. When she gets home at 3:30 her ego is depleted and she is more aggressive. I think it’s a common occurrence that all parents are familiar with.

[Schlafly] I have an alternate explanation. Her teachers believe in free will, and so they praise her when she does well and discipline her when she misbehaves. When she gets home, her father is indifferent to her choices and treats her like a pre-programmed automaton.

[Caruso] I don’t know why you think I’m trying to undermine personal freedom and Christianity.

[Schlafly] I explained that in my comment. Christianity teaches free will. Those with the individual ability to make their own choices have more personal freedom than those who don’t. You want to convince people that they do not have that ability, and you say that it will promote certain leftist ideological goals.

[Caruso] Schlafly, with regard to how I interact with my daughter, I by no means treat her as an automaton (another misreading of free Will skepticism). And yes, I have found that the reactive attitudes associated with basic desert MR are counterproductive and that other attitudes work much better. Read Pereboom for the replacement attitudes. Maybe losing some of your moral anger would be helpful.
He is saying that he does not believe in treating his daughter to the consequences of moral responsibility.

The current SciAm has an article and poll on free will:
Why We Have Free Will
Neurons fire in your head before you become aware that you have made a decision. But this discovery does not mean you are a “biochemical puppet” ...

Indeed, that neural activity explains why I imagined these options, and it explains why I am writing these very words. It also explains why I have free will.

Increasingly, neuroscientists, psychologists and pundits say that I am wrong. Invoking a number of widely cited neuroscientific studies, they claim that unconscious processes drove me to select the words I ultimately wrote. Their arguments suggest our conscious deliberation and decisions happen only after neural gears below the level of our conscious awareness have already determined what we will choose. And they conclude that because “our brains make us do it” — choosing for us one option over another — free will is nothing more than an illusion.
He is correct that the neurological experiments do not give any evidence against free will.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Not what America is about

Pres. Barack Obama showed his allegiance to Hollywood:
Sony “made a mistake” in caving to North Korean hackers, President Obama said bluntly this morning during his year-end news conference. ...

“We cannot have a society in which some dictator someplace can start imposing censorship here in the United States” he said in an extremely strong answer to a question about the hack of the studio. “Because if somebody is able to intimidate folks out of releasing a satirical movie, imagine what they start doing when they see a documentary that they don’t like, or a news report that they don’t like — or even worse, imagine if producers and distributors and others start engaging in self-censorship because they don’t want to offend the sensibilities of somebody whose sensibilities probably need to be offended. That’s not who we are. That’s not what America is about.

“Sony is a corporation. It suffered significant damage, threats against some employees. I am sympathetic to the concerns they faced. Having said that, yes I think they made a mistake,” Obama said this morning when asked just that.

“That’s not what America is about…I wish they’d spoken to me first. I would have told them, ‘Do not get into a pattern in which you’re intimidated by these kinds of criminal attacks’.”
So America is all about the free speech to make a movie about killing a foreign leader?

It was just two years ago that Pres. Obama and Secy. Clinton sharply denounced a movie critical of Islam, and said that the movie was against American policy. Obama asked YouTube to remove the movie, and the maker was arrested and convicted on federal charges related to the movie. By catering to the demands of Moslem jihadists, Obama and Clinton only encouraged more violence to suppress criticism. They also tried to use the movie to cover-up a fiasco in Benghazi Libya.

It was cowardly for Sony to make a movie that is so nasty to N. Korea, because that is a country that no one defends and that has no movie-going market. Usually movies only threaten to kill fictional characters. Making an anti-Islam movie would be a better test of free speech.

Update: A reader sends No, North Korea Didn’t Hack Sony. It appears that the Obama administration is falsely blaming N. Korea.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Too much math for a science journal

Hollywood dumbs down the mathemetics of Alan Turing, but I expect better from a leading science journal. Nature magazine asked a couple of Harvard mathematicians to write an obituary of Alexander_Grothendieck, but they lament:
The sad thing is that this was rejected as much too technical for their readership. Their editor wrote me that 'higher degree polynomials', 'infinitesimal vectors' and 'complex space' (even complex numbers) were things at least half their readership had never come across. The gap between the world I have lived in and that even of scientists has never seemed larger. I am prepared for lawyers and business people to say they hated math and not to remember any math beyond arithmetic, but this!? Nature is read only by people belonging to the acronym 'STEM' (= Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and in the Common Core Standards, all such people are expected to learn a hell of a lot of math. Very depressing.
The review does get a little technical, but don't the reader want to know what the man really did, instead of over-hyped irrelevant stories?

Update: A math and biology professor describes the differences.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Here is the soul is Islam

Time magazine reports:
No symbol represents the soul of Islam more than the Shahada. ...

There is still much that we do not know about the Lindt café siege in Sydney. We know that two innocent people are dead: the café manager, Tori Johnson; and barrister and mother of three Katrina Dawson. And we know that the armed man who was holding them and 15 other people hostage, Man Haron Monis, was a self-styled Muslim cleric.
The author is identified:
Ayaan Hirsi Ali is the founder of the AHA Foundation and the author of Infidel, Nomad, and the forthcoming Heretic: The Case for a Muslim Reformation, to be published next spring.
That soul of Islam is written in Arabic on that black flag. The reformers are hoping to change its meaning to something other than killing infidels in the name of Mohammad.

Ali describes him herself as a "former Muslim", so I can understand why he he wants reform. Islam teaches that she can be executed for apostasy.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Pope was misquoted again

A front page NY Times story started:
Pope Francis has given hope to gays, unmarried couples and advocates of the Big Bang theory. Now, he has endeared himself to dog lovers, animal rights activists and vegans.
But see also the correction:
He did not say: “One day, we will see our animals again in the eternity of Christ. Paradise is open to all of God’s creatures.” ... The Times should have verified the quotations with the Vatican.
He hasn't really changed those other doctrines either. The Big Bang was discovered by a Catholic priest astronomer, and accepted by the Vatican before Einstein other physicists.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

MIT fires its best professor

MIT professor Scott Aaronson announces:
Yesterday I heard the sad news that Prof. Walter Lewin, age 78 — perhaps the most celebrated physics teacher in MIT’s history — has been stripped of his emeritus status and barred from campus, and all of his physics lectures removed from OpenCourseWare, because an internal investigation found that he had been sexually harassing students online.
It is hard to see how one complaint from a long-distance internet student about an inappropriate remark could justify such a response.

It appears that Lewin accumulated some enemies over his 40 years of teaching, and MIT wanted to avoid getting a letter like Princeton got. My guess is that it has some other pending sexual harassment investigations, and throwing Lewin under the bus was the easiest way to impress the feds breathing down their neck.

The comments are amazing, ranging from Nazi analogies, people who were truly inspired by Lewin, and social justice warriors with zero tolerance for anyone who crosses some imaginary behavior line. But see especially the debate between feminist Amy #144 and Jewish liberal Scott #171. The discussion gets personal, with Amy complaining of being harassed and raped, and Scott wanting to buy into the feminist political agenda, but cannot go along with the current level of demonizing men, because he has also suffered in ways that never get any sympathy from anyone. He eventually married a researcher in a related field, but for a long time he was too intimidated to ever show any sexual interest in anyone.

College campuses have become centers of heated and unresolved complaints. The biggest recent one was the Rolling Stone UVa frat party rape story, and that turned out to be some sort of weird catfishing hoax.

I just watched this Bill Maher rant against Feminism (from several years ago):
The feminine values are now the values of America. Sensitivity is more important that truth. Feelings are more important than facts. Commitment is more important than individuality. Children are more important than people. Safety is more important than fun.
He is right. The feminists do not seem to care about the facts of Lewin or UVa fraternities. They want attention to their feelings and sensitivity. Even when the facts show that the story is wrong, they say goofy things like “But it doesn’t change my opinion that it may or may not have happened”.

Update: The Aaronson comments degenerate into a bunch of personal comments about rape and other unsatisfactory sexual experiences that most people would not call rape, but Lewin was never within a thousand miles of the woman, as far as anyone knows.

Aaronson really wants to agree with Amy's Jewish feminist politics, but stop short of taking the blame for her confusion about who she wants to have sexual relations with.

Update: One comment says:
If the accuser were an MIT student enrolled in Prof. Lewin’s 8.02 course, or a graduate student working in his lab, or a junior faculty member on whose tenure he was going to vote, then obviously Prof. Lewin would hold a position of power over the woman that must not be abused. But — and please correct me if I’m wrong — a student in an MITx course gets nothing beyond education, apart from some meaningless certificate of completion. That’s probably all that a student should receive, since there’s no practicable way to be sure that the student himself or herself is doing the work.

So, it seems to me, Prof. Lewin had no real power over the accuser and no physical contact with her. Conversely, she had a great deal of power over him, seeing as she was able to end his career and destroy his reputation (while ensconced in anonymity, no less).

Wouldn’t the situation have been satisfactorily resolved if MIT had simply removed Prof. Lewin as the instructor of record for this MOOC, so that the accuser’s meaningless grade was assigned by someone else?
Feminist Amy ignores this, and rambles on about rape is common and how male behavior needs to be changed, but that the rape should not necessarily be punished unless the women demand it.

Update: Another unrebutted comment:
Over the last several days I’ve spoken to a dozen STEM professionals, with one or more university degrees each, including a retired dean of science and two department chairs thereof (one retired) and a couple of Fortune 100 executives, in age from 50 to 70, regarding this matter. The overwhelming consensus is that, based on available information, MIT has totally mishandled this situation.

If Professor Lewin has been misbehaving for a long time, then folks want to know how MIT let that happen. If he’s been misbehaving, why did MIT keep him in contact with students?

And if this development is recent, folks want to know why MIT isn’t graciously showing this legendary eighty-year old man the door with respect ~ for if this is a recent development, then given Walter’s clear faltering on occasion in the later of his available on-line YouTube &c lectures (I’ve watched all of them including all of 8.01, 8.02, 8.03, and all the related videos) and given his long traditional history of placing his students first, recent changes in his behaviour would indicate that he’s simply losing it due to old age.
I conclude that MIT is doing this mainly for reasons that have little to do with what Lewin actually did.

Update: Dorothy explains:
In broad brush strokes, we would like the attractive men to find us attractive and potentially to hit on us and the unattractive men not to notice we are women.

In fact we want a very small percentage of men to find us unbelievably attractive and to hit on us, but in, you know, a nice way. We would like a slightly larger number of men, but still small, to find us very attractive but to do nothing about it (they can talk to each other about how hot and unattainable we are though) and the rest just to completely leave us alone and preferably have no thoughts about us at all. ...

It is of course disgusting when an unattractive man hits on you in any situation.
That is clear enuf. The alphas can do whatever they want, while the betas have to be put in their place.

Update: The feminist attack on Aaronson is sickening.

Monday, December 15, 2014

The dark side of free will

I have noted leftist-atheist opposition to free will, but ideology behind it is not always explicit. It is in this TEDx talk on The dark side of free will.

Philosopher Gregg Caruso describes himself as a "free will skeptic", but that is not his point. His argument is that various leftist political goals would be more easily achievable if the public were convinced that they had no free will.

There is some truth to this. Right-wingers emphasize individual freedom, personal autonomy, and moral responsibility, while left-wingers are happier tying their fates to government social programs. Caruso is a leftist, and he does not phrase it that way, but he clearly advocates persuading people to lose a belief in free will.

I doubt that he is right achieving his goals, but I do want to point out that this is a leftist intellectual belief.

Leftists adamantly deny various racial and sexual determination theories, except that they have been asserting for years that homosexuals have no free will over their preferences. But now the NY Times reports that beliefs about such things can spread like a disease:
The study, published Thursday by the journal Science, suggests that a 20-minute conversation about a controversial and personal issue — in this case a gay person talking to voters about same-sex marriage — can induce a change in attitude that not only lasts, but may also help shift the views of others living in the same household. In other words, the change may be contagious. Researchers have published similar findings previously, but nothing quite as rigorous has highlighted the importance of the messenger, as well as the message. ...

The result: Voters canvassed on marriage shifted by about 20 percent in favor of same-sex equality, as measured on a five-point scale of support. Both straight and gay canvassers shifted opinions, but only the opinions of voters canvassed by gays remained as favorable on surveys nine months after initial contact. Voters canvassed on recycling did not budge.

“I truly did not expect to see this,” Dr. Green said. “I thought attitudes on issues like this were fundamentally stable over time, but my view has now changed.”
Did Green think that political views on marriage were inborn?

One lesson here is that you better tell pollsters you favor same-sex marriage, or gay canvassers will come knocking on your door, hoping to infect you with a contagious idea.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Top 10 science of 2014

The Scientific American's Top 10 Science Stories of 2014 included:
Symbolic Thought Shown to Exist in Other Human Species
They mean a human ancestor scratched a clam shell, and I was skeptical about it. Now I am even more skeptical, as this was a shell that had been sitting around a museum for a century, and it was not found near any human ancestor skeletons. Other stories are disasters (Ebola, California drought, rocket crashes) and failures (BICEP2 retraction, credit card hacks, China refusing CO2 limits until 2030, lab germ mishandling). The only actual accomplishments were landing on a comet and synthesizing a yeast chromosome.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Math students get ahead

In New York City, an ambitious, $25 million study is collecting evidence on the best way to raise outcomes for kids in poverty. Their hunch is that it may begin with math. ...

There's plenty of evidence on the long-term importance of preschool. But why math? Morris says a 2013 study by Greg Duncan, at the University of California, Irvine's School of Education, showed that math knowledge at the beginning of elementary school was the single most powerful predictor determining whether a student would graduate from high school and attend college. "We think math might be sort of a lever to improve outcomes for kids longer term," Morris says.
That is at the low end. There is also evidence at the high end:
A gift for numbers can take a person far in life, according to a report getting plenty of online attention. A survey1 of 1,004 men and 601 women who were identified as 13-year-old mathematics prodigies in the 1970s found above-average levels of accomplishment in fields that included business and academia. ...

Vrangalova says it is intriguing that despite these differences, both genders reported unusually high levels of satisfaction with their lives and careers. “It seems that both sexes got what they wanted from life, even if those things were somewhat different,” she says.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Okay to hit bicyclists, say LA drivers

The LA Times reports:
Hit-and-run collisions involving bicyclists surged 42% from 2002 to 2012 in Los Angeles County, according to a Times analysis of California Highway Patrol crash data.

The increase came as the overall number of hit-and-runs involving cars, cyclists and pedestrians dropped by 30%. Between 2002 and 2012, the most recent data available, more than 5,600 cyclists were injured and at least 36 died in crashes in which drivers fled the scene. ...

For cyclists who are hit, a major frustration is how infrequently drivers are caught. The Los Angeles Police Department closed one in five hit-and-runs from 2008 to 2012, meaning about 80% were unresolved, according to data the department reported last year to the Board of Police Commissioners. Less than half of those cases were closed through an arrest.

The chance of being convicted is so slim that "if you wanted to murder someone, it would almost be better to just hit them with your car," said Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Los Angeles), who has pushed for stiffer hit-and-run penalties.
I know that there are a lot of bicycle haters, but I was disappointed to see that the LA Times was swamped with letters siding with the hit-and-run drivers!

Friday, December 05, 2014

Leftist profs on Right v Left politics

Studies have shown that when you disentangle the science (from the politics) of controversial topics like evolution and climate, people have no trouble accepting the science. But the outspoken activist professors in those fields do not want to do that.

What is the politics of evolution? The most obvious is to attack religion. Leftist-atheist-evolutionist Chicago professor Jerry Coyne just announced Faith Versus Fact: Why Science and Religion Are Incompatible. It will be a rehash of the anti-religion rants he has been posting on his blog for years.

To Coyne and his fellow evolutionists like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, evolution is a fact that not only proves atheism, but also implies a fatalistic leftist world view. They regularly deny concepts like individualism and free will.

These connections are not so obvious, and do not follow from the science. The Catholic Church has always accepted scientific advances, including evolution. One could interpret evolutionary science in favor of right-wing ideas, as much as against. But academics are overwhelmingly leftist.

Chicago anthropologist John Terrell writes in the NY Times about Right-Left differences:
We will certainly hear it said many times between now and the 2016 elections that the country’s two main political parties have “fundamental philosophical differences.” But what exactly does that mean?

At least part of the schism between Republicans and Democrats is based in differing conceptions of the role of the individual. We find these differences expressed in the frequent heated arguments about crucial issues like health care and immigration. In a broad sense, Democrats, particularly the more liberal among them, are more likely to embrace the communal nature of individual lives and to strive for policies that emphasize that understanding. Republicans, especially libertarians and Tea Party members on the ideological fringe, however, often trace their ideas about freedom and liberty back to Enlightenment thinkers of the 17th and 18th centuries, who argued that the individual is the true measure of human value, and each of us is naturally entitled to act in our own best interests free of interference by others. Self-described libertarians generally also pride themselves on their high valuation of logic and reasoning over emotion.
He is squarely on the Left, as you can see by the way he describes his side as embracing goodness and the other side as being on the ideological fringe.

He then goes on to argue that evolutionary science validates his Leftism:
As the anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski argued almost a century ago: “Myth fulfills in primitive culture an indispensable function: it expresses, enhances, and codifies belief, ...” ...

While as an anthropologist I largely agree with Malinowski, I would add that not all myths make good charters for faith and wisdom. The sanctification of the rights of individuals and their liberties today by libertarians and Tea Party conservatives is contrary to our evolved human nature as social animals. There was never a time in history before civil society when we were each totally free to do whatever we elected to do. We have always been social and caring creatures. The thought that it is both rational and natural for each of us to care only for ourselves, our own preservation, and our own achievements is a treacherous fabrication. This is not how we got to be the kind of species we are today. Nor is this what the world’s religions would ask us to believe. Or at any rate, so I was told as a child, and so I still believe.
So he is against individual freedom and autonomy, and even suggests at the end that his views were indoctrinated by the culture. Coyne and Harris explicitly deny that they have any ability to make any reasoned choices for themselves.

Leftist Berkeley Lingistics professor George Lakoff has his own theory of Right-Left differences. To him, the conservatism is based on the nuclear family:
At the heart of conservatism is strict father morality, ...

A focus on unimpeded pursuit of self-interest — and with it, extreme limits on state power over the individual—defines the libertarian strain of right-wing thought.
Progressivism is based on empathy:
Empathy is at the heart of progressive thought. It is the capacity to put oneself in the shoes of others -- not just individuals, but whole categories of people: one's countrymen, those in other countries, other living beings, especially those who are in some way oppressed, threatened, or harmed. ...

President Obama has argued that empathy is the basis of our democracy. ...

Empathy in this sense is a threat to conservatism, which features individual, not social, responsibility and a strict, punitive form of "justice." ... The argument goes like this: Empathy is a matter personal feelings. Personal feelings should not be the basis of a judicial decision of the Supreme Court. Therefore, "justice is not about empathy." ... We cannot let conservatives get away with redefining empathy as irrational and idiosyncratic personal feeling. Empathy is the basis of our democracy and its true meaning must be defended.
In the leftist ideal, empathy is not just the capacity to understand others. They see that empathy has three components
1. pro-social behavior - willingness to help people out, hospitality to strangers, acts of compassion.

2. cognitive empathy - capacity to see things from another person's perspective and to understand how he or she feels.

3. affective or emotional empathy - capacity not only to understand how another person feels but also to experience those feelings involuntarily and to respond appropriately. Failure to help a person in distress can trigger a self-destructive sequence: anguish, depression, suicidal ideation.
That last component is what they really want, but it is not universal:
In general, empathy is perceived in China as a moral duty and not as an involuntary emotional response.
I do not know much empathy has evolved to be part of human nature, but leftists would say that the culture can and should be changed to put everyone in a state of involuntary empathic connectedness with everyone else, and to destroy individualism, personal freedom, and family autonomy in the process.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Geometric design on ancient mussel shell

SciAm reports:
Now comes news that an even older, more primitive human ancestor — Homo erectus from Asia — showed signs of symbolic thought, too. Researchers have discovered a shell engraved with a geometric pattern at a H. erectus site known as Trinil, on the Indonesian island of Java, that dates to between 540,000 and 430,000 years ago. The find is at least 300,000 years older than the oldest previously known engravings, which come from South Africa.

Analysis of the engraving, made on a freshwater mussel shell, suggests that its maker used a shark tooth or other hard, pointed object to create the zigzag design.
John Hawks has more details.

Does that look like symbolic thought to you? Or primitive art? About ten scratches on a sea shell?

Maybe some dumb hominid was just trying to break open the shell. Maybe he was just trying to break the point off a shark's tooth. Maybe the scratches were formed naturally as some rock on top of the shell shifted with waves.

If this is symbolic, what does it symbolize? Why didn't they find any more shells with art?

This is a field where researchers can just dig up old stuff and make up stories. It sounds very dubious to me.

Update: Others dispute whether the shell are so old, and Homo erectus had anything to do with them.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

African population exploding

SciAm reports:
United Nations leaders have worried for decades about the pace of population growth. A few years ago leading calculations had global population peaking at nine billion by 2070 and then easing to 8.4 billion by 2100. Currently it stands at 7.2 billion. Recently the U.N. revised these numbers steeply upward: the population is now expected to rise to 9.6 billion by 2050 and continue to 10.9 billion by 2100 (black line, below). What caused this drastic revision? Almost all the increase comes from Africa (pink line). Earlier models “had anticipated that fertility rates in Africa would drop quickly, but they haven’t,” says Adrian Raftery, a statistician at the University of Washington, who assessed the revised estimates. How the world will feed a few billion more people is the question of the day.
I mentioned this before, but the chart makes it clearer.

For years, all the environmental experts have said that most of the world's problems are attributable to too many people, but the population experts have assured us that Third World populations will drop if raise their standard of living. Educated women do not want kids, they say, and with birth control options they will not.

This thinking is wrong, if the UN projections are accurate. It appears that aid to Africa may be catastrophic for the world.

You have to be careful what you say about Africa. The London Telegraph reports:
James Watson, the world-famous biologist who was shunned by the scientific community after linking intelligence to race, said he is selling his Nobel Prize because he is short of money after being made a pariah.

Mr Watson said he is auctioning the Nobel Prize medal he won in 1962 for discovering the structure of DNA, because "no-one really wants to admit I exist".

Auctioneer Christie’s said the gold medal, the first Nobel Prize to be sold by a living recipient, could fetch as much as $3.5m (£2.23m) when it is auctioned in New York on Thursday. The reserve price is $2.5m.

Mr Watson told the Financial Times he had become an “unperson” after he “was outed as believing in IQ” in 2007 ...

Mr Watson, who shared the 1962 Nobel Prize for uncovering the double helix structure of DNA, sparked an outcry in 2007 when he suggested that people of African descent were inherently less intelligent than white people. ...

Mr Watson said his income had plummeted following his controversial remarks in 2007, which forced him to retire from the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on Long Island, New York. He still holds the position of chancellor emeritus there.

Because I was an ‘unperson’ I was fired from the boards of companies, so I have no income, apart from my academic income,” he said. ...

Mr Watson – who insisted he was “not a racist in a conventional way” – said it had been “stupid” of him to not realise that his comments on the intelligence of African people would end up in an article.

“I apologise . . . [the journalist] somehow wrote that I worried about the people in Africa because of their low IQ – and you’re not supposed to say that.”

In 2007, the Sunday Times ran an interview with Dr Watson in which he said he was “inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa” because “all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours – whereas all the testing says not really”.

He told the newspaper people wanted to believe that everyone was born with equal intelligence but that those “who have to deal with black employees find this not true”.

Mr Watson said he hoped the publicity surrounding the sale of the medal would provide an opportunity for him to “re-enter public life”. Since the furore in 2007 he has not delivered any public lectures.
He is unlikely to be forgiven. Nor will people try to prove him wrong. It is a strange situation for one of the most famous scientists in the world.

I have criticized Watson before, but he should not have to sell his medal to get attention. If he can be shunned like this, then most other scientists will be intimidated into not expressing themselves on certain subjects, and truth will be hard to find.

Adam Rutherford, a Nature magazine editor and BBC science host, writes:
He may have unravelled DNA, but James Watson deserves to be shunned ...

This sounds awful: an 86-year-old hero ostracised for his views, shooed from public life by the people who walk in his scientific shadow.

But it’s not awful. Watson has said that he is “not a racist in a conventional way”. But he told the Sunday Times in 2007 that while people may like to think that all races are born with equal intelligence, those “who have to deal with black employees find this not true”. Call me old-fashioned, but that sounds like bog-standard, run-of-the-mill racism to me.
Rutherford's statement is much more offensive than Watson's. Watson was giving an opinion, based on his knowledge and experience. Rutherford offers no rebuttal, and treats it as an unmentionable scientific fact.

George R.R. Martin wrote (in A Clash of Kings or Game of Thrones):
“When you tear out a man's tongue, you are not proving him a liar, you're only telling the world that you fear what he might say.”

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Dubious religious defenses

I listened to this C-SPAN BookTV podcast (mp3):
Karen Armstrong talks about her book, [Fields of Blood], in which she examines the intertwined relationship of faith and violence by walking through the history of every major religion, including Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism and Daoism.
She defends Islam:
Islam has been for centuries, until the modern period, a far more tolerant religion than Christianity. ...

The word "jihad" (and its derivatives) only occurs 41 times in the Koran, and in only 10 of those instances does it refer unambiguously to warfare. [39:40] ...

Muslim law speaks about defensive warfare, not aggressive warfare ... the empire had reached its limits, but they had to defend their frontier; so it is very much a defensive warfare, not aggressive warfare. [41:50]
She mocks Moslem terrorists as people who ordered "Islam for Dummies" and "The Koran for Dummies" from Amazon. [51:40]

So how has Islam been more tolerant? It gained its empire by conquering and subjugating. The Koran is a book about warfare against infidels. But somehow it is more tolerant because once it gained subjects, it was largely concerned with maintaining its gains?

Christianity does not teach war against infidels and has a long history of tolerance of other faiths. I guess it did resist Moslem invasions, but does not have a history of forced conversions and subjugated infidels, like Islam.

Another Islam apologist, Reza Aslan, has made millions of dollars trashing Christianity while lying about his supposedly scholarly credentials. A lot of people bought his book thinking that he was unfairly maligned, but he deserves worse criticism.

An anonymous Jewism comment:
American Jews generally poll in favor of less immigration.

The main documentation in support of the “Jewish open borders” stereotype comes from Kevin MacDonald. ...

So not only are Jews among the least authoritarian of religious groups, according to Altemeyer highly religious Jews are among the least authoritarian of the highly religious.
His support is this immigration poll (and of course he calls anyone who disagrees with him "antisemitic"). But in fact that poll shows Jews as more pro-immigration than any other sampled religious group. Jews overwhelmingly support limiting Israel immigration to Jews, but opening up American immigration to more and more Third World people.

His source on authoritarianism is this pdf rant that claims that Jews score low on right-wing authoritarianism (RWA). That is no surprise, as they mostly belong to the Jewish left. Jews are mostly left-wing authoritarians, not right-wingers.

A couple of years ago I would have guessed that Catholics were more authoritarian than Jews, because Catholics have a Pope and Jews do not. Catholic priests are authorized to perform the sacraments, but otherwise Jewish rabbis are much more authoritarian. Jews often go to rabbis and even a Jewish court to make decisions that a Catholic priest would not make. And Jews tend towards authoritarian views, whether religious or not.

Update: Sam Harris responds to Aslan over whether some people must be destroyed for their beliefs.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Celebrating abstract nonsense

Berkeley mathematician Edward Frenkel writes in the NY Times:
Alexander Grothendieck, who died on Nov. 13 at the age of 86, was a visionary who captivated the collective psyche of his peers like no one else. ...

Grothendieck’s genius was to recognize that there is a “being” hiding behind a given algebraic equation (or a system of equations) called a scheme. The spaces of solutions are mere projections, or shadows of this scheme. Moreover, he realized that these schemes inhabit a rich world. They “interact” with one another, can be “glued” together and so on. ...

Though one might ask if there are any real-world applications of his work, the more important question is whether having found applications, we also find the wisdom to protect the world from the monsters we create using these applications. Alas, the recent misuse of mathematics does not give us much comfort.

For example, according to published reports, the National Security Agency inserted a back door in a widely used encryption algorithm based on “elliptic curves” — mathematical objects illuminated by Grothendieck’s research. Though that specific algorithm was developed much later, Grothendieck recognized the potential dangers of such misuse of math and sounded the alarm. He was incensed when he learned that IHES, the mathematics institute near Paris where he worked, received funding from the French Ministry of Defense. In protest, he resigned from the institute in 1970 at the height of his power. He had hoped that his colleagues would follow him, but none did.
They did not follow him because he was going crazy. He spent the last 20 years writing unintelligible rants.

Grothendieck’s life story is a wild one. He was the illegitimate son of anarchist parents, and grew up without nationality or parents. He is mainly famous for what mathematicians affectionately call abstract nonsense, and recast the foundations of algebraic geometry in that style. He had a cult-like following of some of the world's smartest men. There are no practical applications, as far as I know, even tho his Wash. Post obituary said:
His contributions to mathematics were often likened to those of Albert Einstein in physics. ... Other scholars came to apply Mr. Grothendieck’s theoretical frameworks to such fields as computer programming, software development, satellite communications, classification systems and the study of biological data.
The analogy to Einstein is strange. Einstein is mainly famous for popularizing relativity theory, and relativity was pivotal for XX century physics. Maybe a better comparison would be to Kurt Goedel, whose work was of pre-eminent foundational importance, but of little consequence to the rest of mathematics or the real world.

Frenkel suggests that Grothendieck might have objected to an NSA-designed random number generator. Maybe so, but that would be more proof of his paranoia. While the news regularly has news of security breeches affecting millions of people, there is no evidence of anyone being adversely affected by that random number generator.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

New movie distorts Turing's life and work

Computer scientist Alan Turing has become a gay martyr, and his story is told in the new movie, The Imitation Game. Expect everyone to praise this movie, but it is horrible. A London newspaper reviews:
The Imitation Game jumps around three time periods – Turing’s schooldays in 1928, his cryptographic work at Bletchley Park from 1939-45, and his arrest for gross indecency in Manchester in 1952. It isn’t accurate about any of them, ...

The Imitation Game puts John Cairncross, a Soviet spy and possible “Fifth Man” of the Cambridge spy ring, on Turing’s cryptography team. ... In the film, Turing works out that Cairncross is a spy; but Cairncross threatens to expose his sexuality. “If you tell him my secret, I’ll tell him yours,” he says.

The blackmail works. Turing covers up for the spy, for a while at least. This is wholly imaginary and deeply offensive – for concealing a spy would have been an extremely serious matter. Were the makers of The Imitation Game intending to accuse Alan Turing, one of Britain’s greatest war heroes, of cowardice and treason? Creative licence is one thing, but slandering a great man’s reputation – while buying into the nasty 1950s prejudice that gay men automatically constituted a security risk – is quite another.
Turing was a mathematical genius who figured out how to apply Goedel's work to computability. Since 1966, a Turing Award has been the top prize in computer science.

His arrest occurred when he tried to frame a teenaged boy for theft, and the police discovered that Turing had been committing statutory rape of the boy. Two years later he died of cyanide poisoning that was presumed to be suicide from eating half a poison apple, altho there is considerable doubt about that.

But Turing was never a traitor. Homosexuals were long denied security clearances, because some famous spies were, such as at least a couple of those Cambridge Five.

This movie is being celebrated by the gay press.
it is elegantly made, beautifully filmed, and loyal to its source material (in this case, Andrew Hodges’s excellent 1983 biography, Alan Turing: The Enigma). But what brings the film to life is Cumberbatch’s immensely engaging performance as Turing, a misfit at ease with his homosexuality (he named his computer Christopher after an unrequited schoolboy crush), but utterly at odds with the world around him. To use David Leavitt’s apt comparison, Turing was a kind of real-life Mr. Spock, insensible to human discourse, and wholly unable to “read between the lines.”

Turing was 41 years old when he was found dead by his housekeeper, a half-eaten apple by his bedside. The apple — which urban legend suggests was the inspiration for the logo for Apple computers — is commonly believed to have been laced with cyanide, though this theory has been challenged by some biographers who claim his death was an accident. ...

Cumberbatch, who has clearly done his research, thinks the persecution of homosexuals in the U.K. has its roots in the Cambridge Five, a group of men, some of them gay, at the highest echelons of society, who had been recruited to spy for Moscow. “It was our form of McCarthyism,” he says. “If you were intellectual, if you were gay, if you had any kind of liberal ideas, you were immediately a threat to national security.” ...

For all that The Imitation Game is a period drama, Cumberbatch is anxious that Turing’s story be kept alive as a parable on the price of intolerance. “It’s not a history lesson — it’s a warning that this could very easily happen again,” he says. ... You have to have a point where you go, ‘Well, religious fundamentalism is wrong.’ ”
Apple (Computer) Inc. is one of the gayest companies in the USA, outside the fashion industry. Its CEO is gay, and its marketing is based largely on a gay style to its products. I did not know that gays see the company icon as a symbolic suicidal gay poison apple.

Hollywood always portrays mathematicians, as mentally ill misfits. Examples are Good Will Hunting, Pi, Proof, and A Beautiful Mind. This is another gross distortion.

The actor complains that gay were considered a national security threat, but he has falsely added to that stereotype by portraying Turing as someone whose homosexuality led to him betraying his country.

This movie is offensive on several levels. Someone who used to be praised for his ideas, theorems, and national service is now mocked for an assortment of alleged personality and character faults.

This movie is not going to convince people of the evils of intolerance. The more likely conclusion is that he would have led a happy productive life if he had married his fiancee and avoided homosexuals.

Update: The NY Times A.O. Scott review warns:
“The Imitation Game” is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned). Illicit sex, cataclysmic violence and advanced math, most of it mentioned rather than shown.
So I guess the three most offensive things in the movies are sex, violence, and math. The reviews also says that the film places Turing "somewhere on the autism spectrum". That is another offensive stereotype. There is no mention of the gross inaccuracies.

Update: The screenwriter replies:
When you use the language of 'fact checking' to talk about a film, I think you're sort of fundamentally misunderstanding how art works. You don't fact check Monet's 'Water Lilies'. That's not what water lilies look like, that's what the sensation of experiencing water lilies feel like. That's the goal of the piece.
By all account, the movie does not describe the character of Turing well at all.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Strongest evidence for being born gay

Conventional wisdom is now that homosexuals are born that way, and NewScientist says this is the strongest evidence:
A genetic analysis of 409 pairs of gay brothers, including sets of twins, has provided the strongest evidence yet that gay people are born gay. The study clearly links sexual orientation in men with two regions of the human genome that have been implicated before, one on the X chromosome and one on chromosome 8.

The finding is an important contribution to mounting evidence that being gay is biologically determined rather than a lifestyle choice. ...

Whatever the results, Sanders stresses that complex traits such as sexual orientation depend on multiple factors, both environmental and genetic. Even if he has hit on individual genes, they will likely only have at most a small effect on their own
So this is the strongest evidence? It is extremely weak, as there were no straights in the study and the genes had only a very tiny effect.

Most human behaviors are attributed to some complicated combination of nature and nurture. There is an extreme view that claims that it is 100% genetic, so far they have only shown it is about 0.01% genetic.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Buzzfeed corruption exposed

Buzzfeed has gotten enormous publicity for its allegations against Uber, including two NY Times articles, claiming that Uber going to expose a SJW (social justice warrior) journalist. Now it turns out that Buzzfeed's own coverage is corrupt, as it is publishing these articles in order to profit in its investment in an Uber competitor.

The Buzzfeed articles do not includes quotes of the controversial Uber executive remarks, or an explanation of the SJW journalist issue, or a disclosure of its conflict of interest. And yet it got its story out to the mainstream news sites.

I do not have any opinion about Uber. I am just noting how some slimy hired guns like Buzzfeed can manipulate the mainstream press to advantage their financial interests. You cannot trust stories like this.

The Dilbert cartoonist points out:
Michael didn't "suggest" doing anything. Nor did he - then or now - even want to dig up dirt on journalists. Assuming Buzzfeed's reporting of the details is accurate, all he did was make a dinner party intellectual comparison between the evil of the media that was unfairly attacking them (which I assume is true) and their own civilized response to the attacks.

Michael's point, as Buzzfeed reports it, was that horrible people in the media mislead readers and there is nothing a victim can do about it within the realm of reasonable business practices. The Buzzfeed business model is totally legal. But, as Michael explained, probably over a cocktail, the only legal solution to this problem would be to use freedom of the press to push back on the bad actors by giving them a taste of their own medicine.

But it was just private cocktail talk. It wasn't a plan. It definitely wasn't a "suggestion." It was just an interesting way to make a point. The point, as I understand it from Buzzfeed's own reporting, is that Uber DOES play fair in a fight in which the opponents (bad actors in the press) do not. I find that interesting. It is also literally the opposite of what the headline of the story "suggests" happened.

And Michael made his point in a room full of writers/media people. Obviously it wasn't a plan.

It's not as if Michael was talking about manipulating the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times. Those publications might get some facts wrong now and then, but they don't have a business model that involves intentionally taking things out of context to manufacture news.
Buzzfeed does have a business model of manipulating the mainstream papers, I guess, and the papers fall for it.

Another obnoxious thing is that Buzzfeed implies that Sarah Lacy (editor of PandoDaily) is some sort of criminal or guilty of something seriously embarrassing. Buzzfeed does not say, and I do not know. I can only assume that Buzzfeed is blackmailing her, and is threatening to expose her if she does not play their game.

Monday, November 17, 2014

No good AI in new Terminator movie

From 4 Signs the New 'Terminator' Movie Is Doomed:
This means we're getting a new Terminator trilogy that kicks off with a future John Connor sending the original Arnold Schwarzenegger Terminator farther back in time to raise Sarah Connor (she calls him "Pops") and fight a younger T-800, which in turn creates an alternate universe. Also, Arnold will look like a 67-year-old robot,
Sounds like a disaster.

I would have like to see a Terminator sequel that gave a technologically plausible rise of SkyNet. The movie could have skipped the time travel, and shown the progression to the great war between humans and machines in the future, as the Terminator movies allude.

We are seeing many AI advances coming, such as the internet of things, self-driving cars, voice-controlled agents, etc. If you believe the technological singularity seers, these and other AI advances will bring some radical changes in a couple of decades. I am not sure that they are right, but they certainly have visualized a future that is plausible enuf for a movie.

So I would show a near future where ordinary lives increasingly come under the control of machines, and people accept it. I would show some occasional machine mistakes that are also accepted. Then I would show a machine making some logical but shocking decision, such as killing an innocent baby to prevent some greater tragedy.

John Connor would see the dangers in this, and maybe commit some criminal sabotage against the machines. The machines then conspire against him. There are a lot of possibilities here.

Arnold would be an engineering genius robot designer. He would be a good guy, because he is too big a star to play bad guys anymore, but his products are programmable and some of his customer turn them into ruthless security guards, drug deals, hit men, and worse. Because he is the designer, some of the cyborgs look like younger versions of himself. This is how he can be an old guy in the movie.

It appears that the Terminator movies will do none of this. Other AI movies have been disappointments. Someone will surely make a good AI movie.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Why Microsoft's browser is hated

A geek site explains:
It’s common knowledge that almost every single geek hates Internet Explorer with a passion, but have you ever wondered why? Let’s take a fair look at the history and where it all began… for posterity, if nothing else. ...

And here’s where we come to the real issue — the whole reason that geeks can’t stand Internet Explorer:

Geeks everywhere were forced to use Internet Explorer at work even when there are better browsers, forced to support it for corporate applications, forced to make sure web sites still work in IE, and we couldn’t convince everybody to switch to a better browser.

Geeks don’t hate something that’s inferior — but they do hate it when it’s forced on them.
Yes, I think that is much of the reason, but there is more.

Microsoft designed IE to use a loophole in an anti-trust judgment -- it argued that it was allowed to bundle IE anti-competitively as long as it was integrated into the operating system.

IE and other browsers are used for things like viewing internet porn. For Microsoft to say that IE was integrated into the OS was the same as saying that porn had to be integrated. Who wants that?

The legal argument was dubious. The judgment allowed MS to improve the OS with innovation, but not to force bundling.
Thankfully, it seems like Microsoft has finally learned from their many, many mistakes in the browser world.
I don't think MS has learned. Has it repudiated the idea that it is trying to integrate porn into the OS? I don't think so. If I use IE to view porn, then the images are still cached in my system files.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Ten Items or Less

Psychology professor Steve Pinker has a new grammar book:
Now, you might think that if "more" can be used with both count and mass nouns, so can "less". But it doesn't work that way: you may have "less gravel", but most writers agree that you can only have "fewer pebbles", not "less pebbles". This is a reasonable distinction, but purists have extended it with a vengeance. The sign over supermarket express checkout lanes, "Ten Items or Less", is a grammatical error, they say, and as a result of their carping upscale supermarkets have replaced the signs with "Ten Items or Fewer". By this logic, off licences should refuse to sell beer to customers who are "fewer than 21 years old" and law-abiding motorists should drive at "fewer than 70 miles an hour". And once you master this distinction, well, that's one fewer thing for you to worry about.

Clearly, the purists have botched the "less-fewer" distinction.
No, I think Pinker botches it.

"X less than Y" means X < Y, as real numbers. "X fewer than Y" means X ≤ Y-1, as integers. You do not say "fewer than 70 miles an hour" because that would mean 69 mph or less, whereas a speed limit of 70 mph means that 69.9 mph is allowed.

"Ten Items or Less" makes sense because 9.5 items would be allowed, if the supermarket sold half items.

The term "less pebbles" seems to be used about the same as "fewer pebbles". The word "fewer" might be preferred if you are counting the pebbles, but in most situations, "less" is just as good.

I am saying that the less/fewer distinction is about real numbers and integers, and not about mass and counting nouns.

Pinker also gives his blessing to "very unique", and presumably "more unique". Again, I don't think that he gets to the heart of what is really a math problem, not a linguistic problem.

The word "unique" means unequal to all others. It is not clear how something can be very unequal or more unequal. If you want to emphasize how different something is, you could say that it is very different. X is very different from Y if |X-Y| is large. But something being more different does not make it more unique. 10 is more different from 2 than 3, but it is not more unique.
Great writers have been modifying absolute adjectives for centuries, including the framers of the American Constitution, who sought "a more perfect union". Many of the examples pass unnoticed by careful writers, including "nothing could be more certain" and "there could be no more perfect spot". Though the phrase "very unique" is universally despised, other modifications of "unique" are unobjectionable, as when Martin Luther King wrote, "I am in the rather unique position of being the son, the grandson, and the great grandson of preachers."
King was "rather unique", but not claiming to be more unique than others. The trouble with "very unique" is that it claims to be more unequal than others, and that makes no sense.

The term "more perfect" has the obvious math interpretation of being closer to 100% of what it is supposed to be. My dictionary gives these examples:
"a perfect circle"; "a perfect reproduction"; "perfect happiness"; "perfect manners"; "a perfect specimen"; "a perfect day"; "a perfect idiot"; "perfect timing"
Most of these uses are such that a perfect example could be replaced by a more perfect example. The one exception might be the perfect circle, if it is an abstract mathematical circle. But then you would not call it "perfect", because all such circles are perfect anyway. In all other cases, the perfect can be more perfect.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Evidence favors Ferguson cop

Pres. Barack Obama and his supporters have used Ferguson Mo to try to whip up racial animosity for the current election.

The Wash Post reports:
Ferguson, Mo., police officer Darren Wilson and Michael Brown fought for control of the officer’s gun, and Wilson fatally shot the unarmed teenager after he moved toward the officer as they faced off in the street, according to interviews, news accounts and the full report of the St. Louis County autopsy of Brown’s body.

Because Wilson is white and Brown was black, the case has ignited intense debate over how police interact with African American men. But more than a half-dozen unnamed black witnesses have provided testimony to a St. Louis County grand jury that largely supports Wilson’s account of events of Aug. 9, according to several people familiar with the investigation who spoke with The Washington Post.

Some of the physical evidence — including blood spatter analysis, shell casings and ballistics tests — also supports Wilson’s account of the shooting, The Post’s sources said, which casts Brown as an aggressor who threatened the officer’s life.
This was their best example of racist cops attacking black people.

Update: I heard someone argue that even if the cop is not guilty of murder, he is probably guilty of profiling, and blacks get stopped more than whites.

I don't know why Wilson stopped Brown, but Brown had just robbed a convenience store 10 minutes earlier, and Wilson was not told yet about the store calling 911. My guess is that Brown was behaving very suspiciously, and still had the stolen goods in his possession. Wilson probably asked an innocuous question and Brown reacted violently. If so, then Wilson did profile Brown in the sense that Wilson did not see Brown do anything illegal, but was alerted to suspicious behavior. That seems like excellent police work to me. Cops should be confronting people who behave suspiciously.

Update: The liberal NY Mag posts data on how Democrat political gains are entirely dependent on non-white voters. The trend has been continuing for decades.

Update: The NY Times admits that coverage of Ferguson is all part of a campaign to get blacks to vote Democrat in this election.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Professor cannot really detect lies

Many people claim to be able to read faces, expressions, and body language in order to determine what others are thinking. This is so common that it is arguably an essential human trait to have such beliefs. But is such mindreading reliable?

Here is some criticism of a leading mindreading proponent:
Paul Ekman has spent much of his long career studying emotions as expressed on the face. ...

Ekman is renowned for his ability to read faces for signs of what people are thinking and feeling. In his best seller Blink, Malcolm Gladwell writes that "much of our understanding of mind-reading" is owed to Ekman and his collaborators. He relates how Ekman, an emeritus professor of psychology at the University of California at San Francisco, could tell by their faces alone when figures as varied as Bill Clinton and Kim Philby, the infamous British spy, were lying — Clinton in real time, Philby on historical video. Lie to Me, a television show featuring a human lie detector modeled on Ekman, ran from 2009 to 2011 on Fox. His work on lying is one reason the American Psychological Association deemed Ekman one of the 100 most influential psychologists of the 20th century. ...

But some scholars say the idea that anyone could reach 90-percent lie-detection accuracy by observing behavioral cues visible to the naked eye is pure fantasy. Testifying before Congress in 2011, Maria Hartwig, an associate professor of psychology at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, of the City University of New York, took on Ekman directly. (He also testified.) "No such finding has ever been reported in the peer-reviewed literature," she said.
Billions of dollars have been spent on this. The results are pretty weak.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Claiming that political views literally stink

Arthur C. Brooks writes in the NY Times:
I JUST learned that I suffer from cognitive-olfactory dissonance. I don’t smell the way I think.

Social scientists from Brown, Harvard and Penn State recently conducted an unusual study. Seeking to examine the biological cues that influence attraction, the researchers taped gauze pads to the skin of 20 subjects, retrieved them 24 hours later, and kept them in their lab. They asked 125 volunteers to smell each sample, rate how attractive they found each odor, and to guess at the political orientation of the person with whom it originated.

The researchers found evidence that people are instinctively attracted to the smell emitted by those with similar ideologies. In one memorable instance, a female participant asked the scholars if she could take one of the samples home, describing it as “the best perfume I ever smelled.” The scent came from a man who shared her political views. Just before, a different woman with the opposite views had smelled the exact same sample, declared it “rancid,” and urged the researchers to throw it out. Ideological like-mindedness exerts a biological pull on our attraction, it seems — and deep disagreements can really stink.

These results suggest that our beliefs have a strong biological component. But what if our beliefs conflict with our aromatic state of nature?
If true, this might alter my view of human nature. But statistician Gelman writes:
Without a really clear pattern (which I’d not expect to see in this sort of study, given the obscure — at best — relation between scent and political attitude), I think it’s really iffy to take some data on this small sample and make claims about the general population.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Moslem professor attacks Christianity again

Reza Aslan writes in the NY Times:
BILL MAHER’s recent rant against Islam has set off a fierce debate about the problem of religious violence, particularly when it comes to Islam.

Mr. Maher, who has argued that Islam is unlike other religions (he thinks it’s more “like the Mafia”), recently took umbrage with President Obama’s assertion that the terrorist group known as the Islamic State, or ISIS, does not represent Islam. In Mr. Maher’s view, Islam has “too much in common with ISIS.” ...

No religion exists in a vacuum. On the contrary, every faith is rooted in the soil in which it is planted. ...

The abiding nature of scripture rests not so much in its truth claims as it does in its malleability, its ability to be molded and shaped into whatever form a worshiper requires. The same Bible that commands Jews to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18) also exhorts them to “kill every man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey,” who worship any other God (1 Sam. 15:3). The same Jesus Christ who told his disciples to “turn the other cheek” (Matthew 5:39) also told them that he had “not come to bring peace but the sword” (Matthew 10:34), and that “he who does not have a sword should sell his cloak and buy one” (Luke 22:36). The same Quran that warns believers “if you kill one person it is as though you have killed all of humanity” (5:32) also commands them to “slay the idolaters wherever you find them” (9:5). ...

Reza Aslan, a professor of creative writing at the University of California, Riverside, is the author, most recently, of “Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth.”
So how did an Iranian Moslem creative writing professor become an expert on comparing Christianity to Islam?

There are several interpretations to Sell your cloak and buy a sword. It could be metaphorical, or it could be self-defense. None of them involve murdering idolaters or anything like what the Koran says.

Here is how Aslan got famous, as reported by a far left magazine:
The “most embarrassing interview Fox News has ever done,” in which anchor Lauren Green challenged the legitimacy of author Reza Aslan for writing Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, seemed to be popping up everywhere on social media last week. The absurdity of the spectacle was multifold: Why — why?! — would a Muslim want to write about Jesus, Green kept asking, as though a nefarious plot to undermine Christianity were somehow afoot. Meanwhile, Aslan made a show of insisting that he possesses not only the academic credentials and but also the professional duty to do so (“My job as a scholar of religions with a PhD in the subject is to write about religions”).
Fox News was right to question his credentials, as he lies about them. He does not have a job as a scholar of religions or history, and he does not have a PhD in the subject. His PhD is in sociology.

Now that he has made millions on a book trashing Christianity, I guess he could say that he has vested interest in the subject.

Interviewers very commonly ask an author why he wrote the book. Usually this is considered a softball question.

Aslan cherry-picks quotes above to try to show that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are similar on the subjects of violence and peace. They are not. The Koran is a book about forced conquest and subjugation. The Bible is a book about voluntary acceptance of peaceful ideals.

Forget the holy books. Just look at the last millennium of history, and how kids are taught today. Many millions of Moslems support suicide bombings of civilians. It is hard to find one Christian anywhere who does.

Aslan makes blanket judgments about Christianity. But if you say that Islam is more violent than Christianity, then Aslan accuses you of "simply bigotry". No, Aslan is a phony, a liar, a Christianity hater, and an apologist for Moslem murderers.

Update: Here are some more Islamic views:
(CNN) -- In a new publication, ISIS justifies its kidnapping of women as sex slaves citing Islamic theology, an interpretation that is rejected by the Muslim world at large as a perversion of Islam.

"One should remember that enslaving the families of the kuffar -- the infidels -- and taking their women as concubines is a firmly established aspect of the Shariah, or Islamic law," the group says in an online magazine published Sunday.

The title of the article sums up the ISIS point of view: "The revival (of) slavery before the Hour," referring to Judgment Day.

The fourth edition of the group's English-language digital magazine called "Dabiq" said that female members of the Yazidi sect, an ethnically Kurdish minority living mostly in Iraq, may legitimately be captured and forcibly made concubines or sexual slaves. ...

The issue, titled "The Failed Crusade," includes an alleged copy of slain American journalist Steven Sotloff's last letter to his mother and says the victim's Jewish identity warranted his beheading by ISIS.
Yes, I know that a majority of Moslems do not agree with going this far.

Update: See this 2013 survey of Moslem views. Note the widespread support for a death penalty for apostasy (leaving Islam).

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Resistance is futile against alien Asian invaders

Carl Zimmer reports in the NY Times:
Many alien species in the northeastern United States, including the emerald ash borer and Japanese barberry, invaded from East Asia. But the opposite is not true. Few species from the northeastern United States have become problems in East Asia. ...

But as far back as the 19th century, some scientists saw a role for evolution. In “The Origin of Species,” Charles Darwin wrote that we shouldn’t be surprised by native species “being beaten and supplanted by the naturalised productions from another land.”

Darwin reasoned that these victories were inevitable. Different species might adapt to a particular ecological niche in different parts of the world. Put them in the same place, in the same niche, and one might well outcompete the other because it has evolved superior attributes. ...

Dr. Fridley speculated that a similar imbalance could explain why the Northeast gets so many invasive species from East Asia. Today both regions have a similar climate. But the United States was buried by glaciers during the Ice Ages, while East Asia was spared. Its species continued to grow more diverse, to evolve and eventually to become superior competitors — ready to invade, once humans started acting as their chauffeurs. ...

The evolutionary imbalance hypothesis, as Dr. Sax and Dr. Fridley call their hypothesis, could have a grim implication for conservation biologists trying to preserve native species: They may be fighting millions of years of evolution.

“If that’s true, the phrase, ‘Resistance is futile’ comes to mind,” said Dr. Stachowicz.
I wonder if anyone is applying this analysis to human beings. The Jains of India have been declining in numbers, but they are quite prosperous outside of India.

Asian people and customs are welcomed in the USA, but China tries to limit American infludence there. NPR reports:
"There are many Christians and Catholics among the pro-democracy leaders in Hong Kong, the older generation," says Joseph Cheng, who teaches political science at City University of Hong Kong.

Cheng, 65, is also a pro-democracy activist and a Christian himself. He says many of the movement's leaders were educated in Hong Kong's Christian missionary schools, which helped shape their beliefs.

"There is this Christian spirit," says Cheng, who wears a yellow ribbon pinned to his shirt pocket — a symbol of the movement. "You are more willing to suffer. Social justice means more to you."

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Embarrassed about mathematician son

Most movies about mathematicians portray them as crazy or disturbed or freaky somehow.

I just saw the 1965 movie Dear Brigitte, and it has this scene:
I want to tell you something. I don't want you to do it any more. Because if they find out about this, do you know what they're going to say?

No, sir.

They'll say, "There goes that Erasmus Leaf. He's a mathematician."


And we don't want that, do we?

No sir!

Of course not. 'Course we don't. So ... We'll just keep this our own little closely-guarded family secret, huh?

Monday, September 29, 2014

NYT bot misstates football chances

From the NYT 4th Down Bot:
Simply put, going for it on fourth down is often the best way to maximize points, whether the play succeeds or not. Your odds of success are too good, and the field position you gain by punting is too modest.
No, it is not the best way if the play fails. Punting is better than a failed 4th down.

I guess he is trying to say that the 4th down gamble is a worthwhile one, but erred in saying "whether the play succeeds or not."

The column says it is written by a bot, but I doubt it. A human made this error.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Drunk women a threat to fraternities

The NY Daily News reports:
Forbes magazine has sacked a contributor over an online column arguing that drunk party girls were the "gravest threats" to the livelihood of fraternities, the Daily News has learned.

The column by contributor and MIT-grad Bill Frezza titled "Drunk Female Guests Are the Gravest Threat To Fraternities,"
The deleted article is here, with feminist criticism here and here.

The article asks why drunk female students are not held accountable:
Yes, boozed up males also show up at parties, sometimes mobs of them disturbing the peace on the front steps. But few are allowed in, especially if they are strangers. Plus, it remains socially acceptable for bouncers to eject drunk and rowdy males because our society rarely casts them as sympathetic victims, as opposed to the irresponsible jerks that they are. In our age of sexual equality, why drunk female students are almost never characterized as irresponsible jerks is a question I leave to the feminists. But it is precisely those irresponsible women that the brothers must be trained to identify and protect against, because all it takes is one to bring an entire fraternity system down.
I guess he got his answer -- feminists are opposed to holding them responsible for anything.

I post this as info about things you cannot say. You can certainly say that drunk men should be kept out of parties, or that drunk men should be responsible for their sexual behavior. But feminism resists any controls on female sexual freedom, so you have to say that drunk girls have the right to sexual encounters as they please, and the right to cry rape if they have regrets the next morning.