Archive for July, 2007

this really shouldn’t shock me

July 30, 2007

the whitehouse coup

a gang of super-wealthy businessmen plotted to overthrow FDR with half a million veterans and “adopt the policies of Hitler and Mussolini to beat the great depression”. (more on wikipedia – under “the business plot” – it even appeared in History Today, an american coup d’etat)

… i’d only recently heard about the assasination attempt by Giuseppe Zangara, who got Anton Cermak instead. (talk about an interesting counterfactual history, if he’d shot FDR instead)

imagine if they taught this in schools. it gives a completely different gloss on the nature of our government, and the dangers it is exposed to. i imagine support for bush’s overreach and the bogus “money = speech” argument would have have dramatically less support.

(horray mercury rising)
(oh wow, you can even see it on video)


Out of Order

July 30, 2007

In short: An individual was arrested and charged with a hate crime for flushing a Koran in a toilet on the campus of Pace University [AP].

Ah, good old Pace. He clearly deserves some sort of punishment, that building has a ridiculous shortage of toilets (they were rather sketch to begin with – or maybe that is just NYC in July…).

Vandalism is the offense (and perhaps theft – as noted below). That certainly needs to be addressed. The question is whether a particular intent – hatred – should be considered an aggravating factor to the crime. [Note that nobody knows the intent, we’re all just, perhaps unfairly, speculating.]

With hate crime legislation, hate is added as a factor to redress the harm done to (an implicitly minority) community, the hostile environment the action fosters. As commenters note, “it’s the affect it has on that worshipper that makes it a hate crime.”

This is one of many reasons hate crime legislation is so dangerous.

Sticks and stones aren’t the only things that hurt. Speech hurts. Consider the Piss Christ debate. Believers frequently advanced the argument that this NEA-funded art fostered a hostile atmosphere toward Christianity. As the Justice said, “It is often true that one man’s vulgarity is another’s lyric.”

Fine. Christians aren’t really an oppressed minority, even if they sometimes claim to be one. But artistic expression has run up against interpretations of Islam before. “A Koran with a Buddha shape carved into it (a reference to the Bamiyan Buddhas destroyed by the Taliban)” was removed from Roq la Rue. Or even political expression, when a gay artist burned an antique Koran (worth $60k) to protest its homophobic content. Perhaps both speakers were hate-free. But suppose otherwise. Do the intolerant really deserve fewer speech rights than the rest of us? (Mill would say no – the best way to show them error is to debate them freely.) PZ Meyers could certainly be construed to ‘hate’ religion. Does that limit his speech?

I really like books, and I really like community, but I am an even biger supporter of the pointed criticism of ideas. There is a long and proud tradition of treating undue sanctimony with disrespectful insolence. It is, perhaps, even central to debates about the place of religion in society. The pomp holiness of the devout is best countered with a little irreverence. But a free debate cannot have legal limits enforced by one side.

Attacking beliefs through criticism (even creative responses) is legitimate, necessary, and hopefully protected speech. At least it should be.


can we talk about it yet?

July 23, 2007

warning: harry potter spoilers below. run in fear.



July 19, 2007

citation stealing as plagarism?

(to be fair, I went to Easily Distracted, to read savage minds, and only then went to language log, then jumped back to Easily Distracted’s comments).

commentary on commentary alone tends to distort and deracinate an argument. and the products of this process aren’t always appealing. [think of when ‘scary movie’ spoofed ‘scream’, itself a spoof on halloween et al. if you’re a lover of slasher films it is pretty clear that at each iteration, originallity and artistic value was substantially decreased as an intricate theme was distilled into its basest appreciable components. resulting in vastly too many sperm jokes in the last set of movies.]

where this really hurts is in the reproduction of ‘statistics’ as facts. take the comment in a recent ny times that “in the last 20 years, ‘about half of America’s economic growth has gone to the top 1 percent.’ ” the times is quoting senator edwards. senator edwards made that comment in speeches, but never appears to have attributed it. i don’t doubt the statistic.  or fault edwards for failure to verbally cite in a campaign.  but i do wish that news reporters would investigate these claims, to substantiate or deny them.

the same could probably be said of the history of philosophy, actually.

outliers – is it the data or the theory?

July 19, 2007

During my brief(?) stint at the Treasury, my coworkers and I frequently excluded outliers from data because their position on the scatterplot didn’t mesh with our understanding of community finance.  We simply assumed the data was invalid in some way.  It certainly made for a *slightly* more coherent understanding of an exceptionally chaotic set of data.

what you really shouldn’t do—especially when the cases are in other respects quite similar, such as all being functioning, rich capitalist democracies—is label entire countries as “outliers” in order to remove them from your analysis, and then pretend that this has made them disappear from the face of the earth, too.

[Outliers, at crooked timber]

The problem, to me, occurs where the statistical trend between a limited number of variables is completely insufficient to examine a data set whose causal picture is, in fact, incredibly complex.  For the case recently discussed, whether more taxes (counter intuitively) produce less revenue… is much like predicting weather changes based on the activity of the butterflies in my backyard.  No doubt there is an effect, good luck creating the regression.

and we’re back…

July 18, 2007

sorry for the break…  (apologizing to my reading audience of – me).  its just that, being in the amazing and beautiful land of montana… i didn’t really want to spend much time inside.

alas, i head to the east coast in a month and so i’m acclimating by spending time inside, and reading various and insulting online articles to get my blood pressure up.