Archive for May 24th, 2007

Follow-Up Thought On The Supplemental

A lot of people are calling the Iraq supplemental bill a blank check, but really, that’s ignorant and unfair.

See, the amount and payee fields are totally filled in. Take that, naysayers!

May 24th, 2007 at 11:02pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Bush,Democrats,Iraq,Politics,War

Guess I Don’t Really Have To Say Anything Now…

Keith and Jane have already said it for me.

The bottom line is this: The Democrats were swept into power to end the disastrous and pointless occupation of Iraq, and they voted to prolong it instead.

The only way this can get worse for the Democrats’ 2008 chances is if some of the Republicans come to their senses and decide they’ve had enough. That would make the Republicans the war-ending party courageously defying their own president to come to the rescue of the weak, ineffectual Democrats. Sound nonsensical? Not after the corporate media’s done with it.

But at least the troops would get to come home, and the death clock would stop. For Americans, anyway – I’m afraid that nothing short of time travel will save the Iraqis from more tragedy, whether we’re there or not.

May 24th, 2007 at 09:40pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Bush,Democrats,Iraq,Politics,Republicans,Wankers,War

Great Idea, But…

I think I might be missing something here…

PITTSBURGH (AP) — A few simple keystrokes may soon turn blather into books.

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have discovered a way to enlist people across the globe to help digitize books every time they solve the simple distorted word puzzles commonly used to register at Web sites or buy things online.

The word puzzles are known as CAPTCHAs, short for ”completely automated public Turing tests to tell computers and humans apart.” Computers can’t decipher the twisted letters and numbers, ensuring that real people and not automated programs are using the Web sites.

Researchers estimate that about 60 million of those nonsensical jumbles are solved everyday around the world, taking an average of about 10 seconds each to decipher and type in.

(…)

”Humanity is wasting 150,000 hours every day on these,” said Luis von Ahn, an assistant professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon. He helped develop the CAPTCHAs about seven years ago. ”Is there any way in which we can use this human time for something good for humanity, do 10 seconds of useful work for humanity?”

Many large projects are under way now to digitize books and put them online, and that’s mostly being done by scanning pages of books so that people can ”page through” the books online. In some cases, optical character recognition, or OCR, is being used to digitize books to make the texts searchable.

But von Ahn said OCR doesn’t always work on text that is older, faded or distorted. In those cases, often the only way to digitize the works is to manually type them into a computer.

Von Ahn is working with the Internet Archive, which runs several book-scanning projects, to use CAPTCHAs for this instead. Internet Archive scans 12,000 books a month and sends von Ahn hundreds of thousands of files that are images that the computer doesn’t recognize. Those files are downloaded onto von Ahn’s server and split up into single words that can be used as CAPTCHAs at sites all over the Internet.

If enough users decipher the CAPTCHAs in the same way, the computer will recognize that as the correct answer.

It’s an ingenious idea, but… How does it handle the first few people to type in one of these snippets? Are they on hold until enough other blog users type in the same answer, or are the first few users to get that snippet just given a free pass? The whole premise of the CAPTCHA process is that there is an absolute right answer which the CAPTCHA system knows.

Also, what happens if the system passes a snippet that is genuinely unreadable, or in a different alphabet, or not even text at all?

May 24th, 2007 at 08:42pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Blogosphere,Books,Coolness,Technology

Cut ‘n’ Ron

Letter Of The Day:

The prospective Republican presidential candidates have been practically canonizing Ronald Reagan. Interestingly, they leave out his response to terrorism.

In 1983, when our marines were blown up in their barracks in Beirut, what did President Reagan do? He didn’t stay the course. He didn’t surge. No, he pulled all the American troops out of Lebanon. That’s right, he cut and ran.

Since the candidates have been vowing to imitate President Reagan, where are the calls to leave Iraq (as Ronald Reagan doubtless would have done)?

Nancy Lowenthal
Hicksville, N.Y., May 23, 2007

WWRRD?

May 24th, 2007 at 07:08pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Bush,Iraq,Republicans,Terrorism

What Buchanan Says

Okay, so it’s Mark Buchanan, but I think he’s onto something here:

The pattern is familiar. Polls show that most Americans want our government to stop its unilateral swaggering, and to try to solve our differences with other nations through diplomacy. In early April, for example, when the speaker of the House, the Democrat Nancy Pelosi, visited Syria and met with President Bashar al-Assad, a poll had 64 percent of Americans in favor of negotiations with the Syrians. Yet this didn’t stop an outpouring of media alarm.

(…)

Or take the matter of the impeachment of President Bush and Vice President Cheney. Most media figures seem to consider the very idea as issuing from the unhinged imaginations of a lunatic fringe. But according to a recent poll, 39 percent of Americans in fact support it, including 42 percent of independents.

A common explanation of this tendency toward distortion is that the beltway media has attended a few too many White House Correspondents’ Dinners and so cannot possibly cover the administration with anything approaching objectivity. No doubt the Republicans’ notoriously well-organized efforts in casting the media as having a “liberal bias” also have their intended effect in suppressing criticism.

But I wonder whether this media distortion also persists because it doesn’t meet with enough criticism, and if that’s partially because many Americans think that what they see in the major political media reflects what most other Americans really think – when actually it often doesn’t.

Psychologists coined the term “pluralistic ignorance” in the 1930s to refer to this type of misperception — more a social than an individual phenomenon — to which even smart people might fall victim. A study back then had surprisingly found that most kids in an all-white fraternity were privately in favor of admitting black members, though most assumed, wrongly, that their personal views were greatly in the minority. Natural temerity made each individual assume that he was the lone oddball.

(…)

In pluralistic ignorance, as described by researchers Hubert O’Gorman and Stephen Garry in a 1976 paper published in Public Opinion Quarterly, “moral principles with relatively little popular support may exert considerable influence because they are mistakenly thought to represent the views of the majority, while normative imperatives actually favored by the majority may carry less weight because they are erroneously attributed to a minority.”

What is especially disturbing about the process is that it lends itself to control by the noisiest and most visible. Psychologists have noted that students who are the heaviest drinkers, for example, tend to speak out most strongly against proposed measures to curb drinking, and act as “subculture custodians” in support of their own minority views. Their strong vocalization can produce “false consensus” against such measures, as others, who think they’re part of the minority, keep quiet. As a consequence, the extremists gain influence out of all proportion to their numbers, while the views of the silent majority end up being suppressed. (The United States Department of Education has a brief page on the main ideas here.)

(…)

Over the past couple months, Glenn Greenwald at Salon.com has done a superb job of documenting what certainly seems like it might be a case of pluralistic ignorance among the major political media, many (though certainly not all) of whom often seem to act as “subculture custodians” of their own amplified minority views. Routinely, it seems, views that get expressed and presented as majority views aren’t really that at all.

In a typical example in March, NBC’s Andrea Mitchell reported that most Americans wanted to pardon Scooter Libby, saying that the polling “indicates that most people think, in fact, that he should be pardoned, Scooter Libby should be pardoned.” In fact, polls showed that only 18 percent then favored a pardon.

(…)

As most people get their news from the major outlets, these distortions – however they occur, whether intentionally or through some more innocuous process of filtering – almost certainly translate into a strongly distorted image in peoples’ minds of what most people across the country think. They contribute to making mainstream Americans feel as if they’re probably not mainstream, which in turn may make them less likely to voice their opinions.

This analysis really resonated with me, as I have noticed that the media is very insistent about telling us not just what we should believe, but what we supposedly already believe, which I find even more sinister, like peer pressure on a grand scale. The media is so obsessed with this bogus “What the American people think” narrative that I simply cannot believe they are just innocent dupes who have fallen prey to the Republicans’ claims of “subcultural custodianship.” No, they are actively pushing the Republican message that progressive views are fringe and marginal, held only by Michael Moore and Barbra Streisand and the radical bomb-throwing leftists at MoveOn, not like you, the sensible salt-of-the-earth American viewer at home.

Does it work? Well, sort of: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen commenters (especially the ones from conservative states or districts) at liberal blogs express their relief at discovering that they were not alone. But it’s a lot. The blogosphere is a valuable reality check for progressives who see and hear and read nothing but Republican propaganda in the mainstream media and begin to doubt their own sanity. Of course, they have to find it first, or some other kind of support system, like friends or family or significant others or local political groups.

I can’t even imagine what it would be like to live a life where you know everything you’re reading and hearing is wrong, but you think you’re the only one who thinks so. I think it would be very tempting to just let go and decide that, well, if everyone else thinks that way, they can’t possibly be wrong…

2 comments May 24th, 2007 at 06:14pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Media,Politics,Republicans

Great Moments In Dubyatalk

Breaking News: Bin Laden determined to strike at U.S. reporters’ children!

At today’s presser, President Bush told reporters that lack of support for his policies would put their own children in danger:

Asked by NBC’s David Gregory why anyone should view him as credible on the war, Bush gave an answer that included this about the terrorists:

“They are a threat to your children, David.”

And in response to The New York Times‘s Jim Rutenberg, who asked why Bin Laden is still at large, Bush gave an answer that included this about terrorism:

“It’s a danger to your children, Jim.”

I’m a better daddy-protector than you are — now that’ll make ’em think again about asking tough questions! If you do, the Prez names you on national TV, suggests he understands the threat to your own kids better than you do. Sadder and sadder…

…oh, and I know Rutenberg, he doesn’t have kids, Mr. President.

So… in response to a question about why he hasn’t caught the world’s #1 terrorist, Dubya says that terrorism is a threat to Rutenberg’s nonexistent children? Is he saying that he actually hates children and wants the terrorists to get them, or just reporters’ children? After all, the fewer reporters there are in the world, the better it is for Republicans.

Also, if your non-nonexistent children are eligible for military service, then I would submit to you that the preznit is a much bigger threat to them than terrorism will ever be.

1 comment May 24th, 2007 at 03:00pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Bush,Media,Terrorism,Wankers

Almost Makes Me Want To Visit…

Wow. Just amazing:

PETERSBURG, Ky. – The entrance gates here are topped with metallic Stegosauruses. The grounds include a giant tyrannosaur standing amid the trees, and a stone-lined lobby sports varied sauropods. It could be like any other natural history museum, luring families with the promise of immense fossils and dinosaur adventures.

But step a little farther into the entrance hall, and you come upon a pastoral scene undreamt of by any natural history museum. Two prehistoric children play near a burbling waterfall, thoroughly at home in the natural world. Dinosaurs cavort nearby, their animatronic mechanisms turning them into alluring companions, their gaping mouths seeming not threatening, but almost welcoming, as an Apatosaurus munches on leaves a few yards away.

(…)

[H]ere at the $27 million Creation Museum, which opens on May 28 (just a short drive from the Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky International Airport), this pastoral scene is a glimpse of the world just after the expulsion from the Garden of Eden, in which dinosaurs are still apparently as herbivorous as humans, and all are enjoying a little calm in the days after the fall.

It also serves as a vivid introduction to the sheer weirdness and daring of this museum created by the Answers in Genesis ministry that combines displays of extraordinary nautilus shell fossils and biblical tableaus, celebrations of natural wonders and allusions to human sin. Evolution gets its continual comeuppance, while biblical revelations are treated as gospel.

(…)

It is a measure of the museum’s daring that dinosaurs and fossils — once considered major challenges to belief in the Bible’s creation story — are here so central, appearing not as tests of faith, as one religious authority once surmised, but as creatures no different from the giraffes and cats that still walk the earth. Fossils, the museum teaches, are no older than Noah’s flood; in fact dinosaurs were on the ark.

Okay, so all fossils are exactly the same age, and Noah’s Ark was apparently several times bigger than a cruise ship or aircraft carrier (also, I thought the flood was supposed to explain how the dinosaurs became extinct?). No problem – carry on.

There are 52 videos in the museum, one showing how the transformations wrought by the eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980 reveal how plausible it is that the waters of Noah’s flood could have carved out the Grand Canyon within days.

Fascinating. So… was Mt. St. Helens filled with water, or was the Flood made of lava? Sorry, I’m nitpicking again, don’t mind me…

Whether you are willing to grant the premises of this museum almost becomes irrelevant as you are drawn into its mixture of spectacle and narrative. Its 60,000 square feet of exhibits are often stunningly designed by Patrick Marsh, who, like the entire museum staff, declares adherence to the ministry’s views; he evidently also knows the lure of secular sensations, since he designed the “Jaws” and “King Kong” attractions at Universal Studios in Florida.

For the skeptic the wonder is at a strange universe shaped by elaborate arguments, strong convictions and intermittent invocations of scientific principle. For the believer, it seems, this museum provides a kind of relief: Finally the world is being shown as it really is, without the distortions of secularism and natural selection.

(…)

But for a visitor steeped in the scientific world view, the impact of the museum is a disorienting mix of faith and reason, the exotic and the familiar. Nature here is not “red in tooth and claw,” as Tennyson asserted. In fact at first it seems almost as genteel as Eden’s dinosaurs. We learn that chameleons, for example, change colors not because that serves as a survival mechanism, but “to ‘talk’ to other chameleons, to show off their mood, and to adjust to heat and light.”

Seems like it would require a pretty remarkable chain of coincidence for chameleons’ communications, moods, and “adjustments” to correlate so closely with the coloration of their surroundings, eh?

The heart of the museum is a series of catastrophes. The main one is the fall, with Adam and Eve eating of the tree of knowledge; after that tableau the viewer descends from the brightness of Eden into genuinely creepy cement hallways of urban slums. Photographs show the pain of war, childbirth, death — the wages of primal sin….

The other catastrophe, in the museum’s view, is of more recent vintage: the abandonment of the Bible by church figures who began to treat the story of creation as if it were merely metaphorical, and by Enlightenment philosophers, who chipped away at biblical authority. The ministry believes this is a slippery slope.

Start accepting evolution or an ancient Earth, and the result is like the giant wrecking ball, labeled “Millions of Years,” that is shown smashing the ground at the foundation of a church, the cracks reaching across the gallery to a model of a home in which videos demonstrate the imminence of moral dissolution. A teenager is shown sitting at a computer; he is, we are told, looking at pornography.

There you have it, folks: Go to the Creation Museum or your kids will become addicted to internet porn.

I don’t have any problem with Christians in general, but the sheer volume of science, observation, and common sense that you have to throw away to believe in creationism is truly frightening. As bad as intelligent design is, at least it acknowledges the age of the Earth, and the gradual development and transformation of the lifeforms on it.

While not a Christian myself, I really don’t see what the problem is with saying that God created natural selection along with all the other underlying principles that shape our world and universe – it’s a pretty slick piece of work.

May 24th, 2007 at 11:54am Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Religion,Science,Weirdness

Belated Wednesday Softball Blogging

Last night was my first Wednesday night game of the season, and it went uncharacteristically well. I usually suck on Wednesdays, but last night I went 4-for-5 with a triple, a run, and 2 RBI (I probably would have had more RBI if the guy in front of me hadn’t kept hitting home runs….). Except for one ball that got past me, I was fairly solid on defense, although I really didn’t get a whole lot of chances.

2007 Stats: 2 games, .636 BA (7-11), .818 SLG, 0 2B, 1 3B, 0 HR, 1 run, 2 RBI.

Career Stats: 49 games, .595 BA (198-333), .808 SLG, 32 2B, 6 3B, 9 HR, 110 runs, 87 RBI.

wedbatting3-3.jpg
Kind of a strange-looking swing… but very effective.

wedfielding3-9a.jpg
Really nice catch.

May 24th, 2007 at 07:24am Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Photoblogging,Softball


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