Monday, December 29, 2008

Cheney can't understand why he's unpopular

(Image via)

It seems that lame duck Vice President Dick Cheney has no idea why his approval ratings are so low.

How do you explain your low approval rating?

I don't have any idea. I don't follow the polls.

This is really not all that surprising. Do you remember Dick Cheney's demands for his hotel suites? There was one demand that really struck me at the time and helped explain much of his behavior and approach to politics.

And, of course, all the televisions need to be preset to the Fox News Channel

Having a very effective propaganda tool is a great thing to have when you're in power. But you must obey this one important commandment:

Thou Shalt Never watch thine own propaganda!

Doing so only weakens the mind. And I really enjoyed his defense of not watching the polls.

My experience has been over the years that if you govern based upon poll numbers, upon trying to improve your overall poll ratings, people I've encountered who do that are people who won't make tough decisions. And the job the president has and those who advise him is to make those basic fundamental decisions for the nation that nobody else is authorized or able to make.

There actually is some truth in what he says there. The problem is that people who govern according to the polls still make better informed (and hence better) decisions than those who surround themselves with "Yes Men" and watch their own propaganda.

Good Riddance Darth Vader!

Shop Vac

Saturday, December 27, 2008

I am 3000!

Call me Roberto Clemente. OK, not really.

But the Bad Astronomer has offered a luxurious prize to his 3000th Twitter follower. And guess who that be? You got it!

The proof is below.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Eve 1968

40 years ago today one of the greatest photographs in history was taken.

(via APOD)

Friday, December 19, 2008

Ganymede occultation by Jupiter

This video released by NASA is too freaking cool!!!

According to NASA:
This movie shows Ganymede, Jupiter's largest moon, as it ducks behind the giant planet. Astronomers combined a series of images taken with the Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 aboard NASA's Hubble Space Telescope to make the 18-second movie. The 540 movie frames were created from Hubble images taken over a two-hour period on April 9, 2007.

Check it out!

(via Phil)

Credit: NASA, ESA, E. Karkoschka (University of Arizona), and G. Bacon (STScI)

2 Kings 2:23-24

My favorite bible verse!


Thursday, December 18, 2008

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Shared Intuitions of Justice

Is your sense of justice reasoned and rational or is it intuitive? Is your sense of justice cultural or innate? Can people reach an easy consensus about which punishment should fit which crime?

According to University of Pennsylvania Law professor Paul H. Robinson, our sense of justice is intuitive and has a remarkable degree of agreement across various cultures. This is based on several studies where people were given either 12 or 24 scenarios (depending on the study) ranging from opportunistic theft to premeditated murder and asked to rank them according to how severe the punishment should be in each case. What has been consistently found is that people of all walks of life and from myriad diverse cultures tended to rank all the crimes in the same order and with a Kendall's W of 0.95 (for those of you not fluent in statistics, that pretty much means incontrovertible universal agreement).

The important thing to remember here is that the universal agreement is on the ranking and relative severity of punishment and not the absolute severity of retribution. In other words, people of different backgrounds will disagree about specific punishments for given transgressions, but they will rank the various transgressions virtually identically. As an analogy, this would be like people from different backgrounds having different measurements for the distance from New York to San Francisco. One person might say it's 2,905 miles, and another might say it's 4.685 kilometers. But both will readily agree that Denver is roughly halfway between them. So if you can get people to agree on a number for the distance between New York and San Francisco, it follows that they will subsequently agree on the distance to Denver, etc. Likewise, people tend to have a surprisingly close agreement on relative degrees of punishment. And when the maximum punishment allowed on their respective scales match up, so do the penalties for everything else.

In the 24 scenario studies, the subjects were asked to rank all the scenarios in order. But in the 12 scenario studies, they were given a punishment scale and asked to place each scenario on the scale based on what penalty was merited. They were also given actual court cases and asked to rank them too. The chart below (from Paul H. Robinson's presentation) shows how people ranked those scenarios and real life cases. The 12 test scenarios are on the left, and the real life cases are on the right.

Click on chart to embiggen (I don't know who coined that word, but I stole it from Phil.)

The most interesting thing about this chart is the disagreement on the right side of the chart between the solid and dotted lines. The solid lines represent how the subjects (in other words, most/almost all people) thought those crimes should be punished, and the dotted lines represent how the criminal justice system is mandated to and actually did sentence those offenders.

What we're seeing is a major disconnect between how people view justice; how they think it ought to be; how they think it is; and how it's actually doled out. There are many reasons why this might be so. Perhaps the architects of the criminal justice system simply don't recognize the intuitive nature of justice and instead try to find a rational algorithm by which to base justice--only to have it run counter to what most everybody considers to be fair. Or perhaps it's the result of noncontextual framing. Even with the scenarios where everyone agrees on their relative ranking, if those scenarios are separated from the pack and framed and argued in terms of absolute penalties, people can easily be fooled into temporarily agreeing with unfair retribution. Regardless, it's a problem. The criminal justice system doesn't work unless the populace trusts it. But if the relative penalties clash with people's intuitions, then it loses credibility with the very people it needs in order to be more than just some draconian ruffian institution. (And don't even get me started on the inherent injustice that is the infinite and dichotomous nature of reward and punishment prescribed in the hereafter according to many popular religions today.)

If you have 90 minutes, I highly recommend watching Professor Robinson's talk on this subject.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Paul Krugman Nobel lecture

Yesterday, economist and columnist Paul Krugman accepted the 2008 Nobel Prize in economics. To watch his lecture on new theories about International trade, click on the above picture.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Sir Rupert vs. Prop 8

Shan, a YouTube friend of mine was recently featured on YouTube's front page with a prop 8 protest video done in nursery rhyme form.


Sunday, December 07, 2008

MoralMaster 2.0 Add-on Pack

Remember the MoralMaster 2.0? Well it seems that they finally released an add-on pack with the missing questions.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

I'm a Beer Runner now!

Last Thursday I joined a local running club. After a month of doing virtually no exercise, it felt good to get out. I realized that I was a little out of shape and so was going to have to take it slowly. The run was perfect for that--it was a 2.9 mile jog to a place called The Prohibition Taproom.

I started off nice and easy like everybody else. Then somehow, through my own stupidity, I ended running behind the really fast guy who was trying to get in a short work out. Needless to say, that didn't last long. I found someone else who was running about my pace (Eric) and we jogged down to the bar. When I got there I felt surprisingly good.

After a few beers (That is the secondary--or primary, depending on who you ask--purpose of the club), I felt even better! That was when club president Dave asked me a question.

Dave: Do you need a ride back?

Stupid, moronic, hubris-filled, idiot Javier: No thanks. Is there anybody who wants to jog back with me?

I never left the house yesterday, and I'm still sore today. Let's see how I do next week.


As I write this post, I am entering my second month of unemployment. I had been at my last job for 10 years when I was unceremoniously let go. Of course I was not alone last month; I was one of 533,000 who have joined the now 10.3 million unemployed. The picture looks quite dismal.

The horrible thing is that the unemployment picture is actually much worse that the above picture would lead you to believe. You see, unemployment figures only measure the number of people who file unemployment claims with the government. A more sobering metric is percent employment: in other words, # people employed/population. Granted, this includes (as far as I know) children and retirees, but it also includes the multitudes who no longer qualify for unemployment benefits, or never qualified because they were employed part time, or have just given up looking for work. I know people in those categories.

Below is a chart (which I shamelessly stole from Paul Krugman) showing the trend of percent employment over the last 10 years.

What I'm seeing above is an honest representation of what the Bush XLIII presidency has done to the American worker. Bush has been a complete failure and his riddance is beyond good. But I'm not a veritable pessimist and I do have a great deal of hope for the future.