Oct 18, 2007

Required Reading on Race

In a comment on Pharyngula, Lance perfectly illustrates the universal folly of human nature. Quoted in full:
Being a white guy married to an African (Ethiopian) woman I have read along with great interest and occasional amusement. Having visited the African continent on three occasions certainly doesn't make me an authority on the intelligence of its residents but I have had the good fortune of interacting with a great number of African people in Africa and here in the US.

I personally know a good many highly intelligent Ethiopian folks. What is funny is that they disparage the intellect of their African neighbors of different tribes. The dominant "highland" tribes of Ethiopia and Eritrea, the Amhara and the Tigray attribute lower intelligence (and bigger penises) to their southern "low land" neighbors the Anyuak, Walita, Omo and the Jinka. They look down on them as "baria" or black people.

There are over eighty separate tribes and languages in Ethiopia alone. Some of these tribes have been genetically separated for thousands of years and are quite visually distinct from on another. Even a "farange" like me can easily identify the physical characteristics of many of these distinct populations.

Are there true differences in intellectual ability between these tribes? I have no idea but I kind of doubt it based on my interactions with the people from these different groups. What I find interesting is that the different tribes have definite opinions of the relative intelligence of each tribes.

They have recently been exposed to Chinese workers and engineers and have decided that they are very intelligent as a "race" if revolting in appearance.

Having been immersed in their very hospitable culture I can say that people are people and this whole topic is interesting at first blush but quite absurd in practice.

Oh, by the way they think we "faranges" are about as bright as the highland tribes but much less civilized. After spending time in their society I tend to agree with them.

Ignorant, Stupid, or Deluded

In a certain context (Which Shall Not Be Named), we often hear that you can't expect to be taken seriously if you assert that a great majority of Americans are ignorant, stupid, or deluded. People seem to assume it just can't be true, and refuse to examine the evidence that it is. But that assumption is wrong, and here is proof, in a different context.

In the Oct 13 LA Times, Jonathan Chait reminded us that
A poll in late 2001 found that 76% of Americans preferred Bush over Gore as a war leader.

Now, is there any way to explain this other than to admit that, in late 2001, 76% of Americans were ignorant, stupid, or deluded?

Oh sure, they could have also been malevolent. But evil doesn't exist as a Platonic form, so malevolence itself requires some explanation, and a reasonably charitable and optimistic first approximation is that it is usually caused by one of that obnoxious trio - ignorance, stupidity, and delusion.

Oct 16, 2007

Naughty Lama

From the news:
When asked if he had a message for Chinese President Hu Jintao, the Dalai Lama playfully patted a reporter on the cheek and said, "You are not a representative of Hu Jintao."

Cute. No big deal. Really. But wait, would anyone else doing the same be described as sympathetically? Suppose George W. Bush "playfully patted a reporter on the cheek"? Or, god forbid, if the reporter was female, imagine Bill Clinton in Dalai Lama's place. Wouldn't the press describe the "incident" as "harassment"?

(If the reporter was male, try Senator Larry Craig.)

Oct 13, 2007

Framing, Damn Framing, and Statistics

I am not the least bit opposed to framing in principle. However, framing gurus should take care not to feed the (fairly common) opinion that framing equals paltering. Matt Nisbet fails that task with this graph:

Nisbet is showing this to support his thesis that there are "two Americas" and that only the one that agrees with Al Gore politically has become more concerned about climate change in recent years. But that is not a valid reading of the graph unless the relative numbers of the Democrats and Republicans have been stable over the period, and data from the same source suggest that they haven't. There are fewer Republicans now than a few years ago. If we assume that most of the party-switchers are moderates and that most moderates are concerned about climate change - and both assumptions seem reasonable - then the remaining loyal Republicans are, on average, more partisan and more dogmatic than before, and the divergence of the two lines in the graph just illustrates that corollary.

There are more conclusions that can be drawn from that graph, but none of them is about Al Gore's ineffectiveness.

Oct 12, 2007

Supreme Court Awards Peace Prize To Bush

Washington, October 12 (Laughing Hyena News) In an emergency decision this morning, the Supreme Court awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to George W. Bush.

Writing for the five-justice majority, Justice Antonin Scalia said that the Nobel Committee overstepped its authority when it awarded the Peace Prize to "that fat bastard" Al Gore. "There is no provision in the Constitution that allows some ragtag gang of fucking Vikings to award the prize in a pie-eating contest, let alone the Nobel Peace Prize," the Justice read his opinion at the press conference, admiring every word he wrote. "The original intent of the Peace Prize was to make the dude who invented dynamite sleep better," continued Scalia, "and it is preposterous to assume that such a Nobel goal (chuckle) could be achieved by rewarding a beefy liberal who would use the government to tell cows how much and how often they can belch."

Scalia then explained the Court's own choice of the legally-entitled laureate: "The best way to calm the conscience of the dynamite inventor is to demonstrate how irrelevant dynamite has become." Using his famously sharp logic, Scalia continued, "and the best way to demonstrate that is to show how many more people get blown up by other explosives, not invented by Mr. Nobel. By sending thousands of people to be blown up by plastic explosive, TNT, and other non-dynamite compounds, and with no other discernible purpose but to quell Mr. Nobel's conscience, George W. Bush has accomplished the mission of the Nobel Foundation better than any man in history, with the possible exception of a certain individual, not under our jurisdiction, who may or may not be alive in the mountains of central Asia."

In a concurring opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote: "Strictly speaking, the Nobel Prize may be unconstitutional, because it had not been established by 1789, so there is some question whether it should be awarded at all. But there seems to be no legal way to force all previous recipients to return the prize money."

The Chief Supreme, John "Diana Ross" Roberts, issued another concurring opinion, in which he chided the four dessenters, to whom he wrote "Stop! In the name of love... we should decide unanimously." He and Justice Kennedy, who joined his opinion, then did a tap-dance to show that the Court's decision was just a routine exercise in constitutional interpretation.

Tap-dancing Justice Kennedy also wrote a concurring opinion in which he invoked the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment: "Properly interpreted, it states that no person born in any of the states of the Confederacy can ever get the Peace Prize. Al Gore is thus ineligible because he is from Tennessee." In contrast, George W. Bush is a Connecticut Yankee. Justice Alito joined the opinion.

Justice Souter, one of the dissenters, remarked that Al Gore was, in fact, born in the District of Columbia. Justice Thomas replied, "Come on, Dave, don't nitpick. That's practically in Virginia." Justice Scalia leaned over and whispered something into Justice Souter's ear; it was barely audible, and had to do with a horse's head.

Justice Stevens wrote a very short dissenting opinion, which was joined by Justices Souter, Ginsburg and Breyer. Its full text was, "This is a travesty. I dispair - or, rather, I dissent." Justice Scalia then turned to Justice Kennedy and told him, "That reminds me, have you heard the one about a priest, a pastor, and a transvestite in a bar..."

President Bush said he was surprised by the prize. "They woke me up from my nap to tell me the news. They said, 'you won the No Belle Prize'. I asked them if that was good or bad; it sounded kinda negative. But they said it's good, so I reckon I was pleasurably surprised. I think it's some kinda abstinence thing, but only the poor people in Sweden have to practice abstinence. That's good, 'cause there won't be so many poor people in Sweden."

Al Gore said he was disappointed, but he accepted the Court's decision. "I can always try again," he said, "maybe I'll find a cure for cancer and single-handedly destroy an approaching asteroid. They might consider giving me a consolation prize then."

Oct 10, 2007

U seen dis? LOL

Sm ppl srsly translating teh Bibul. Here iz John 1:1-8
1. In teh beginz is teh cat macro, and teh cat macro sez "Oh hai Ceiling Cat" and teh cat macro iz teh Ceiling Cat.

2. Teh cat macro an teh Ceiling Cat iz teh bests frenz in teh begins.

3. Him maeks alls teh cookies; no cookies iz maed wifout him.

4. Him haz teh liefs, an becuz ov teh liefs teh doodz sez "Oh hay lite."

5. Teh lite iz pwns teh darks, but teh darks iz liek "Wtf."

6. And teh Ceiling Cat haz dis otehr man; his naem iz John.

7. He tellz teh ppl dat teh lites is tehre, so dat teh doodz sez "OMG."

8. Him wuz not teh lite; he jsut sez teh lites is tehre.

Oct 4, 2007

Deep-Sixing the Sixth?

I wish there were no trials by jury, at least not by jury of citizens with no qualifications for critical thinking. Out of 12 randomly chosen people, at least 8 have either no ability or no will to consider evidence without prejudice. And it is difficult to get juries to convict in cases of police brutality or vigilante vandalism. But the Sixth Amendment guarantees the right to jury trial (and the Seventh does it for civil cases), and it would be almost impossible, as well as unwise, to change that. So what is to be done?

We could have professional or semi-professional juries, as some other countries do. Contrary to the popular misconception, there is no constitutional (or otherwise recognized) right to trial by jury of one's peers. On the contrary, the concept of "peer" is rooted in aristocracy and thus repugnant to our constitutional principles.

A reform to introduce trained juries would be difficult, and would increase the cost of government, but it would greatly improve the integrity of our judicial system. It could also enable a compromise between those who want elected judges and those who prefer appointed ones. We could have appointed judges and elected jurors. And states could experiment with various flavors of such reforms.

Another feasible reform could be doing away with "guilt" as the issue in a trial. Rather than decide if the accused is "guilty", the jury would decide whether the accused "did it". Objectively, this may be just a difference in words, but framing matters, and many people would probably perceive their role differently, as objective fact finders rather than judges of value. That could quell the annullment-by-jury tendencies, which usually have the effect of letting abusive cops and vigilantes off the hook.