29 October 2006

Veil of Ignorance

The veil issue has been a HOT topic lately. The issue is driven by a lack of understanding, not only by westerners in terms of the meaning of the veil but of veil wearers as well. In this video a Muslim woman who refused to remove her veil in front of a male co-worker is interviewed. The newsman pulls no punches.

(Hat tip: TCS Daily)

A longer shortest political quiz

Last time I blogged on the World's Shortest Political Quiz, I came up squarely in the libertarian region of the map. However, I suspected there was inherent bias in the quiz for two reason. First, the quiz is associated with a libertarian website. And second, the site's statistics claim

Assuming a representative sample was taken of the population (doubtful!), you'd have to wonder why we have any conservatives in power. However, I have come across a revision of the questions that I believe remove some of the bias. On the graph below I've plotted my score using the original versus the revised wording (orange vs. red) with my current views. For fun, I also took the quiz while attempting to wear the political hat of Jeff from 5 years ago, again with original and revised wording (light vs. dark blue). I feel that I am more libertarian than many Americans, yet with the revised wording I come up as a borderline centrist. I consider myself 5 years ago to have been similar to the "average American" and I came up borderline statist! Ahhh!

18 October 2006

State of Confusion, Part III

Last year I wrote wondering how much it would cost to get a glamor shot of me made (See Part II here). It is safe to say that we are well into the backlash of the beauty magazine. The magazines have acknowledged this. Now even the advertisers are doing as much. In this video by Dove, we see a time lapse of a woman go from unkept to ├╝ber-attractive with the help of some 0's and 1's. What is interesting to me is not how alien or unnatural it looks (the eyes are HUGE), but who thought of all those metrics such as the optimal neck length. Also, they did a pretty darn good number on that woman with JUST the make-up and hairstyling.

17 October 2006

Charity = Not so charitable?

Tim Harford strikes again. This time his victim is the holiest of holy; charity. Let's cut right to an excerpt

In fact, the closer you look at charitable giving, the less charitable it appears to be ... Using controlled trials to compare different methods of door-to-door fund-raising, professor List's team discovered that it was much more effective to raise funds by selling lottery tickets than it was to raise funds by asking for money. This hardly suggests a world populated by altruists seeking to do the maximum good with their charitable cash.

More effective still was simply to make sure that the fund-raisers were attractive white girls rather than a dowdier assortment of males and females representing all shapes, races, and sizes. This dramatically increased the average contribution, because many more men decided to give money. Altruism?

"Shouldn't I just give up all my studies and go feed starving kids in Africa?" This is a variation of a question I often asked myself in high school/college. But I always came around to thinking that a desire to physically and directly do something meaningful and unselfish does not equate with a doing the most good possible, i.e., altruism. As a penniless college student I could only offer as my service the sweat of my brow, for example, painting pottery for old folks, shovelling mulch, or making sandwiches. In fact, just a few years later, as a recent college grad, the money I make per unit time could produce a much higher yield of these services than I could produce by spending that time unit doing the physical labor myself. And according to the theory of comparative advantage, I'm not admitting that I can't make a decent sandwich.

But what about becoming a doctor? Surely, if I invest my efforts in learning heart surgery I could save many more lives than as an engineer. Well only if I was good at heart surgery and I didn't faint at the operating table and if I learned the trade in a reasonable amount of time/at a reasonable cost. Again comparative advantage says that although I could be a doctor, the world is better off if I don't become one.

So, in fact, what an altruist would do is find that service which she can provide that is most valuable to others and provide as much of it as possible. Whether providing another unit of service directly saves lives/reduces misery or if the money received can be used for that cause should not be seen differently. But to many it is. That's a shame.

10 October 2006

One small step for computer scientist

Growing up and hearing replays of Neil Armstrong's first words from the moon,

"That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."

I was always kind of confused... like, wait, that doesn't make sense does it? It wasn't until a year or two ago when I read a book that specifically mentioned the utterance that my suspicions were authoritatively confirmed. Man is another word for Mankind. Armstrong was either an idiot or he slipped up. I was inclined to believe that it was a combination of a slip up and the fact that Armstrong swallows his A's.

Not so, according to computer scientist Peter Ford. Ford claims the recording has a digital signature of the 'a' as in "one small step for a man..." Listen to it again. Even if you really want to hear it, I doubt you'll be able too. There just isn't that much time between 'for' and 'man'.

07 October 2006

Juggling Two-upmanship

If you haven't seen Chris Bliss's juggling performance to Lennon and McCartney, you are probably the only one. In fact, you may also have seen Jason Garfield's parody. But what I didn't realize when I first watched Garfield, is that he is a World Juggling Federation champion (and yes, ESPN does cover it). Garfield also has a pretty funny stand-up. I think it is a fair approximation to say I am to Bliss what Bliss is to Garfield. I think I would be darn pleased if Bliss parodied my juggling performances. All I'm saying is don't feel too bad for Bliss. Garfield felt left out of the limelight and decided he needed to one-up (well, more like two-up) Bliss. It's akin to a high school basketball player doing a innovative slam dunk to music at a midnight madness event and then having Kobe Bryant play the same music and show that he can do the same dunk from twice as far away, blind-folded and whatever else. It is a kind of honor.

06 October 2006

Save the Crack Babies!!!

Politicians are smart when it come to advertising their positions. Bush stifles discussion on the war in Iraq by claiming that detractor's want to "cut and run." In the War on Drugs, which has been going on for 30 years(!), politicians are just as clever; just conjure up the image of a crack baby crying for food on a cold floor in the ghetto. Surely any moral person would spend over $40 billion to save the crack baby.

Here is your next fix of Friedman.

Milton declares "the prohibition of drugs is the most immoral program that the United States has ever engaged in." I love that when I watch these videos now I can predict the arguments Milton will use even before he gets the opportunity to respond. One of my favorite parts is when his opponent is asked whether he would prefer more funding for enforcement or treatment. His respone: both. I laughed.

Addendum: Here is an older video with a younger Friedman on the same topic.

04 October 2006

Is Fundamentalism biological?

I was reading over my sister's spelling word sentences the other day. Most of her sentences were quite simple, "I'm in the third grade." Then I read

"I'm saved from the fier."

I said, "Hey, you spelled fire wrong... it's f-i-r-e." A second later the meaning of the sentence hit me and I started cracking up. "Did you mean 'I was saved from the fire'?"

Unwitting testimony?

Joe Sharkey noted the altitude of the corporate jet he was riding, 37,000 ft., just moments before it struck a Gol airlines, Boeing 737. The pilots of the corporate jet landed the badly damamged aircraft at a nearby military base, everyone aboard safe, though understandably shaken. All 155 people on board the 737 died. Whose fault was the crash?

The 737, flying from Manaus to Rio de Janeiro, was on a south easterly heading. East flights fly at odd thousand altitudes (e.g. 37,000 ft). The corporate jet was flying to the Manaus from Sao Jose dos Campos, a north westerly heading and therefore should have been at an even thousand altitude (in fact it was cleared to 36,000 ft). According to the Sharkey's article in the New York Times, the jet was at 37,000 ft right before the crash. The pilots should never have stayed at this altitude in straight and level flight. I wonder if the journalist unwittingly provided testimony against the pilots he called "heros."