Making the rounds

The internet gods have delivered unto us the perfect meme.  I'd want a t-shirt of this were it not for the picture of Donald--"Hitler without the warmth"--Trump's hideously and improbably deformed mug in the middle of it.

Christ, what an asshole!

The New Yorker.

If there is ever a better example of "Christ, what an asshole!" being the perfect caption to a New Yorker cartoon, I can't think of it.


I haven't mentioned it in a while, mostly because of the logical fallacies "season," but the host of You Are Not So Smart is back to his old, better, format.

This particular podcast is now over a month old, but one of the longer segments of the discussion with Dean Burnett kind of stuck with me, and stuff that happened last night on TV really hammered part of it home.

In this particular segment Dean Burnett is explaining what The Imposter Syndrome is.  The context is about online "debates" (comment sections), and how opponents on either side of an issue can both think they are correct, regardless of what the other one is saying.

Basically, the Imposter Syndrome is a tendency of high achievers to question their own achievements relative to peers (or as wikipedia puts it, to fail to internalize those achievements).  There is an innate fear of being exposed as a fraud, regardless of the fact that one's achievements really do reflect one's abilities.

It's sort of a reverse Dunning Kruger effect...or, um, at least related to that concept (and here's where the podcast gets really great).

The reason people can't agree online that is offered, is the Dunning Kruger effect; that people require a certain amount of aptitude to recognize expertise, or intelligence in others.   What often happens online is one side might know something, or enough about an issue to have a competent conversation about it, while the other simply lacks the capacity to recognize intelligence at all.

In this way, the confident person always wins the debate, because they simply wear down their opponent (where confident here implies that one is not a sufferer of Imposter Syndrome).

Anyway, it's said that people who lack the necessary intelligence to recognize it, tend to do crazy, irresponsible things, like run for President.

So what I saw last night was Donald--"Charlie Gordon, but a tremendous asshole"--Trump display such a deficit.

(As an aside, the idea of somebody being so inept that they can't understand their own disability reminds me of Charlie, because when he's at his least intelligent, he is unable to recognize just how poorly he is treated, and therefore is happier than he was otherwise.  It's this lack of awareness that I saw very clearly last night, but not nearly so benign.)

(and I really do have to apologize to those real Charlie Gordon's out there, who don't have egos the size of Arcturus and a constant need to feed them)

But with answers like this on tax cuts, the confident person was not even wrong.

They are going to expand their companies and do a tremendous job. I'm getting rid of the great thing for the wealthy, it's a great thing for the middle class and for companies to expand and when these people are going to put billions and billions of dollars into companies and when they are going to bring $2.5 trillion back from overseas where they can't bring the money back because politicians like Secretary Clinton won't allow them to bring the money back because the taxes are so onerous and the bureaucratic red tape, it's so bad.

So what they are doing is leaving our country and, believe it or not, they are leaving because taxes are too high and because some of them have lots of money outside of our country and instead of bringing it back and putting the money to work because they can't work out a deal and everybody agrees it should be brought back, instead of that, they are leaving our country to get their money because they can't bring their money back into our country because of bureaucratic red tape, because they can't get together. Because we have a president that can't sit them around a table and get them to approve something, and here's the thing, Republicans and Democrats agree that this should be done. $2.5 trillion.

I happen to think it's double that. It's probably $5 trillion that we can't bring into our country, Lester, and with a little leadership, you'd get it in here very quickly and it could be put to use on the inner cities and lots of other things, and it would be beautiful. But we have no leadership. And honestly, that starts with Secretary Clinton.

If this were the answer on Jeopardy, I'm pretty sure the question wouldn't have involved personal income tax cuts.

It's pretty clear that Donald--"William Hung, but without the charisma; or Sarah Palin, but somehow, amazingly, less erudite"--Trump understands that things didn't go well last night.  But its obvious at this point that he lacks both the ability and desire to understand why.

And that's why it took 5 vodka tonics for me to get through the debate.



This debate is a shitshow, and we're only 20 minutes into it.   Trump already lost his cool, and is interrupting constantly.  Good thing I didn't pick that aspect for the drinking game, I'd be dead already.

Honestly, I've been under the impression that Trump would win as long as he doesn't shit his pants, but if he keeps talking over Hillary, he's done for.

TRUMP: You've been fighting ISIS your entire adult life!

Seriously, he said that.  Holy fuck.  What have we done to deserve this?  I need a drink...

Yep, shitshow.

EDIT: tomorrow is going to suck.  Drinking game lost.


That Hitler guy wasn't so bad either.

Reason one million why I hate Salon: pointless attempts at character rehabilitation.  This was funny though.

Magary opened his profile with an anecdote of Fieri introducing him to his pet tortoise, whose favorite delicacy is dog feces. “And if you’re looking for a metaphor of how the food-and-wine establishment views Guy Fieri,” wrote Magary, “it’s hard to top a man who feeds dog shit to slow-moving animals and calls it foie gras.”

Anyway, it does get to facepalm-levels of derp a little later on.

In the new Esquire, Jason Diamond made a populist case for Fieri, who champions what he calls “real food for real people.” 

When you saw the burger described as “Guy’s Pat LaFrieda custom blend, all-natural Creekstone Farm Black Angus beef patty, LTOP (lettuce, tomato, onion + pickle), SMC (super-melty-cheese) and a slathering of Donkey Sauce on garlic-buttered brioche,” did your mind touch the void for a minute?

Did you notice that the menu was an unreliable predictor of what actually came to the table? Were the “bourbon butter crunch chips” missing from your Almond Joy cocktail, too? Was your deep-fried “boulder” of ice cream the size of a standard scoop?

What exactly about a small salad with four or five miniature croutons makes Guy’s Famous Big Bite Caesar (a) big (b) famous or (c) Guy’s, in any meaningful sense?

(Read the whole thing.  It's a riot)

In this context it would seem that "real people" are philistines that are distracted by shiny objects.

Also, because I can't resist:

And when we hear the words Donkey Sauce, which part of the donkey are we supposed to think about?

But there is a disturbing undertone to this.
There’s only so much abuse even an obnoxious celebrity can take before someone jumps to his or her defense. In some cases, it’s a manifestation of the American urge against snobbery and in favor of underdogs. In other situations (such as when people defend The Eagles), it’s purely opportunistic. When it comes to Fieri, he is also benefiting from the long-practiced tendency of men’s magazines to champion reviled figures for being tougher, cruder, ruder and more ruggedly individual than all those prissy doubters around them.

So it's about the uneducated sticking it to their betters by poisoning themselves with his so-called "food," while the MRA rags rail against the "cucks" who know that Guy is too gauche for polite company.

Oy vey.



Upstate NY is going to get another area code starting next year.

Where have we seen this before?

(Though unlike the Simpsons, existing phone number won't change.  The new area code will be issued when 518 is exhausted, and  that may happen  at different times for different regions).


We really need to kill this in the crib

Thanks Obama.

“We envision in the future, you can take your hands off the wheel, and your commute becomes restful or productive instead of frustrating and exhausting,” said Jeffrey Zients, director of the National Economic Council, adding that highly automated vehicles “will save time, money and lives.”

[citation needed]

The statements were the most aggressive signal yet by federal regulators that they see automated car technology as a win for auto safety. Yet having officially endorsed the fast-evolving technology, regulators must now balance the commercial interests of companies including Tesla, Google and Uber with concerns over public safety, especially in light of recent crashes involving semiautonomous cars.
And as an actual expert points out, the technology is not ready yet.

Today, computerized sight can quickly and accurately recognize millions of individual faces, identify the makes and models of thousands of cars, and distinguish cats and dogs of every breed in a way no human being could.

Yet the recent advances, while impressive, have been mainly in image recognition. The next frontier, researchers agree, is general visual knowledge — the development of algorithms that can understand not just objects, but also actions and behaviors.

Yes, these systems lack situational awareness, which is the key ability that humans have that these autonomous systems lack.  And just to prove I'm not the only one who knows this to be true.

Facebook recently encountered the contextual gap. Its algorithm took down the image, posted by a Norwegian author, of a naked, 9-year-old girl fleeing napalm bombs. The software code saw a violation of the social network’s policy prohibiting child pornography, not an iconic photo of the Vietnam War and human suffering. Facebook later restored the photo.

Or take a fluid scene like a dinner party. A person carrying a platter will serve food. A woman raising a fork will stab the lettuce on her plate and put it in her mouth. A water glass teetering on the edge of the table is about to fall, spilling its contents. Predicting what happens next and understanding the physics of everyday life are inherent in human visual intelligence, but beyond the reach of current deep learning technology.

Now regarding Facebook, that was a human who took down the photo. It doesn't really have anything to do with AI, or deep learning, but I felt the need to point out the error in the Times article.

The point is even if a computer can recognize any individual object in a given fluid scene, it can't contextualize it.


Warming up the gas chamber

or how I'm so stupid I can't get comparing myself to victims of the Holocaust right.

I don't want to focus on the insensitivity of the phrase "warming up the gas chambers," instead, I want to focus on how conceptually, this makes no fucking sense at all.

You don't "warm up" gas chambers--they're used to kill many people at once.  Is the goal to be humane as you send others to a choking, coughing death?

No, you warm up ovens.  The kind used to dispose of those left-over gas chamber by-products--you know--corpses.



I had a few free minutes during lunch, so of course I spent them taking online scientific literacy quizzes.   One in particular stands out though, both because of the quality of the questions and because in a couple of instances, I think they are expecting wrong answers.

Spoilers below, so take the quiz first.

The first question asks for the steps in the Scientific Method to be arranged in the correct order.  Props!  This is the first such quiz that has asked this question, and it's a very important one.   Btw, here are the steps,  because they're relevant later.

  1. Observe
  2. Hypothesize
  3. Test
  4. Analyze Results and Disseminate
  5. Reproduce

Number two is one I feel that they got wrong.  The question:

Observations must be __________ .

The choices:
  • Peer-evaluated
  • Detailed
  • Reproducible
  • Statistically Evaluated
The answer they are going for is Reproducible, but this contradicts the answer of the first question.  Observations are the first step, it's the tests that must be reproducible.

The next nit I have is with question eighteen. 

The Scientific Method is a heuristic.
They insist false, but I believe, philosophically, that they're wrong.  When I think of a heuristic, I think of a process that approximates an ideal result.  In computer science terms, an algorithm will (eventually) find the optimal solution to a given problem, but depending on the problem category, this approach may be too expensive (both computationally, and time-wise) to reasonably calculate.

A heuristic is a simpler approach that computes a solution.  It's not guaranteed to be optimal, but it will solve the problem at hand.

Now consider the five steps of the Scientific Method above.  It is outlined as a general approach, the application of which to a particular observation and testable hypothesis is not necessarily a heuristic approach,  but in some cases it may be (such as when direct observation of phenomena is impossible).  The question is assuming that the word heuristic implies that that necessary rigor and empiricism of a Scientific experiment are lacking.

Yes, it is possible to apply the five steps in such a way that no scientifically valid conclusion can be drawn.  That does not mean that the general approach is not a heuristic though.

Otherwise, it's one of the better online Science quizzes I've run into.

Just Sayin'

Think of the optics.

This guy:


...is your primary physician.  He's a Gastroenterologist.  How does this not mean you're full of shit?



NYT steps in it again.

In 1990, in the wake of a series of college athletic scandals, the economist William F. Shughart II asked a simple question in an op-ed essay in The Wall Street Journal: “Why should academic credit be given for practicing the violin, but not for practicing a three-point shot?”

It was a good question then and remains so today, though it is one that colleges and universities have yet to answer.

It's not a good question, because it completely ignores the intellectual components of performing arts.  It's reductionist to compare performing arts with sports in such a way; saying that since both require physical skill, they're equivalent academic endeavors.

College sports are popular, and big business, apparently.  And because they're so big, a tremendous amount of money is devoted to them.  Some of the highest paid people in the country are college football coaches.

This monetary infusion is likely only to reinforce a divide between athletics and academics on college campuses. Creating degree programs in athletics might bring them closer together. And this wouldn’t rule out providing greater compensation for student athletes; this is not an either/or proposition.

Assessment correct.  Prescription is a naive fantasy.  Colleges are academic institutions.  Period.  Pretending that the skillful fondling of various balls is equivalent to nurturing an understanding of literature, or history, or even theater will only exacerbate the divide between the academics and the parasitic athletics divisions.

I mean, how could creating a sinecure of an academic program that even the dumbest of hayseeds can excel in as long as they throw balls "real good" going to mitigate the resentment that serious academics may feel (rightly) in the face of such an already staggering misallocation of resources?   What about watering down academic rigor for the sake of a handful of otherwise unqualified athletically talented "students" would make anybody think that individuals in such a program would be more legitimate students?

And repeat after me: Higher education is not vocational training. 

Beyond our cultural biases, what really is the difference between a Shakespeare play, an orchestra concert and a basketball game? 

<raises hand>, Umm, the purpose of a play, or symphony, or ballet is not to increase numbers on a scoreboard?  Performing arts are about communication.  Sports is about scoring points.

How does kicking a field goal further our understanding of the human condition?  Does watching it happen instil in the audience a sense of existential nothingness?

And how many points does Estragon score when he removes his boots?   


Holy Shit

My parents were in a car accident yesterday.  They were driving north on I87 from the Albany airport EDIT: not the airport) on their way home from my cousin's wedding, when my mother, who was driving fell asleep behind the wheel.

The car rolled, and fell down an embankment, which in the Adirondacks can be pretty big.

Thankfully, they're more or less ok.  My father has a broken nose, no doubt from the airbag, and my mother has a cut on her head that required two staples.

I'm relieved that the emails they sent me earlier this morning were to say that they're ok.  It could have easily been much worse.  Thankfully, it was daytime (4:30 or so), so they were able to climb the embankment and get help.

And my mother gave some sage advice: pull over as soon as you feel tired.   She was trying to make it to a parking area three miles ahead when she dozed off.

UPDATE: I spoke with my parents and they're fine.  It turns out the wedding was in Syracuse, and my parents had driven my Grandfather and Eva "Marge" Braun home to Albany before heading back up north.

The accident itself was about 3 miles south of High Peaks North, which is one of the scary sections, and the embankment they rolled down was about 30 feet.

The car looks like it hit an adirondack guardrail and rolled down a 30 foot embankment.  Sorry, no pictures.

Here are some pictures of the modifications mom initiated for my car. I think they make the car less driveable. What do you think? 

Yes, that is the actual caption that my father sent in the email.  They're definitely fine.

Green Great Dragon

(I never really got into Tolkien, but the anecdote about the impossibility of a Green Great Dragon seems like a good reference to use as a title)

Tolkien first tried to write a story about a dragon at age seven. The story was forgotten but he still recalled his mother stating that he could not say “a green great dragon”, you had to say “a great green dragon”. He wondered then and still did wonder why. 

As a native English speaker, I never really think about the order of adjectives in a sentence, so I was really fascinated when I first encountered this (I can't remember where; maybe NPR's Academic Minute, or Hidden Brain, or some other podcast).

In English, adjectives are used in a particular order, depending on what attribute they describe.  In fact, it's something that is taught in English classes for non-native speakers.

Linguists have broken the adjectival landmass into several regions. They are: general opinion or quality (“exquisite,” “terrible”), specific opinion or quality (“friendly,” “dusty”), size, shape, age, color, origin, and material. Generally, modifiers from the same region can be strung together in any order. Thomas Wolfe, writing in Look Homeward, Angel of “blistered varnished wood” and “fat limp underdone bacon,” could also have said “varnished blistered wood” or “limp fat underdone bacon.” (All five examples count as “specific opinion” words.) Likewise, if the woman in “The Idea of Order at Key West” had walked along the “tragic-gestured, ever-hooded sea,” instead of the “ever-hooded, tragic-gestured sea,” probably no one would have sent the grammar cops after Wallace Stevens.

Reading this, and understanding exactly what we intuit naturally, I'm reminded of what it was like in my German classes in High School and College; that I could not for the life of me remember the proper gender for a given noun.   Languages which have gendered nouns are as opaque to native English speakers as this concept must be to those leaning English.

(and for the record, there are certain "rules" that nouns follow in the German language that indicate what the gender "probably" is, but unlike syntax and sentence structure, these particular rules have a great number of exceptions).

Colorless green ideas sleep furiously.

The above follows the proper adjective order.  In fact, since colorless and green are in the same region, they can be reversed and the sentence won't make any less sense.

Fantastic unsightly giant square antique colorless green Canadian wooden ideas sleep furiously.

Unsightly wooden fantistic colorless green Canadian giant square antique ideas sleep furiously.

It seems to me that the second makes less sense than the first, although wooden might act as both a material and a specific quality.

Anyway, now I know why "Invisible pink unicorn" sounds ok, but "Pink invisible unicorn" does not.

Language is fun.


Almost even

This year is nearly even for famous deaths:

* Alan Rickman (1/14)
* Scalia (2/13)
* Prince (4/21)
* Gene Wilder (8/29)
* Phyllis Schlafly (9/5)

How about the universe takes Henry Kissinger right now and we call 2016 even?

Good Riddance

ITT is no more and that is a very good thing.
The for-profit college chain ITT Educational Services Inc. is shutting down its schools nationwide, shortly after the U.S. Department of Education banned it from enrolling new students who use federal financial aid.
Now for a bit of history.  In 2005, Congress passed and President Bush the Stupider signed a bankruptcy reform bill.  This bill had a clause that made student loans essentially nondischargeable (can't be relieved via bankruptcy filing).  

For profit colleges stepped in to take advantage of the student loan terms, so that by 2015, the debt owed to such institutions to over $229 billion (out of a total of $1 trillion for all student loans) and represented 13 of the 25 colleges to whom students were most indebted.

A new report from the Brookings Institution shows that for-profit colleges aren’t just part of the student-loan crisis—they’re a disproportionately large segment, and one that has swelled in recent years. Between 2000 and 2014, the number of students holding education debt doubled to 42 million, their total debt outstanding quadrupling to over $1 trillion. In 2000, there was only one for-profit institution among the 25 colleges and universities where students held the most student-loan debt. In 2014, there were 13, and University of Phoenix topped the list. The amount of debt owed by those attending for-profit colleges has grown from $39 billion in 2000 to $229 billion in 2014—which is more attributable to increases in the rate of borrowing at those schools than to increases in enrollment.

For-profit colleges, through savvy marketing, promise a second chance for those who’ve gotten off track, a brighter future for those stuck in a rut, and at the very least, a college education tailored to those who don’t have the time, money, or ability to attend a local college or university. During the recession, when jobs were particularly hard to come by these promises carried extraordinary appeal, especially for those with only a high-school education. Between 2000 and 2011, enrollment at for-profit colleges grew from 3 percent of total fall enrollment to 9 percent of total fall enrollment.

Let's see how that works out for the students involved.

In February, Patricia Ann Bowers told ThinkProgress that she owed about $57,000 in student-loan debt. The now-54-year-old mother was a student at Everest College—one of several institutions owned by the for-profit operation, Corinthian College. During her time there, Bowers’s son committed suicide. When she asked about taking time off, she was strongly discouraged and was assured that if she failed her current classes, she could retake them for free. But that wasn’t true, and after Bowers paid to repeat coursework, the school shut down leaving her with a mountain of debt, no degree, and near her federal borrowing limit. 

We can imagine why the current White House is trying to ameliorate the situation.  In the past decade, the number of students with burdensome debt has increased and nearly one third of that debt is to private colleges.

This wouldn't be such a huge problem if the degrees were actually worth anything in the job market, but they're not.   Part of the reason ITT is being shuttered, is that they couldn't be bothered to provide an education to students that was capable of accreditation.
Education Secretary John King said the government was taking action to protect students and taxpayers following “troubling” findings about the company. Earlier in the month, a group that accredits ITT found that the chain failed to meet several basic standards and was unlikely to comply in the future.
For their part, ITT blasted the move as unconstitutional, citing concern for shareholders, among those of students, and taxpayers.


More on Katy Perry

I haven't paid much attention to her over the years, and boy have I missed something.  She's grown from a plastic sex object to a full bore feminist.

I can't find anything in there that is respectful of women, aside from their bodies.  In most scenes Katy doesn't seem to be buying "it."

This seems to be when she came to her senses, and it's wonderful.

This seems to be her atonement for her previous image.  Like before, she's gorgeous, but now she has actual agency.  It gets better.

and better

Clearly, I've been living in a cave, but if this is what we're rearing the next generation of women on, then we'll be in a very good place.  My attitude toward her has shifted completely from lust to respect, and I can't be happier that it has.

Fuck Taylor Swift


Now if I caught any daughter of mine listening to the first, I'd be delighted.  (I'd buy her some ice cream.) The second, however, defines a woman's power in terms of her male "mate," which is bullshit. I hope any daughter of mine will be smart enough to see the difference.


Ok, so now I'm sold on ballet.

I may have posted this one before, but Copland's Appalacian Spring is one of my all time favorite pieces of music.  It's a ballet, and the University of Maryland does an amazing job presenting the piece where the dancers are the musicians.  It in itself is fantastic.

(and a little bit of context,as a tuba player, I was chosen for the part in Fanfare for the Common Man my senior year in high school.  It's one of those pieces that sounds easy, but is actually really hard).

Anyway, the point of all this was to underscore how amazing PZ thinks the human body is (and I agree!).  I can't even imagine how somebody can do this, let alone professionally, but here it is.

That's some amazing Cirque de Soleil shit right there.  Serious talent.


Rich Asshole Redux

A few days ago I mentioned a browser plugin that replaces "Some rich asshole" with "Some rich asshole" (and just "rich asshole" with "rich asshole"), but there are a couple of problems with it.

First, when I type t-r-u-m-p in the wsisyg editor, the plugin replaces my writing with rich asshole.

Second, capitalization is often wrong.  It's not smart enough to capitalize "rich asshole" if T-r-u-m-p was the first word of the sentence.

Third, in some contexts the phrase "Some rich asshole" seems to refer to any quantity of rich asshole, and not to any particular rich asshole.   For example, the NYT op-ed headline:

Why This Economy Needs Some rich asshole

Seems to suggest that the economy is lacking an abstract notion of rich asshole, rather than to suggest that any particular rich asshole is what the economy needs.   This is strange, because as I posted before, occasionally the unmentionable's name is replaced with "This rich asshole," which would work much better in the headline.

As for the content of the op-ed, I haven't read it yet, but I would imagine it is one of two things:

  1. Regurgitated republican economic dogma.
  2. We need to crash and burn the economy to bring about a socialist utopia and 21st century American cultural revolution.  Long live Bernie!
If I think if it, I'll update this to say which it ends up being.

EDIT: those who chose option 1, see the emcee for your prize.