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Below are 20 journal entries, after skipping by the 40 most recent ones recorded in shagbark's LiveJournal:

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Monday, January 26th, 2009
5:22 pm
Obama works first miracle
After just 1 day in office, President Obama had already dramatically improved the education of black students, as shown by test performance.
Wednesday, January 21st, 2009
12:34 pm
We haz smarts!
Should I feel good or bad about this?

blog readability test

Movie Reviews

Tuesday, January 6th, 2009
9:57 pm
Religious fiction: One God, two color schemes
I noticed the Religious Fiction part of the bookstore in Barnes & Noble the other day. When I think of religious fiction, I think of Carlos Casteneda or the Satanic Verses. (Or, well, religion.) But this was all Christian fiction.

What drew my eye was the strange color scheme. The books were a combination of soft pastels, and harsh reds and blacks, as if someone had shelved romance and horror together. The books with soft pastel covers were stories about the love God would show for you if you accepted him. The books with red and black covers were, in part, stories about what God would do to you if you didn't accept him.
Saturday, January 3rd, 2009
12:09 am
That must be one strange movie
Netflix Recommends
7 Faces of Dr. Lao

Because you enjoyed:
Grave of the Fireflies
The Music Man
Heavy Metal
Wednesday, December 24th, 2008
11:44 am
Children's literature
Why do people think having child protagonists is a necessary and sufficient condition to make a book children's literature?

When I was a kid, I didn't want to read stories about kids. I wanted to read stories about adults, because I wanted to be an adult.

Do kids want to read stories about other kids, or is that just what we feed them, and what we stock their section of the library with?

Maybe 5-year olds do, but I think by the time you reach the double-digits, you get enough of being a child in your everyday life. Why would children want to read about being children any more than office workers want to read about being office workers?
Monday, December 22nd, 2008
11:37 am
Stupidity roundup
Today's moron is the NPR announcer who said that the price of crude oil has now dropped from over $140 a barrel, to less than $40/barrel, "due to a decrease in demand."

Why can't they just say "we don't know why"?

Why does the US spend $15 billion/year on space exploration, and $0/yr on economic research, when the price of oil can fall 70% without us knowing why?

The pictures from the Hubble are pretty, but I'd rather know what would happen if we raised the minimum wage.
Saturday, December 20th, 2008
3:39 pm
Heaven is WoW
There's a series of threads at overcomingbias.com on what a sensible concept of heaven would be. And the analogy that people bring up most often is... heaven would be like playing World of Warcraft forever.
Friday, December 19th, 2008
5:30 pm
40 years warning not enough
Interesting factoid I came across:

In 1965, the President’s Science Advisory Committee warned in a report called Restoring the Quality of Our Environment that increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide due to the burning of fossil fuels would modify the earth’s heat balance to such an extent that harmful changes in climate could occur.
Wednesday, December 17th, 2008
5:41 pm
Overcoming Bias
I've recently started posting sometimes to Overcoming Bias. You can see my post there today on doing the right thing.
Wednesday, December 3rd, 2008
11:08 pm
When expertise makes someone incompetent
I went to wired.com to look up an article in last month's Wired magazine. As yet another demonstration that Wired magazine's obsession with graphic design and interface issues leads them to construct some of the world's worst graphic designs, their web page doesn't provide any way to browse past issues. I had to guess at the URL and type it in.
Tuesday, December 2nd, 2008
12:15 am
Bourgeois communism
In European intellectual circles, they have a term that we don't use in America - "bourgeois". It's usually translated "middle class"; but it's a terrible insult over there, whereas in America it's good to be middle class. A better translation in American would be "organization man", as in {1950s, tie, business suit}.

The bourgeois man is hated because he is so mundane. He lacks nobility or spirituality. He thinks only of the material world and of his petty bourgeois desires for mediocre entertainment and mediocre happiness.

Communists especially revile the bourgeois. Yet, they are the most bourgeois of all. Communism declares that all this fuss about free speech, artistic expression, and spirituality is nonsense. All that matters is that everybody have food, shelter, and clothing. That's all that a government is responsible to provide or allow, because that's there is to life.

How fucking bourgeois can you get? Am I missing something?
Monday, December 1st, 2008
11:56 pm
Stupidity roundup
Today's idiot is Nobel prize-winning economist Paul Krugman. In an NPR interview today, he said that we shouldn't worry about the deficit, because we had a larger deficit at the end of WW2, and that turned out okay.

Let's compare the opportunities available to an investor/lender, by country, in 1946 and today:

Country Situation in 1946 Situation today
Britain Piles of smoking rubble Good
France Devastated Good
Germany Piles of smoking rubble Good
Russia Over half its workforce dead. Foreign investments considered donations. Rapid if corrupt growth
Japan Piles of smoking rubble Good
India Having a revolution Rapid growth
China Having a civil war Rapid growth
South Korea Jungle Rapid growth
Singapore Jungle Rapid growth
United States Has suddenly revealed itself to be not only a major power but the world's greatest power; only major nation to come through war unscathed; only atomic power. Clearly uninterested in ever paying off its debts

Also, as kyberneticist pointed out, at the end of WW2, we weren't in debt, because the rest of the world owed us more than we owed the rest of the world.
Wednesday, November 26th, 2008
6:36 pm
Do the right thing
On NPR today, I heard a speaker say that there were a lot of reasons for closing the US prison at Guantanamo, but that "the most important of them is that it's the right thing to do." He said it twice.

(I was already amused by the idea of closing Guantanamo because people there carried out policies decided on in Washington DC. The logic could be that guilt adhered to the place itself; or that guilt could be made to adhere to it and then be done away with, like a scape-goat. If it worked with Jesus, why not with Guantanamo?)

But the idea that "being the right thing to do" is a reason rather than a conclusion is more intriguing. Is this just circular logic? I don't think so.

It reminds me of the Pope's recent statements about reason vs. faith. In this view, morality is associated with faith, which is contrasted with reason. That's the worldview America grew up with. Take away the faith. (This is NPR, after all.) What happens? After thousands of years of being attached to faith, does morality attach itself, in the minds of the public, to reason? Or does it remain detached? I think that the latter model explains the speaker's statements. "The right thing", he thinks, is something you just know.
Tuesday, November 25th, 2008
4:01 pm
Is that legal?
Remember a few weeks back, when Congress spent over a week debating the $700 billion bailout package?

The Federal Reserve announced today that they're going do another $800 billion bailout. There was no debate in Congress. No elected official's approval was required. A few guys, behind closed doors, decided to spend $800 billion of taxpayers' money.
Monday, November 24th, 2008
3:00 pm
A picture is worth a word
There's a NY Times article
that's actually pretty good. But I'm here to make fun of it. I love this picture and caption from the article. Who says a picture's worth a thousand words?

Caption: "A computer screen from Dr. Gingeras's lab."
Monday, November 17th, 2008
12:02 pm
Voting kills
According to a recent study, on the day of a US presidential election there are, on average, an extra 24 auto-accident fatalities. The study covered the past 32 years, not including this year.

The number of times that a single vote has affected the outcome of a US presidential election is, so far, zero (AFAIK).

In order for voting to be rational, the expected benefit to you from your vote having an effect on the outcome, must be greater than the expected cost of you dying in an auto accident on your way to vote.

The traffic accident study covers only 32 years; but we have over 200 years of data on individual votes not swinging an election. That data is troublesome because the population has changed. Over time, it has become much less likely for one person's vote to swing an election. I will approximate this effect by saying that 210 years of one vote not swinging an election is similar to 1000 years of one vote not swinging an election at current population levels. That's a sloppy off-the-cuff guess at how the population changes affect the probabilities.

So, the odds of your dying in a traffic accident on your way to vote would at first seem to be 24 * (1000/4) = 6000 times the odds of your vote changing the outcome of the election. (Probably much higher. Those are the odds they would be if one person's vote had swung the election once.) The odds of your being disabled in a traffic accident on your way to vote would, similarly, seem to be 800*(1000/4) = 200,000 times higher than the odds of your vote swinging the election.

But they aren't. Another recent study (pdf here ), using a MUCH more detailed model, estimated that the odds of one person's vote swinging the presidential election in 2008 were, on average, one in 60 million. So why is it that, with more than 120 million people voting this year, we didn't have any states within 1 or 2 votes of going the other way?

The problem is that the chances of one person's swinging the vote are highly correlated with the chances of everyone else in their state swinging in the vote. If your vote swung the vote in your state, the vote of half the other voters in your state also swung the vote. The number of trial here is per state times two (one Republican and one Democrat trial per state), not per person. So what that figure really means is that the "average" state has a 1 in 30 million chance of swinging the vote, and you have a 50% chance of being on the winning side in that case. To fix my first estimate, we need to say that the figures above indicate that a given party in a given state is unlikely to have more than a 1 in (100*1000/4) = 1 in 25,000 chance of swinging the election. This then bounds the odds of any one person swinging the election to be no more than 1 in 2,500,000 on average. Swinging the vote is a "black swan" event that is highly unlikely - it should happen about once every 600,000 years - but when it does, millions of people can claim their vote swung the election. So the chance of your dying in a car crash on the way to vote are really only about ten times as great as your altering the outcome of the election.

Rationally, people should be much more interested in local elections, which they have a much greater chance of affecting.

What about the opportunity cost of voting?

The 2008 presidential election cost about $1 billion, spent contending over roughly 127 million * .2 = 24 million undecided voters. One vote thus cost about $40. If you make more than $20/hr (after taxes), you would be better off giving $40 to the campaign, than standing in line to vote for 2 hours.

Unless you like standing in line better than working.
Thursday, November 6th, 2008
9:50 pm
Friday, October 31st, 2008
2:23 pm
Tainted demon-money
The Christian Children's Fund turned down $17,000 raised at GenCon to feed starving children because some of the money was raised by selling D&D items.

A prominent Christian has previously addressed this issue of what to do about objects that seem tainted by their origin, but the CCF declined to take his advice:

Romans 14:14
As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food is unclean in itself.

1 Corinthians 10:25-27 (also 1 Cor 8:4-8)
Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, for, "The earth is the Lord's, and everything in it." If some unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience.
Wednesday, October 29th, 2008
1:33 pm
Worst-case scenario
There are a total of 538 electoral votes. 270 are needed to win.

Imagine this:

On Nov. 4, exit polls show Obama gathering an expected 310 electoral votes, with the possible range (99% confidence interval) being from 290 to 330. Yet, when the votes are added up electronically, they announce that McCain has received 272 electoral votes, and Obama only 266.

What do you do?
1:31 pm
Stupidity roundup
This morning I heard a commentator saying that we need a stimulus package from the feds giving money back to Virginia residents, so that the state can raise taxes and balance the budget.
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