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|Sunday, March 20th, 2011|
|Non-agenda sources of radiation health risks?
So, I'm having a hard time parsing the health risks associated with various scenarios for the Japan reactor collapse. Most that I come across are either the admirably honest "I don't really know," or of the "No sweat, nuclear is teh awesome" or the "BAN ALL NUCLEAR POWER NOW" variety (last two slightly exaggerated). None of those are helpful.
Anyone have a better source of info? And no, the xkcd graphic does not count as better.
As a side note: I count myself as being on the ambivalently pro side of nuclear power as a way of reducing carbon emissions. Definite problems are the very large costs, and the waste issue. I used to think both were manageable (and kinda still do). However, if we also have "small but non-negligible probability of really massive shit," which I didn't think before (I also didn't think this about ocean oil drilling, so perhaps I am a sucker. Or perhaps I am overly persuaded by one-off events) then I think we just go to a full on hydro/solar/wind/whatever solution with natural gas providing baseline. At the very least, we definitely get rid of reactors in California and other massive-natural-disaster-prone areas.
Anyways, if you know any, let me know!
|Tuesday, March 15th, 2011|
|Why is the Richter scale a log scale? Or more precisely, cares about the Richter scale?
Can anyone tell me this? Log scales make sense when differences at the "normally" low end count more than differences at the "normally" high end. For example, if you are comparing ratios of substances in a mixture, then the difference between a ratio of 4 to 1 and a ratio of 3 to 1 for substance x as compared to substance y is obviously equivalent to a difference of a ratio of 1 to 4 and 1 to 3 for substance y as compared to substance x. But representing that by the straight difference between fractions doesn't represent that similarity (this is why solving the von Kries-style version of the water-wine paradox for the principle of indifference with the log uniform measure makes sense, but, whatever). So you should use a log scale. Similarly, if the "natural" way some quantity behaves that you are interested in is exponential, then again, a log scale makes sense (sometimes). Or I suppose if you want to squeeze big differences onto a graph, a log scale might also make sense. And I'm sure I'm forgetting others.
But what does any of that have to do with earthquakes? Why have the most salient representation of the physical force of an earthquake be represented by a log10 scale like the Richter scale? Why not focus on the destructive power itself? Isn't that more important for general news functions? Can't we leave the Richter scale to the geologists? What is wrong with taking the shaking amplitude, raise it to the power of 3/2 (which is a rough and ready way of correlating the energy released by the quake, and - at least according to Wikipedia! - its destructive power), and call that the magnitude of the quake? Am I totally missing something? If not, it seems a lot more accurate to describe the recent Japan earthquake as something pretty radically different in kind than, say, the most recent California earthquakes. I mean, this earthquake was much, much more like the historic Lisbon one than it was contemporary Japanese or American earthquakes. Not in terms of human consequences, but more "wrath of god" consequences (note, this earthquake was much, much bigger than Krakatoa, the largest hydrogen bomb, and the 1906 San Fran Earthquake, at least according to Wikipedia). Am I being stupid or is Wikipedia failing me here?
|Tuesday, January 18th, 2011|
|Here we are now, entertain us
So I'm basically waiting for tomorrow, when I find out if I passed my generals, and can start doing the dissertation thing (or have to redo generals all over again). What does that mean? Mostly, I'm getting really, really drunk to numb my nervousness and listening to music on youtube. And what do I realize? Fuck, Nirvana was awesome. Now that might qualify as the most "no shit" statement of all time, but still. I get drunk and listen to people on youtube all the time, but for some reason I've zeroed in on Nirvana tonight. And they have yet to bore me, which happens never for any other band (after a few songs for anyone else, I am almost always like "ya, that is great, but lets hear someone else." not here).
But Nirvana? I can go from the fucking sublime
lake of fire unplugged cover to the smells like teen spirit video (which is a fucking awesome song, but suffers the unfortunate overplayed/too-famous curse) to breed to the man who sold the world (also unplugged, because that is probably the best album ever made. I haven't even mentioned probably the best song: where did you sleep last night) and then back to, well, etc. etc and so on and so on. Makes me sad, really. I mean, I was like 12 when Cobain killed himself. But what could have been? It was like Lennon and McCartney doing a murder/suicide after Srgt Peppers.
|Friday, January 7th, 2011|
|Well, that is done
So, I did the oral part of my generals exam today. I won't find out if I passed for like two weeks, so I will be able to fill my time with ... well, I suppose getting drunk until the 10th, at which point I will have tons of paper grading to do.
So that is nice. Here is something else that is nice. It may be my last wikileaks post (I promise!) for a bit, but the vanity fair
story is pretty good.
However, who cares. Look, I suppose this is the point for me. I am very, very confident that dozens, if not pushing into the hundreds, of people detained in Iraq and Afghanistan by US forces died while being subject to "enhanced interrogation techniques." In other words, they were tortured, and murdered. This is the darkest underbelly to what happened, and it is not openly acknowledged. Some of them were surely colossal dickheads. But still. We (speaking for us Americans) tortured people to death. And nothing consequential has happened as a result. Wikileaks is the only
outfit I can see that can push that fact into the public consciousness. I do not want to be 65 and read some nice historical survey of the "shitty noughts" or whatever to read about that. It needs to be as public as possible, and wikileaks is the only outfit I see who even would
do that. Whether they do more or less depends on how many people in the CIA and the defense department have souls. But the important part is, right now, it is wikileaks or nothing. And that is an incredibly good reason to be thankful for the existence of wikileaks.
I mean, can you imagine the release of documents (maybe someone saved those deleted CIA videotapes!) that systematically detail the torture and death of incarcerated iraqis and afghanis? The only
way that happens is if wikileaks exists, at this point. So long live wikileaks.
|Thursday, December 30th, 2010|
|There is no "z" in Boise!
Haha, so here is a funny video/song by Jewel about the proper way to pronounce "Boise." I think this is kind of a shtick Jewel does in the various places she plays, but still. Also, I like that she calls out Tom Grainey's, one of my favorite bars in Boise (along with Cactus, Neurolux and the balcony (if I remember the name right, its the gay dance club downtown that was always fun)). Me and annieadams
good times at Graineys in my year back home between undergrad and graduate school :).
|Wednesday, December 15th, 2010|
So, the air force is blocking sites that have posted any wikileaks content, including, of course, the new york times
So, my brother is an air force officer (although kind of a fake one: he's a military doctor type). I wonder if he's now banned from reading, you know, the New York fucking Times.
So I passed my oral unit tonight (on imprecise probabilities), which means I am done with coursework. If I can pass my generals (on uniqueness (is there a unique rational thing to believe given your evidence?)) in January, I get to ... figure out what to write a dissertation on.
I have to say, actually, that the football season has actually been really good for me. I would have given serious
consideration to going to the BSU-in-the-national-championship game had things turned out differently (even though this would have been horrible in terms of passing generals), and the Texans have been epic sucking for the last 6-7 weeks. So I have felt compelled to spend almost no time on any football-fan-related activities other than watching the games: very little blog-commenting, hardly any espn/whatever reading, the bare minimum of fantasy activities, and no trying to figure out how I could manage preparation for generals along with flying across the country to watch a football game (or figuring out how I could convince various professors to change their schedules to accommodate that). So, although it makes me sad that the teams I like didn't live up to their potential, the good side is that it has made me a much better grad student! :)
|Thursday, December 9th, 2010|
Now I'm sure
that if I won Celebrity Jeopardy, I would donate my money to wikileaks. After all, I couldn't donate
to them with my visa card even if I wanted to. So how else could I make the donation? Note: I can
donate to stormfront
, the leading white power website via visa; I can also donate to the KKK
with my visa. But not wikileaks! Before, I wasn't really considering actually donating money to wikileaks. I am now.
Although, to be fair, a cursory examination appears to show I can't
donate to NAMBLA with my visa, as they only take checks. So, apparently, pedophiles < Wikileaks < Racists, according to Visa (and mastercard, etc). So there is that. (NOTE: DO NOT ACTUALLY DONATE TO ANYONE I LINKED TO).
|Tuesday, December 7th, 2010|
|Weird thing about going to Princeton
When I log into facebook, I often see famous philosophers suggested as potential friends. I don't know them, and have never met them, but apparently enough of the people at Princeton I am friends with do know them and have friended them. It's just weird to see.
|Friday, December 3rd, 2010|
|Against Imprecise Probabilities #2
So, advocates of imprecise probabilities say 1) that in the complete absence of evidence about some proposition, we should assign a set of probabilities covering [0,1] to that proposition, and 2) that we should update our probabilities upon learning some evidence by conditionalizing upon each member of our set of probabilities.
But if you think both of these claims are true, you get disaster. First, if you have a (convex) set of probabilities varying from [0,1], then guess what, you automatically get a set of [0,1] as the result of conditionalizing upon any piece of evidence whatsoever. But it gets worse! Suppose you sympathize with some sort of strict coherence or regularity condition, and say that total ignorance should be modeled by a set of probabilities between (0,1). Again, though, any update by conditionalization will result in (0,1). This is because for any 0<x<1, P(H|E)=x for some suitable prior probability of P(H) given some fixed P(E) and P(E|H) (if you don't fix those, it is even easier to get P(H|E)=x). Confirming evidence will move each individual probability in your set higher, but for each value of x, some other function will "swooping in" from the left (so to speak) and settle on x. And vice versa for disconfirming evidence.
Upshot: ignorance cannot be rectified via learning on the standard model of imprecise probability (well, it can, but only in a very unmotivated and arbitrary way). But that is absurd, and disastrous epistemology.
|Thursday, December 2nd, 2010|
|Against Imprecise Probabilities #1
Some people think we should have sets of probability functions to represent our credence in a proposition, rather than a single such function. They are wrong. Here is one reason.
You have two fair coins. H1 says that the first coin will be heads when flipped, H2 says that the second coin will be heads when flipped. Since the coins are fair, P(H1)=1/2, and P(H2)=1/2. You have no idea whether or not the coins are correlated. Since you are ignorant about the correlation, advocates of the imprecise approach say you should have functions P* and P^ such that P*(H1&H2)=1/2 (perfect correlation) and P^(H1&H2)=0 (perfect anti-correlation) in your set of probabilities, as well as everything in between.
Suppose H1 is true, so that the first coin came up heads. Then P(H2|H1)=P(H2&H1)/P(H1). In other words, on the imprecise approach which updates by conditionalization on every member of your set of probabilities, Pnew(H2)=[0,1]. But look, suppose H1 is false. Then, again
Pnew(H2)=[0,1]. So whatever you learn about H1, your credence in H2 is [0,1].
So, now, we see a conflict between reflection and the principal principle. The principal principle says that if you know the objective chance about some proposition, your credence should equal that objective chance. So P(H2) (before the first coin gets tossed) should equal 1/2. But reflection says that if you know what your future credence will be, you should set your current credence to that value. Generalized to the imprecise case, since whatever happens regarding the first coin your credence in H2 is [0,1], your credence in H2 before
the first coin is tossed should be [0,1]. So we have a conflict. Your credence cannot be both 1/2 and [0,1]. You have to give up one or the other. So the imprecise approach to credence requires you to reject either the principal principle or reflection. Both are very, very plausible epistemic requirements. So, by requiring you to reject one of them, the imprecise approach is implausible. (There are, of course, answers based on complementarity to this problem. But they are unsuccessful).
|Tuesday, November 30th, 2010|
|If I was a celebrity
And was on, say, Celebrity Jeopardy, and was asked to which charity I would be donating my vast winnings, I think I'd say Wikileaks.
|Sunday, November 21st, 2010|
|I whip my hair back and forth
So, first, you have to watch Willow Smith's amazingly
autotuned video to get this. You don't need to watch beyond, say, a minute and a half to get it.
Ok, now watch this:
That is hilarious. Ok, first: Jimmy Fallon does an amazing
Neil Young impression. Second, you gotta keep watching that until you see Bruce Springsteen. That is fucking fantastic. And you almost certainly will be singing "whip my hair back and forth" in a neil young voice in your head for a while after watching that.
|Tuesday, November 16th, 2010|
|I solved the deficit!
So, a fun little thing from the new york times is available here
. They show the projected deficit for 2015 and for 2030 and give you a bunch of options for reducing spending or raising taxes in order to "solve" the budget. My response is here
Some of the options are (for me) no-brainers. First up are ones I would plump for even if we were running a surplus, such as raising the cap on payroll taxes, restoring Clinton-era estate taxes, reducing the nuclear arsenal, a carbon tax, reducing US troops in Iraq/Afghanistan to only(!) 30,000 by 2015, and eliminating agricultural subsidies. Only slightly joking, I may well support such proposals even if we just burned whatever money we saved.
Other options also seem eminently reasonable. Its just false that Clinton-era tax policies produced an economic disaster, so I see no problem with rolling back the Bush income and capital gains tax rates. I'm down with a millionaires tax backet, and I just don't believe that the extra 5% marginal rate increase on incomes over a million will do anything to hurt the economy. Modifying the mortgage-interest deduction so it no longer applies to people with mansions and second homes just seems obvious, both as a way to generate more revenue and as a lesson learned from the housing bubble. Finally, reducing troop levels in Europe and Asia, reducing the size of the navy/air force, shrinking the military to pre-Iraq-war-size, and reducing/eliminating some of the new
defense company welfare
weapons platforms set to come online all seem like reasonable retrenchments.
The remaining options I'm more ambivalent about. "Eliminating pork" seems at first glance to be completely obvious. But aside from anecdotes about bridges to nowhere or whatever, I'm just not sure that such things represent obvious waste as opposed to locally elected congresspeople knowing best what the needs of their constituency are. I'm sure a lot of this is waste, but not how much. So I'm not sure eliminating earmarks is the best way to go. Similarly for reducing government contractors. In general, I think a lot of contracting is simply a way to avoid unionization of government employees and/or a chance for private company profiteering. But, again, I don't really know that much beyond anecdotes, so I could be wrong.
I worry about means-testing social security because it might undermine the programs near-universal approval and lead, in the future, to regressive cuts in benefits for everyone else. As a policy matter, means-testing is solid. As a political matter, I'm not sure. Finally, the "eliminate loopholes" and "bank tax" worry me. They seem plausible as superficially described, but they also seem, well worrisome.
In any case, I overshot the budget deficit by quite a bit (particularly in the short term), so I have extra money to play with! That I would use to offset some of the cuts described above, particularly restoring some of the tax loopholes that are actually worthwhile, restoring some
agricultural subsidies, and restoring some military R&D.
So, now, you do better!
|Monday, November 1st, 2010|
|Your favorite political magazine that disagrees with you?
So, because of stupidness on my part, I'm teaching more than I should this semester. But a bonus is I am also making way more money than I expected, and have extra cash. So I'm thinking I want to subscribe to some cool magazines. Now, I'm already down with the Economist and the New Yorker. The former is, as far as I can tell, the best English-language periodical to keep me informed about what happens in places other than the US/Europe; and it is by far the most intellectually honest publication I know of from a viewpoint I disagree with, which is very good. The New Yorker just has the best in-depth articles and investigative reporting, hands down.
So, I want one or two more magazines to read. What are your favorites? Specifically, what are your favorite magazines that have a different ideological bent than you do?
|Friday, October 1st, 2010|
is a great article. It gives very good reasons for something I've always believed: Anyone who opposes affirmative action (in college admissions) without opposing legacy admissions more
is really, really dumb, and quite possibly despicable. There are a few people who probably avoid this criticism, iirc, the funder for the the California public university anti-affirmative-action referendum did
try to introduce an anti-legacy referendum afterwards. Which failed. Hard.
The basic point is this: legacy admissions are much, much
more pernicious than almost any affirmative action policy, even on the assumptions of anti-affirmative action supporters
(assuming, at least, that anti-affirmative-action supporters are motivated by better motives than "GO WHITE GUYS", which I assume most are). If you focus your attention on attacking affirmative action policies without attacking legacy admissions more
, then you are in all likelihood a racist, ignorant, or stupid.
(Which isn't to say if you oppose both you have any of those qualities. I probably still disagree with you: I think there may well be a role for legacy admissions and
affirmative action policies in a high-quality university. But disagreeing with me on that is totally fine (at least in the sense that I won't consider you a horrible person if you do so). Disagreeing with me about being cool with legacy admissions but not cool with affirmative action means, well, you very probably fit one of the three perjoratives I gave above).
|Wednesday, September 29th, 2010|
|Grocery Guy or Tank Guy?
So, many people take the Grocery Guy's actions during the Tiananmen Square protests in China to be one of the best visual examples of standing up to authoritarian power. The visual image, of course is:
Now, Grocery Guy is incredibly brave here. I'm taking nothing away from him. That really takes incredible guts, and it probably is
one of the best visual examples of standing up to authoritarian power. But you know what matters more? The response of "Tank Guy" who is driving the tank that Grocery Guy is standing up to. Here is a clip:
Tank Guy clearly has orders to go down this street. He sees a civilian in front of him. He stops, then he tries to go around him. Grocery Guy stays in front of him (again: Grocery guy is incredible). He tries again, but fails. And he refuses to murder a civilian just because those are his orders.That
is the key tipping point for toppling powerful centralized authoritarian regimes. When the enforcers decide that they will not murder civilians. As long as the enforcers are fine with going alone with killing innocent people, the only (at least potentially) viable alternative to resisting an authoritarian government is armed domestic resistance, aka, terrorism. What makes a totalitarian government fall in the face of popular resistance is the basic humanity of its enforcers who decide they no longer are willing to slaughter their fellow citizens. An example from cinema is from V for Vendetta. In the climactic scene, a host of British citizens wearing Guy Fox masks are approaching a military/security chokehold. The officer in charge frantically calls up the chain of command for orders. These orders don't come (I think because the dictator guy is dead?), so no order to kill the protesters comes. The commander orders his men to stand down. The Guy Fox masks sweep through. The Revolution Wins. The best you tube I can find follows: skip to the 1:40 mark or so.
That is when dictators fall (unless they are violently overthrown - and that rarely works out well). So praise Grocery Guy. He stood up to power in an insanely courageous manner. But Tank Guy deserves a lot of praise as well. He was unwilling to murder a fellow citizen merely for protesting. For a member of the security/army state, this is exactly what is required for (somewhat) peaceful change to happen. People note that we have no idea who Grocery Guy is, and that he may well have been "disappeared" by the Chinese State. And this is probably true. But what do you think happened to Tank Guy? He was the type of person which allows great things to happen, and he was very probably "taken care of" by the Chinese State as well. So give a prayer for Tank Guy as well.
|Sunday, August 29th, 2010|
So I'm taking my generals this semester, which means I need to do the written and oral examination no later than January 18th (or thereabouts).
The problem is, this might well be BSU's once-every-fifty-years (or worse!) chance to play for a national championship. If BSU can beat VaTech in DC in a week and a half (the first time I'll actually see BSU live since like 2007 when I saw them at LaTech), and get by Oregon State a couple weeks later, they have a very, very good chance of playing for the national championship. And I would absolutely pay all the money I have to go see that game. And when would this game be? Well, something like January 12th or 14th. In other words: SUCK. First, I wouldn't be looking forward to explaining my scheduling decisions based around a football game. Second, I should really just be studying and cramming really hard before my exam anyways. The only real alternative is to take it in mid-December ... but I don't think I want to do that.
I mean, if it comes down to to it, I'm doing the generals rather than the football game, obviously. But, seriously, WHY GOD WHY.
|Tuesday, August 24th, 2010|
|Objectivity in Subjective Bayesianism
*You really probably should skip this, its very long and unlikely to be of interest to any people who aren't into Bayesianism, and even maybe only some of them; I just kinda wanted to write it up*
So, I've been thinking recently about the condition of regularity (or strict coherence) in subjective Bayesianism. This is the requirement that you only assign probability strictly between 0 and 1 for all non-logical truths (or something similar). If you do this, I think you get a nifty resolution to (at least one version of) the problem of old evidence. I've been looking for other applications.
One that seemed promising was in the martingale convergence results for subjective Bayesianism. Basically, they state that as long as two different Bayesian agents agree on their assignments of 0s (and so also 1s) to propositions , when presented with the same evidence in the long run they will achieve a merger of opinion about a certain substantial class of propositions - that is, you will get agreement (in fact, the results are considerably stronger: both will converge to certainty on the true hypothesis). Since intersubjective agreement is the foundation of objectivity in the (epistemology of the) sciences, this seems to guarantee a measure of (eventual) objectivity for Subjective Bayesianism.
Now, if you impose regularity, you automatically
get the required condition for this result! So that is awesome! A principled reason why different agent's 0s and 1s should agree. Or so I thought. Unfortunately, the convergence theorems only appeal to agents who update via strict
conditionalization. Since this is a process that involves becoming certain (i.e., assigning a probability of 1) to various propositions, appealing to regularity to guarantee the initial agreement of 0s and 1s is, at the least, pretty counterproductive.
So then I thought, well, maybe we could walk down from the canonical convergence theorems (which, after all, guarantee convergence to certainty, not merely merger of opinion) to just get a merger of opinion result for Jeffrey Conditionalization (JC), with the same stipulation of agreement about the initial assignment of 0s and 1s. Unfortunately, two problems presented themselves. The first is that the canonical presentation of the proofs of the convergence theorems (Gaifman and Sniff) is, well, pretty hard, so it was difficult to figure out how (if at all) they could be generalized. But more importantly, I think such a result may well be impossible.
The reason is, to get any sort of merger of opinion result, I think you would have to impose a condition along the lines of: "after receiving some evidence, both agents assign it a probability of (at least?) x," and the resulting merger of opinion result would guarantee long term convergence as a function of "x" (i.e., they would be within f(x) of each other). The problem is, no such condition can be applied for JC, on pain of granting the "non-commutativity" of JC. Basically, JC is formally non-commutative in the sense that the order in which evidence is presented to you (and so updated on via JC) matters in that if you assign a probability of x to e1 and y to e2 for two propositions that are relevant to something hypothesis "h", then updating first on e1 and then on e2 leaves you with a different final probability for h than if you had first updated on e2 and then on e1. This problem can be easily overcome. But it requires that the same experience
can result in different probability assignments for the same evidence propositions. This is quite justified: your background beliefs, and your credence in the hypothesis in question, should
play a role in the probabilities that result from your experience. But, as a result, the same experience for two different agents can never guarantee the same resulting updated probability. So, the condition that it seems would be required for any merger of opinion result cannot obtain without sacrificing commutativity.
So, I started thinking about other ways of thinking about objectivity for subjective Bayesianism that didn't rely on the convergence theorems. I think the answer is found in the "least change" results for JC. Basically, updating by JC results in the minimal change in your probability assignments that you can make while remaining coherent. I think this
is where the true Objectivity for Subjective Bayesianism is to be found. The reason is that Bayesianism is a theory of procedural
rationality. Given your credences, it tells you how to respond to new evidence. JC represents the least
change that you can make in your beliefs when your change your mind about some evidence or other proposition. Any further change, then, would represent an unwarrantedly
subjective response to that evidence for which there is, demonstrably, no reason at all. The subjectivity of subjective Bayesianism should be located entirely in the priors. Once those are determined, the only
(well, more or less) way to objectively
respond to learning new things is to us JC. Subjective Bayesianism (with regularity) thus finds its objectivity not in substantive merger of opinion results, but in the procedural "elimination of arational/unwarranted additional changes" that result from the "least change" theorems. The appropriate place for subjectivity is in assigning priors, not in responding to evidence by changing probabilities that the evidence has no bearing on. The former is the core of substantive Bayesianism. The latter is arational personalism. But, I've obviously yet to really formulate this "argument" into anything really convincing.
|Tuesday, June 29th, 2010|
So, I was outside smoking a cigarette, and just kinda looking at the near-full moon. When all of a sudden the moon started to disappear. From right-to-left, it just progressively went dark. At first, I was like, holy shit, a lunar eclipse, and I didn't even know about it, and I saw it! But then I realized that it happened in like two seconds, which is way
too fast for an actual eclipse, and then the moon started re-appearing again several seconds later. So that couldn't be it.
Then I was like: oh my god, the aliens have arrived, and their massive mother ship is descending on us at this moment! And then I realized that was insane.
Finally, I realized that, of course, it was just clouds. But it was still really awesome. There wasn't
enough cloud cover close to the surface to partially obscure anything, the clouds that did
block out the moon were dense enough to do so, but not compact enough so that they could allow repeated
blocking and unveiling of the moon, and the clouds were at the best distance to both allow all of this and still be moving fast enough that you got a total "cloudclipse" every twenty/thirty seconds or so.
Now, I've obviously seen clouds obscure the moon before. But I've never before seen a relatively clear night where clouds could be seen repeatedly and completely (progressively) darkening the moon and then moving on. I definitely smoked more cigarettes today than I normally do sitting and watching it: it was pretty sweet.