Monday, August 30, 2004

Press Bias

Though I tend to think that it is impossible to make the point ("To the believer, there is never any question. To the skeptic, there is never any answer."), I continue for some reason to be compelled to try. Here's one from Neal Boortz.

"Remember back at the Democratic National Convention in Boston, where the protesters were put in a fenced-in camp, unable to march or even walk right past the Fleet Center? The media gave the Democrats a huge pass on this....and it didn't take a rocket scientist to know that blatant media bias was at work. Because now, with the Republican National Convention, the protesters not only are everywhere, but they are the #1 story.

You will hear about every single last protest being held in all of New York City. Why? Because bad news for Bush is good news for the media, who will be working their little hearts out to elect The Poodle. Crowd numbers will be exaggerated, worthless celebrities will be interviewed, as will assorted race warlords and other leftist morons. The conventional wisdom is that the more protests there are, and the larger they are, the more it hurts Bush. So ... you know the routine.

Remember the template.

Watch the coverage of the RNC and compare it to the DNC. If that doesn't convince you of media bias, nothing will."

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Dico Ergo Cogito

Does the language itself determine thought? If I don't have specific words for things is it difficult or impossible for me to think about those concepts? Was George Orwell right, in 1984, in the belief that by dumbing down the language you can prevent people from having certain thoughts?

This study indicates that he was.

And what does this say about those of us who are lexically challenged?

Monday, August 23, 2004

Ignorance is Bliss

The human mind is a marvelous instrument for convincing ourselves that we know what is going on. But some things are simply beyond the capabilities of our consciousness. Why do we imagine otherwise.

Consider the following scenario. North Korea decides to finally take revenge for the manifold wrongs--imagined or otherwise--committed against them half a century ago. They decide to drop the big one, and they decide to do it on Denver just to prove how vulnerable we are. But their missile wobbles and hits Boulder instead. The dogs in my backyard are incinerated (as am I, but that's incidental to this particular narrative).

Now, what do the dogs understand of this in their last few seconds of existence? Absolutely nada. There's nothing in their world, nothing in the totality of their doggish existence, nothing in the totality of all doghood at all places in all times, which could possibly begin to explain to them what is happening. The dogs would be nuked into completely clueless oblivion. The idea of being nuked into oblivion by the North Koreans is completely beyond anything dog consciousness could create.

As an aside evolution itself is no use here. If dogs had repeatedly been nuked by North Koreans througout history, but a few had by chance survived, it's conceivable--if farfetched--that some sort of genetic protection might have developed. But this time, the first time, is completely orthogonal to anything encoded in the genes.

We are no different. There are events that might occur that are completely outside of our consciousness, nay, outside of any consciousness we could even dream of having. What are these events? How should I know? How could I tell you? We have the comfortable illusion of consciousness in a God-like way and we imagine that there's nothing we can't imagine. There is. There are no doubt many such unimaginable things.

Physics has already shown us a number of such things in the strange world of Quantum Mechanics. Classical physics is really only able to deal with two things, each abstracted more or less from everyday experience, to wit, balls and waves. The physics of balls is fairly straightforward, namely, if you kick a ball harder it goes faster and if it's a heavier ball then the same kick won't buy you as much. This is all summarized in Newton's Second Law, F=ma. It looks fancy but that's all it really says. The knowledge about waves isn't much deeper than what you observe by throwing a rock into a pond. I won't go into it. The point is that we really don't know anything that's not in our direct everyday experience or some sort of abstraction from that.

About a hundred years ago, physicists started trying to make sense of the strange things that happen when you look at really really small objects. They don't really behave like balls and they don't really behave like waves. They are something different, a completely new world outside of our everyday existence. We can describe them mathematically very accurately, but we can't understand them at all really.

We don't like this. When people are told about Quantum Mechanics they generally respond that it can't be true, they don't believe it, or somebody will someday come up with a better explanation. But it has been tested and retested and is the single most accurate theory ever produced by humanity. We just aren't capable of dealing with this new reality outside of all everyday human experience. But we are innately convinced that we are.

Among the many weirdnesses of Quantum Mechanics, it turns out that these strange little things, neither ball-like nor wave-like, though similar to both, can pop up out of literal nothingness from time to time. And they can do it on the grand scale, so that, in principle at least, an entire tiny little universe could pop up right inside my beer mug. Is this how the Big Bang occurred? We don't know, but at least we do know it's possible.

The Human Mind doesn't like this. The Human Mind can't really contemplate this weirder than weird reality. The Human Mind has no everyday experience with things popping up out of nothing. That doesn't happen in our experience, and has never happened in any human being's experience, ever. So we're not genetically predisposed to believe this. The idea that our whole universe may have just popped up a few seconds ago in somebody's beer mug makes as much sense to us as being nuked by North Korea does to the dogs. Go figure.
The Web of Trust

Some posts are so good they deserve to be reread every so often. Herewith I quote a post from another blog which practically deserves to be reread daily.


Hardly a person reading this has not sat, probably many times, on board a commercial jetliner, munching a terrible sandwich while watching television on a little screen at seven miles above the earth moving faster than the musket ball that ended the life of Sullivan Ballou.

The sheer mundane frequency of this miracle should be enough on it’s own, but I ask you to look much deeper.

Think, for a moment, about the endlessly intricate, stunning web of trust, cooperation and genius required to make this happen. Drop the obvious elements like the pilots and the air-traffic controllers. Forget the armies of people who set their alarms every day to go and build, fly and maintain these wonders.

What about the chemist who determined the correct mixture to get that reprehensible purple dye just right for the fabric on the seat back covers? Who engraved DIANE’s name tag? How many hundreds of men cut how many grooves in how many trees to make the rubber that seals the handles on the restroom faucets? What were the names of the aerodynamicists who designed the wing section before the one actually finalized in the design of the airplane? Who made the air traffic controller’s coffee? What were the first words spoken between the parents of the person who cleaned and vacuumed your seat?

What were the names of the guys that laid the cement for the VOR station you’re navigating by, back in the 60’s? Who churned the butter in that little plastic container? Somebody forged the bolts that hold down that seat seven rows up? Who? Who delicately put into place that little paper diaphragm in the microphone the flight attendant is boring you with? The person who dry-cleaned the co-pilots uniform – nice guy? Dipshit? Who pumped the gas into the little tug that pushed the plane back at the gate? Come to think of it, this crappy TV show you’re watching? Who edits this garbage? What do we know about that guy?

You don’t see any of this, of course. You think nothing of it. But there it is. And this molecular structure does not run as deep anywhere else in the world. You’re it. You in 37B.

Now ask yourself if those five hooded murderers, those 19 hijackers, and those endless seas of raving, chanting, flag-burning lunatics could, together, manufacture one #2 pencil. You know, a perfect, yellow, three-cent pencil – including the dyes for the enamel paint, the glues and presses for the wood, the mined copper alloy for the band, the chemists to make the graphite and then there is the eraser – and no one knows what that is made of.

This web that keeps us alive and safe and free needs many things to thrive. Trust. Communication. Mutual respect. Genius. Hard work. And mostly passion.

Fear will kill it all. It will fall apart and unravel into smoke.

Sunday, August 22, 2004


"After watching a burly airport screener search her lymphoma-stricken father, forcing the frail and faltering 78-year-old to hand over his oxygen meter, stand at attention with arms spread for a wand search, take off the Velcro strap shoes that he'd struggled to put on, and strain to keep his balance as his belt was tugged repeatedly, a Newsweek columnist wonders: have we lost our common sense when it comes to passenger screening?"

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

High Noon

HP stands up to the bully.

Sunday, August 01, 2004

Something Good

I installed the new RSS-aggregator for Firefox, Sage, a couple of days ago.
It's a news junky's delight. Installation is as simple as going to the linked page
and clicking on the link (providing your running Firefox as your browser of
course). If you're still running IE as your browser, you're simply not paying

Once you've got Sage installed, you pull it up with alt-S and it forms a sidebar with
all your RSS feeds listed. By clicking on each one, you get a preview in the
bottom pane of all the headlines from that site. By clicking on any such
headline, you get the full story in the main window. To add an RSS feed to
your list, simply go to the appropriate site, find the RSS link (sometimes
called "XML" and sometimes "Atom"), right-click on it, and add bookmark.
I've made a separate bookmarks folder called "RSS Feeds" and put all
the RSS bookmarks into that folder. Sage is set up to only look in that folder
for RSS links.

Here are a few RSS feeds to get you started:
The New York Times > Science
Christian Science Monitor | World
Yahoo! News - Top Stories
CBS - Top Stories
Asian News from World Press Review
DIE ZEIT: Homepage
Little Green Footballs

Try it, you'll like it.
Press Bias

The American press is heavily biased toward the Democrats. As such, they have an abiding interest in slanting stories in Iraq and elsewhere so as to make it appear that things are going poorly when in fact they are going well.

In my ongoing discussions with various people I find that this essential point--that the press is utterly biased and not telling us the real truth--is continually disputed. Therefore I being today a desultory series of citations whose purpose will be to verify this fact.

Our first example comes straight out of the horse's mouth, the New York Times itself, one of the most highly biased of the biased.

'But do journalists really want John Kerry to defeat George W. Bush? It depends where they work and how you ask the question, at least according to the unscientific survey we conducted last weekend during a press party at the convention. We got anonymous answers from 153 journalists, about a third of them based in Washington.

When asked who would be a better president, the journalists from outside the Beltway picked Mr. Kerry 3 to 1, and the ones from Washington favored him 12 to 1. Those results jibe with previous surveys over the past two decades showing that journalists tend to be Democrats, especially the ones based in Washington. Some surveys have found that more than 80 percent of the Beltway press corps votes Democratic.

But political ideology isn't the only possible bias. Journalists also have a professional bias: they need good stories to make the front page and get on the air.

So we asked our respondents which administration they'd prefer to cover the next four years strictly from a journalistic standpoint. We expected the Washington journalists to strongly prefer Mr. Kerry, partly because they complain so much about the difficulty of getting leaks from the Bush White House, but mainly because any change in administration means lots of news.

Sure enough, the Washington respondents said they would rather cover Mr. Kerry, but by a fairly small amount, 27 to 21, and the other journalists picked Bush, 56 to 40. (A few others had no opinion.) The overall result was 77 for Bush, 67 for Mr. Kerry.

Why stick with the Bush administration? "You can't ask for a richer cast of characters to cover," one Washington correspondent said. "Kerry will be a bore after these guys." '