Monday, March 31, 2008
Friday, March 28, 2008
Apparently the program is entitled, "Please Wait" and its main operation is to ask you nicely to wait. I wonder what happens if I cancel...do I still have to wait?
This hereby confirms my theory that Vista was programmed by Monty Python.
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
I was stunned to learn that the legislatures of Michigan and Florida then passed bills that set the date of the primaries in January, in full knowledge that this was against the rules! I was so confused by this that I felt compelled to do a little investigation of my own. Whose fault was this violation of democracy? Did these states just not get the memo?! Was the national party's language ambiguous, lending itself to be misinterpreted?
What I have found out so far has shocked me even further. They did get the memo, they knew they would forfeit their delegates, and they voted overwhelmingly to do it anyway. Here is a little snippet from the report of a House committee, headed by republican David Rivera, that was considering the date-setting amendment to their bill:
As most observers of presidential politics would agree, national conventions in the modern era have become proforma exercises organized to coronate a pre-determined presidential nominee rather than a genuine selection or nomination process where the outcome is in question. The role of a delegate in a modern day political party convention has been relegated to that of rubberstamping the decision made in each delegate's respective state during that state's presidential primary. Under these conditions, priority should be placed on the role Florida will play in selecting a presidential nominee rather than on the opportunities for a select few Floridians to attend a national convention.
After I read that, I felt sick. Not only did these congressmen purposefully forfeit the people's say in the election, they did so based on faulty reasoning!! A little demonstration will help here to illustrate just what I mean:
A couple of riddles
As a student of science education, I have learned a very important lesson—intelligence is context dependent. Let me give you a quick and dirty example of what I mean. Here is a puzzle that is supposed to judge your 'logical reasoning ability'. There are four cards, each with a number on one side and a letter on the other. The rule is: if there is a vowel on one side of the card, there must be an even number on the other side. Which card or cards must you turn over in order to check that these cards follow the rule?
If your answer is to just turn over the card with "E" on it, you are wrong. There are some who assess your mistake to mean you have deficient logical reasoning skills. Don't worry—this claim is wrong, and I can prove it.
Here is another riddle: you are a bouncer at a club where everyone is required to carry a card with their age on one side, and their drink on the other. In America, the law says that if someone is under 21, they must have a non-alcoholic beverage. Which card or cards must you turn over to make sure that everyone is following the law?
Easy huh? Now let me call your attention to the fact that these two puzzles are the SAME puzzle! Perhaps you can answer the first one now…but even if you still can't that's beside the point. The point is that reasoning becomes much easier when you are familiar with the topic.
A political riddle:
Here is another puzzle for you. Point out the error in the following line of reasoning:
Answer: Duh, Beavis. If there is only one lesson from statistics that you learn it should be this: Correlation does not imply causation!! The Red Sox paid more because, on average, they had much better players! That is the real cause behind the correlation—having good players is what really increases your chances of winning. Just paying the Devil Rays' crappy players more won't make them better (in fact, as Mo Vaughn taught us all, it can make them much worse!) The Devil Rays would have to get better players in order to win, which will most likely also cause a higher payroll.
Here is the Floridian line of reasoning, which has more than just the common-cause fallacy wrong with it:
- In the last two presidential elections, the state results were kind of similar to the national results.
- Therefore, in order to win the national election, you need to spend more money to win the Florida primary.
- Therefore, the Florida primary should be sooner.
- As long as they are sooner, they don't have to actually count.
Friday, March 14, 2008
If you have ever had the pleasure to be at Fenway park for a Red Sox vs. Yankees game, you will know that there will up upwards of 10 fistfights that break out by the end of the game. Of course 10 out of 10 fistfights are between fans of the opposing teams. (and 10 out of 10 of the arrested fans are Yankees fans...but I digress)
Why is it that Red Sox fans don't fight each other? Is it because we are all the same, that we live in peaceful harmony, always agreeing with each other and never arguing? Nope. During a typical game, while sitting rather peacefully in my seat, I will have beer spilt on my by some drunken jerk, have my view blocked by some idiot standing up in front of me to take 12 pictures, and have chewed peanuts sprayed on me by the lady in the seat behind me who's yelling, "A-ROD'S AN A-HOLE!" But I love them all, because we are all Sox fans. We have laughed, cried, screamed, cried, and rejoiced together. We have sat, stood, and kneeled and prayed together. And that shared suffering, that shared jubilation, unites our souls forever, and any adversary from New York or otherwise be damned.
You may have noticed the resemblance between the scene I have described and a typical Catholic mass. In fact, the similarities cut deep, very deep…
Creationists vs. Evolutionists
The only place I have been to that rivals the childish fighting between Red Sox and Yankees fans has been at a meeting between creationists and evolutionary biologists. They screamed at each other, pumped their fists in the air, stamped their feet, and I heard almost every insult short of "Oh yeah, well you're a poop-head!" hurled from each side. The reason for this fighting is much the same as the brawls at Fenway. Each side, through their shared dreams, hopes, and experiences of suffering and jubilation, has constructed a shared worldview that cannot be questioned.
One common criticism that has always been raised against science is that it offers a cold and belittling picture of our insignificant place in a mechanistic universe, while religion puts humans at the spiritual (if not physical) center of a warm, vibrant universe that was given to us as a gift. I'm here to say that it doesn't have to be this way!
Who Created Whom in Whose Image?
Each person's view of God tells you more about that person than it ever could tell you about God. Ever notice how only funny people claim that God has an infinite sense of humor? Or that the embattled and persecuted Jews from the Hebrew Scriptures viewed their God as testy, vengeful, demanding, and at times almost irrational? Or how the ancient Greeks, as they uncovered the wondrous insights of geometry, mapped these principles into their view of the Heavens and the Earth's place at the center of the Celestial Spheres?
I think the reason that science is perceived to give a cold, mechanistic view of the universe is for much the same reason--this is the view that was held by the cold, impersonal scientists who came up with the big theories. Newton, for example was reported by those who knew him to be a misanthropic prick. It is only natural for such a pompous genius to assume that universe must conform to his own values of logic and mechanism—hence the clockwork universe that needs no further care once set in motion.
I argue that this bleak picture of the universe is really not indicative of science, but rather of the scientists who conceived it. It doesn't have to be this way. Whether you believe in God or not, I believe science can paint a picture of the universe every bit as wondrous and welcoming as that held by believers. All it takes is a change in perspective.
The more we study the universe, the more we find out how small we are compared to it. Space is mostly, well, space. If the Sun were the size of a grapefruit, then Earth would be a pencil point 30 feet away. Pluto would be in the next town, and you’d need a microscope to see it. The nearest star would be another grapefruit, on the other side of the country, with nothing in between. Once you realize how much nothingness there is in the universe, it makes it really special that we are part of something.
We, all of us, are on the same little blue speck of dust, hurling around a little bright dot on the far reaches of a dinner plate hurling through an infinite space at unimaginable speeds. What if there is nothing else; no afterlife, no spiritual realm—what then? Then that would mean we were all in this together, this 'life' thing, with all the joy, suffering, love, and pain that comes along with the human experience. We are all rooting for the same team. If nothing else, can't THAT make us get along??