Please visit the new home of Majikthise at bigthink.com/blogs/focal-point.

« January 2005 | Main | March 2005 »

75 posts from February 2005

February 28, 2005

Curse you, Gil Cates

Why some "technical" award winners got their Oscars in the cheap seats. [Reuters]

Diversity in academia

Via The Poor Man and Sean Carroll.**

Aaron Swartz

A shocking recent study has discovered that only 13% of Stanford professors are Republicans. The authors compare this to the 51% of 2004 voters who selected a Republican for President and argue this is "evidence of discrimination" and that "academic Republicans are being eradicated by academic Democrats".

Scary as this is, my preliminary research has discovered some even more shocking facts. I have found that only 1% of Stanford professors believe in telepathy (defined as "communication between minds without using the traditional five senses"), compared with 36% of the general population. And less than half a percent believe "people on this earth are sometimes possessed by the devil", compared with 49% of those outside the ivory tower. And while 25% of Americans believe in astrology ("the position of the stars and planets can affect people's lives"), I could only find one Stanford professor who would agree. (All numbers are from mainstream polls, as reported by Sokal.)

This dreadful lack of intellectual diversity is a serious threat to our nation's youth, who are quietly being propagandized by anti-astrology radicals instead of educated with different points of view. Were I to discover that there were no blacks on the Stanford faculty, the Politically Correct community would be all up in arms. But they have no problem squeezing out prospective faculty members whose views they disagree with.

**Fun diversity fact: Sean's blog is a Pisces. Happy Birthday, Preposterous Universe!

February 27, 2005

The Gates

Thad and I saw The Gates and we have the pictures to prove it. We may have just missed Jon Mandle from Crooked Timber.

I am baffled by the hysterical pro-Gates faction. I'm glad The Gates happened and I'm glad I saw it, but the gates themselves aren't very exciting. For the most part, the saffron folds look better in photographs than in person. Photographs capture the translucency of the cloth and the undulations of the sheets in the wind. The material looks smooth and sensuous in the pictures, but in person you see that it's a (technologically nifty) cross between burlap and tarpaulin. The conspicuous hems irritated me for no good reason. The material certainly makes interesting snapping and swishing sounds in the wind.

The gates look very graceful when you're walking through them, or when you're admiring them from a distance. But in some areas they look really awkward at an intermediate distance.

I will say that The Gates permanently enhanced my appreciation of Central Park. Central Park is huge and complicated with lots of little subdivisions for specific activities and facilities like the zoo, the ice rink, the baseball diamonds, etc. It's easy to fixate on whatever area you happen to be in. The brightly colored Gates encourage you to take in large swathes of the park at a glance. Under normal circustances, it's easy to forget how meticulously well-designed the park is. With The Gates up, you realize how carefully Olmstead and Vaux thought out the placement of the paths, streams, and vegetation. Every vantage point seems to be designed to be admired from everywhere else. The gates are like bright orange pylons highlighting how elegantly the paths curve around ponds and over hills.

I'm looking forward to going back to admire Central Park without The Gates. I hope that was the point.

Ah, the liberal New York Times

Pardon me while I retch. [NYT permalink.]

February 26, 2005

Guckert and homophobia II

Some commentators argue that it's homophobic and therefore wrong to dwell on Jim Guckert's history as a gay prostitute.

A non-homophobic consequentialist liberal might argue that it is permissible or obligatory publicize this information because it is good to hurt the Bush administration. Over at Fake Barn Country Allan Hazlett argues that it is unacceptable to exploit homphobia or to violate Guckert's privacy in order to score political points against Republicans.

Allan maintains that if our culture were not prejudiced against homosexuals and intolerant of prostitutes, Guckert's escorting exploits wouldn't seem like a big deal. Naturally, the Guckert affair is especially embarrassing for the White House given the hardcore homophobia of much of the Republican base. Allan agrees that liberals could do a lot of good (read: damage to the Republicans) by playing up the gay prostitution angle. However, he still maintains that it is wrong to play up Guckert's gay prostitution because the ends don't justify the means.

He concludes:

1) Homophobia and sexual conservativism are deeply engrained in American culture, to the point that uber-liberals like Maureen Dowd find themselves outraged that a gay escort got into the White House.

2) Actions with good consequences can still be wrong if they "go through" the wrong paths, e.g. if they exploit the existence of deeply engrained homophobia in the surrounding culture.

This is not a cause of "outing" a homophobic public figure for being gay. If I had incontrovertible evidence that Rick Santorum was having a gay affair, I would face a genuine moral dilemma. Like Allan, I have serious moral reservations about using a person's private life to discredit them politically. I believe that sexual orientation is morally irrelevant and that it morally wrong to discriminate against people based on their sexual orientation. It would be morally problematic for me to subject someone else to discrimination by others, especially if I had to violate their privacy to do it.

Yet, exposing a vicious homophobe might have good effects. Discrediting a homophobe as a hypocrite helps to discredit the homophobic ideology. Moreover, unseating this vicious bigot might prevent him from harming gays and fomenting further bigotry. Outing such a person would expose hypocrisy, which is a morally good outcome. It may also be morally relevant to the general public to learn that their leader is being hypocritical about values they hold dear. But it might also be hypocritical of me to violate the person's right to privacy in order to expose him. This is a difficult problem, but these concerns simply don't apply to the Guckert scandal.

It is not homophobic to publicize the fact that Guckert's was an escort, nor is the publicity an invasion of his privacy--these facts are neither private nor irrelevant to the current debacle.

1. An escort service is a business, not a personal peccadillo. So far, we don't know anything about Guckert's personal life. We do know that the guy literally took out advertisments for himself, often using his real name and showing his face. Prostitution is illegal. Guckert's ties to the underground economy would have disqualified him for face time with the President under any impartial standard. Moreover, his cover for his illegal activities was so thin that any duly diligent investigator would have immediately uncovered this information.

2. Guckert got very special treatment at the White House. Somehow a guy with no professional qualifications rocketed to the pinnacle of American political journalism. As I have argued elsewhere, it is plausible that Guckert's special treatment was related to background as a male escort.

2'. Suspiciously, Talon News, Guckert's "news organization" flickered into existence after he started working the West Wing and flickered out again after he got busted. It appears Talon was created expressly to provide distance between GOPUSA and Jim Guckert.

3. Guckert got a two-year stream of day passes while writing under a pseudonym. In order to get a day pass a reporter must complete a written application including his or her name and social security number. Maybe Guckert applied under a fake name, which presumably wouldn't have matched whatever social security number he gave. It seems absurd and/or alarming that the White House's security measures are so lax or inconsistent that such a ruse would go undetected for two years.

If he applied for as "Jeff Gannon" Guckert's intent was surely to deceive. If "Jeff Gannon" was just a pen name, Guckert could have applied for the pass as "Jim Guckert" and signed whatever pseudonym he liked to his news reports.

4. Perhaps Guckert applied for a press pass under his real name and merely wrote under a pseudonym. If so, the White House has even more explaining to do. The Press Secretary called on Guckert as "Jeff." Surely it is suspicious for a guy to hang around for two years stringing out a chronic day pass under a pseudonym. If Secret Service and the Press Secretary knew Guckert's real name, it would have been negligent not to at least Google it.

5. The White House's complicity in this fraud underscores their hypocrisy about gays and gay rights. An administration that won't recognize the civil rights of ordinary gay Americans is nevertheless willing to cover for the the homosexual prostitution of their friends.

Update: Digby mulls the kabuki ethics of Gannongate, and the Rude Pundit offers some bracingly rude and perceptive commentary on this story.

Guckert, homophobia, and sexism

Allan Hazlett of Fake Barn Country argues that liberals who exult in the downfall of Jim Guckert are being either being homophobic or wrongfully exploiting the homophobia of American culture.

That is to say, that while Guckert certainly did something wrong by using a fake name to get into the White House, he didn't get in trouble for that - he got in trouble for being gay and/or posing nude on the web and/or being or trying to be an escort. (Rich goes on to note that what is disturbing about this affair is not anything about Guckert, it's that there's "soft" and "loaded" questions being asked all the time at White House press conferences, by "reporters" that are nothing but lapdogs for the administration.)

This would not be a huge deal with this if it were just Guckert getting forced to resign by his homophobic bosses at Talon News - we knew they were homophobic, that's their bag, screw them. It's that Guckert got forced to resign by his homophobic bosses, and (it appears) some "liberals" (I still have Dowd in mind here) are reveling in it, enjoying watching a man lose his job and have his life destroyed because of his sexual life. Never mind that he was an asshole, a conservative reporter, who scammed his way into the White House - why mention the sex if that's not what we're offended by? [Emphasis added.]

I will argue that Guckert's career as a Washington escort is highly germane to the present scandal.

Guckert isn't a victim of homophobia but he is a beneficiary of sexism. Suppose a female prostitute were discovered in the White House press corps. Suppose, like Guckert, she had no qualifications whatsoever and seemed to be operating in a inexplicable bureaucratic limbo--hard pass privileges on an indefinitely renewed soft pass. Suppose she seemed to have had even more access than most of the hard pass press.

The first thing every would wonder would be "Who got her this job? Who is she fucking/blackmailing?" People would ask that even if this totally unqualified "reporter" weren't a prostitute. This is a reasonable question that any rational adult would ask. It's hard to see how else someone with so many liabilities could coast for so long. Maybe Guckert is the beneficiary of GOPUSA's nepotism rather than the White House's. But if that's true, why did the White House assiduously ignore the huge liabilities of Talon's mole?

Guckert is an anomaly that we are trying to explain. How did this guy get into the press corps? Guckert's journalistic qualifications don't explain his meteoric rise to the pinnacle of American political journalism. At best he got in because of his ideological credentials and his obsequious behavior. But it is absurd to think that Guckert's ruse could have gone unnoticed for two years with even minimal due diligence.

The most parsimonious explanation is that Guckert has a very special relationship with someone very important. Maybe he has a platonic tie to an insider--he could be family, a friend, a big time Republican donor, etc. But as a Washington escort, Guckert had an entree into the halls of power. His career no doubt made him privy to a lot of embarrassing information, the sort of thing that might be fodder for blackmail.

A hint of nepotism and/or blackmail in the White House is an issue of serious concern to the public. It's bad enough that the White House tolerated an ideological mole in the press corps. It would be much worse if that mole were a serious security risk. If Jim Guckert were having an affair with a White House insider, that liason would be a magnet for blackmail. Both the insider and Guckert would be vulnerable.

As a Washington escort, Guckert would have learned a great deal of "sensitive" information about powerful people. Perhaps someone was was encouraging him to be discreet by offering him a job.

February 25, 2005

Halliburton up for another $1.5 billion

Halliburton Could Get $1.5 Bln More Iraq Work-Army

Fri Feb 25, 2005 05:07 PM ET

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Halliburton Co., under scrutiny for its contracts in Iraq, would receive an extra $1.5 billion as part of the Bush administration's additional war spending proposal for fiscal 2005, a senior U.S. Army budget official said on Friday.

Halliburton, once led by Vice President Dick Cheney, is the largest corporate contractor in Iraq and has drawn fire for its no-bid contracts there, with auditors charging its Kellogg Brown and Root (KBR) unit overcharged for some work.

The Army's portion of a $81.9 billion supplemental spending package earmarked the extra funding for KBR under its LOGCAP (Logistics Civil Augmentation Program) contract to provide a wide range of services to U.S. troops in Iraq, the official said. The contract covers food and laundry services, trash collection, mail delivery and other support services. [...]

Evolutionary psychology and politics

Chris at Mixing Memory has a great post debunking some fashionable sociopolitical inferences from evolutionary psychology.

Not nihilists, nailists

It's estrogen week, so in lieu of the usual Bad Tattoos gallery, I give you Spirit Fingers on the extreme nail art of Hong Kong.

Click to view full-sized images

3d_flowers_1

Lily_pad_nail_1


Frosty_nail_1

More images below the fold.

Continue reading "Not nihilists, nailists " »

Intelligent MIDI sequencing with hamster control

Cornell student Levy Lorenzo created this three note polyphonic MIDI sequencer. Each channel has two hamsters, one controls the melody and one controls the rhythm.

Hamster MIDI project page includes a full report (pdf), audio, and video of the hamsters in action.

Abstract:

This project was initially fueled by the desire to explore the MIDI protocol. It was decided that this would be accomplished by building a MIDI device. I also aimed to make something novel that had never been done before. But to balance out the unusual nature of its design, I wanted to also to create something that was very musical.After much consideration of different technical design aspects and contemplating various musical ideas, I was able to arrive at a project that would fulfill all of my musical and engineering goals.An intelligent MIDI sequencer was designed with hamster control. The MIDI sequencer intelligently produced melodies by manipulating the musical elements of rhythm and note-choice. Guided by inputs based on hamster movements, Markov chains were used to perform such beat and note computations. In culmination, 3 simultaneous voices were produced spanning 3 octaves and 3 rhythmic tiers. Each voice was controlled by two hamsters: one that was responsible for adjusting the rhythmic qualities of the melody and another that modified the note sequence. With all of these elements in combination, an output was produced with very musical qualities.All of this was implemented using an Atmel Mega32 microcontroller, distance sensors, a HamsterMIDI Controller, and 6 hamsters. Embedded C programming implemented the algorithms and computations within the sequencer.Overall, this project was successful. The control between the hamsters and the musical intelligence turned out very well. The music sounds as good as I imagined, and I am very satisfied with the outcome of my design experience.

[Via Loren, via Music Thing.]