Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Circumcision And Parental Rights

San Francisco is trying to ban male circumcision. Apparently, they're following France's lead in passing laws that proscribe religious practice, i.e. Jewish circumcision. Their logic goes that removing chunks of your baby at a young age is mutilation in the same way that female circumcision is mutilation. While they're similar, male circumcision is much less destructive. With the female variant, you're not only removing skin, you're removing the densest ball of nerves on the human body. Moreover, female circumcision removes the vast majority of sexual pleasure... it's kind of the point. Male circumcision, while damaging sexual pleasure, does not eliminate it. So while both procedures count as mutilation, they are in different leagues as far as actual damage goes.

This case also runs counter to my belief that parental rights are paramount, even if that ends up killing the child. Parents, basically, have the right to do whatever they want to their child in their quest to raise the child "right." Considering that there are religious sects out there that won't bring their kids to doctors for any reason, letting parents remove a flap of flesh seems pretty inconsequential.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Watson Isn't AI

Not unexpectedly, Watson's dominating Jeopardy appearance is being billed as man vs. machine, but that's not at all accurate. Watson doesn't "remember" things, or think, or even really process. He knows grammatical rules, and is programmed kinda' sorta' with a custom version of Google. Imagine if someone playing Jeopardy was able to type very quickly, and when a question was asked, they could type that question into a search engine. The average person could dig up the answer very quickly, and we certainly wouldn't claim that person "won" anything. That's what Watson is doing. In fact, it's not even impressive enough to be voice-recognition. He receives the question via text.

That's not to say that Watson isn't incredible. He is. Essentially, the advances made in Watson could be put into newer and better search engines, letting users find answers to actual questions. Much like Ask Jeeves used to advertise, back in the day. Currently, finding difficult answers in search engines requires skill, silly as it sounds, in searching. You have to know how to use key terms, how to combine them, which tangents to follow, etc. Watson could significantly reduce that requirement.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Making Jurisprudence More Prudent

I'm reading up on the Amanda Knox trial, because her parents have just been indicted for slander for saying that Italian authorities abused her when she was in their care. I read a comment expressing happiness that both Knox and her parents were being brought to justice. This is entirely wrong.

I am perpetually amazed by the way people treat the law. They have a nasty habit of using justice and the law as though they are somehow linked; they aren't. The law is not justice, and justice rarely has anything to do with the law.

We, as a culture, are obsessed with legal proceedings bringing "closure," or "justice" to those wronged. It's funny how everyone who expects this says the same thing after their respective proceedings have closed, "It doesn't repair the damage, and I don't feel the hole is filled, but it's something." Precisely. It's something. It's something that most people don't understand, nor do they, in their insipidly simplistic world view, even think much about.

The law is a system for maintaining social order, that's all. It exists to pass judgments not based on any nebulous concept like justice, but to pass and enforce laws that provide for the smoothest operation of society. Not people. Not groups. Society as a whole. That is what the law concerns itself with. It does not care about YOU! Frequently, your concerns will be in line with the concerns of society because you are a part of society. And if the law doesn't provide for you, that is a concern because that means it fails to provide for some set hunk of the population. It is not a concern because you are somehow being wronged.

But back to Amanda Knox. There is certainly no guarantee that she is guilty. There is no guarantee that anyone is guilty. There are many cases that achieve near-open-and-shut status. For example, any case where there is nearly irrefutable video evidence showing the crime. But barring that, trials are case studies in epistemology. Are we justified and to what degree are we justified? That is what is essentially being determined by the court. A description of events that can never be proven or disproven, is presented, and we determine if we are justified in believing that series of events.

The consideration that almost never seems to be made explicit is the sad reality of uncertainty. Since we can never really know if we're right or wrong when a decision comes down, we must greet every verdict with a somber acceptance. It is never a time for celebration. If you are an aggrieved family member hoping to find justice for a murdered loved one, even if the person on trial is convicted, you must always recognize that the person who actually did it might not be the person in custody, and the conviction of the innocent person will thus cease further inquiries into the case.

It is this that sticks in my mind when I hear of prosecutorial misconduct, or police abuse. Sometimes they talk about "gut feelings" or other such nonsense, but frequently, they try to get a conviction even when it goes against common sense! This helps to remind me that oftentimes agents of the law have their own motivations, i.e. winning the case. It's a competition for them. It has nothing to do with justice, or even the law. It's a personal thing, and because of that the process fails. It fails because of them. Even if they get the conviction, it's quite possibly wrong, and the REAL CRIMINAL is running around free!

Legal proceedings are a sad thing. They do not bring closure or repair damage. They never know if they're right or wrong. And they don't care about individual people. In all cases, we, dispirited, must move onward with our heads held low, realizing that nothing the law could ever provide can heal the wounds wrought by failures of human nature.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Magic Jack

I really have to wonder how long Magic Jack is going to be around.

For those who haven't seen the omnipresent ads on TV, Magic Jack is this USB dongle that you pop into your internet-connected computer, and then plug your ordinary telephone into that dongle (dongle is a funny word). Your phone then acts as it normally would, and the whole deal costs you $40 for the dongle, then $20 per year.

How can they possibly charge only $20 per year for nationwide coverage? Simple. It's a scam! Not for the consumer, mind you, instead it scams the telephone companies themselves. It's a regulatory arbitrage scam. Long story short, back when the feds broke up AT&T in the early 1980's, they ended up with a number of very small local carriers located in lightly-populated, rural areas. These carriers argued (the truth of their argument is an entirely different argument) that they could never be profitable by themselves, so the government included a subsidy for them.

Here's how it works. Carriers aren't allowed to pick and choose to whom they will connect. If I am using Verizon in Boston and make a call to Washington, they are legally required to connect the call to Qwest. Qwest is legally required to accept the call. The major carriers suffer a great number of charges associated with these connections, but since they have such large populations, and each network is suffering equally, the numbers sort of equal out.

The small rural carriers, on the other hand, while still not allowed to pick and choose connections, are allowed to charge termination fees. Essentially, if I use Verizon to call some rural network in Nowhere, Wyoming, the phone company there charges Verizon a lot of money to complete the call. Verizon is legally obligated to pay these fees. Likewise, if those rural networks make a call, Verizon must connect the call and, again, pay the rural carrier money.

Magic Jack exploits this ridiculous, bureaucratic train wreck by having all of the calls you make beam across the internet to Magic Jack HQ, which has a deal with one of these rural carriers (known as CLECs). Your call is then rerouted through this rural carrier to wherever you're making the call. They incur long-distance fees to make these connections, but the termination fees that they're allowed to charge the telephone companies are so absurdly high that they cover all of the long distance and still allow for profit. This is a business model that exists purely because of stupid government fiddling. If we get rid of the subsidy, Magic Jack would disappear in less than a day.


In case you needed further proof that Magic Jack is run by scumbags, they offer no contact info on their home page. Their "parent" company, YMAX, which plays the role of the CLEC, is based out of a P.O. Box.

Can A Phone Service Provider Block Calls To Numbers It Doesn't Like? (TechDirt) Read the comments. The inventor of MagicJack weighs in.

What Males Do

Huffington Post has a short article about a bunch of high school girls rallying against a website that apparently rates the girls of that school in rather nasty terms. Sexist words are as one would expect, but racist words also permeate the website.

It got me thinking about men and our psychology. For example, I don't think that rape evolved, I suspect that it's a side-effect of males being prone to violence and being frustrated by something that they want, as such, they lash out in the form of rape. With this, we're talking about high-school boys. They can't be much older than seventeen, with the youngest clocking in at thirteen. Why on God's green Earth would they, at an age where they can barely poop correctly, feel the need to create a website to not only objectify girls, but to positively degrade them.

I suspect it's, again, because they want them, and they're too much a bunch of pussies to do anything about it, so they lash out. They want them, but they fear them. Mature, guys. Real mature.

400 Posts

I hit 400 posts with my last post. Yay.

Just Below and to The Side of The Influence.

A new study out of Temple University has shown that teenagers don't actually need peer pressure to do dumb shit. In fact, the mere presence of peers makes teens act in ways they otherwise would not. These peers were not saying anything, doing anything, truly, the peers in the experiment were not even visible to the experimental subject.

Anyone who actually remembers being a teenager will not find this study surprising. I did a number of very stupid things with friends with absolutely no goading on their parts. And what I hope this study helps people understand is that those god-awful, ridiculous, absolutely pointless Above the Influence PSA's that litter television and print DO NOTHING. They are addressing an imaginary problem!

I was asked if I wanted to smoke pot on precisely two occasions in my high school career. Both times, it was done in a friendly, social manner. This person was inviting me in as a show of friendship. There was no pressure. Never in the HISTORY OF TIME has the line "All the cool kids are doing it" been uttered by anyone but stand-up comics. Above the Influence fails for the same reason that Nancy Reagan and her retarded Just Say No campaign failed: it imagines an American child that doesn't exist.

P.S. The Just Say No campaign reached a point of hilarity by the mid 1990's. I have come across urinal cake holders with "Winners Don't Do Drugs" printed on them. I really don't know what demographic they were hoping to reach with that one.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Bayer Beyaz Commercial is Shockingly Straightforward (UPDATED)

Bayer has released a new birth control pill called Beyaz, which isn't notable in and of itself; it's the commercial that's amazing.

This is the most frank and truthful ad I have seen in a long time, especially in the world of prescription drugs. Most of them seem to imply that the drugs allow you to do things that you were never stopped from doing anyhow. For example, ads for herpes drugs show people in hot tubs, horseback riding, swinging from trees, sailing, and other weird shit that herpes wouldn't actually stop you from doing. They could at least use euphemisms for sex. But no. It was like the first ad for Claritin, where they had to legally avoid mentioning what the drug did, instead showing some guy windsurfing through a field of wheat, which eventually spelled out the logo. WTF? How does that convey allergy relief?!

But back to Beyaz. I actually find this ad refreshing. It's saying what lots of people are already thinking. Take this pill to prevent pregnancy, because babies ruin your life. TRUTH! Obviously, that's not only true for women, but they have the most to risk. Indeed, it is true for anyone who wants to be a parent, man or woman alike. Having a kid ruins your life for at least ten years. You can't do shit. You can't go to movies, you can't go to nice restaurants, you can't go on two-week trips to exotic locales. You need a baby sitter for everything.

I've read some commentary online where people are taking offense to the ad, saying that the ad implies that women can't have a kid and do fun stuff. They can't! Nor should they! If you aren't ready to focus your life on that kid, you shouldn't be having it. It's that simple. Having a child is a massive obligation. Possibly the greatest obligation that a human can accept. And frankly, the fact that the commercial doesn't sugarcoat the idea that having a kid isn't nearly as fun as visiting other countries, owning things, and finding love isn't at all offensive.

In fact, it is my opinion that life offers so many great things, having a kid borders on insane. If you have a child, you should have one for a wide array of emotional and philosophical reasons. If you can't articulate those reasons, you're not ready to have a kid. So take this pill.


A recent study has come out seemingly indicating that people who report how satisfying having kids is might be lying just a wee bit. Basically, people talk up the joys of parenting to gloss over the massive financial burden of children.

Me thinks they doth protest too much.

Jurassic Park Sucks

I just finished watching Jurassic Park, and regardless of what you may think of its direction, sound, script, or what have you, the thesis of the movie is faulty! We have multiple speeches about how we're arrogant for trying to bring something ancient back to life. We have no idea what will happen! Life will find a way!

I would like to point out that none of those things happened. What did happen? ONE greedy guy screwed around with the park to try and steal some company secrets. That has nothing to do with chaos theory, or life, or ancient species, or anything at all! People built it and people fucked it up. End of story. Start again, and don't fuck it up this time. You don't just stop with one of the great technological achievements of all time!

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Islam and the West

I'm watching Islam and the West on the Smithsonian Channel, and they have a number of Muslims trying to defend their faith.

One scholar tries to say that we need to give Islam time. It took the west a long time to achieve its goals, and Islam needs the same courtesy. Everything about this is wrong, at least from the perspective of a believer. First, this is the word of God. By accepting that the society needs time to grow is all but accepting that Allah is make believe. Because IT IS THE IMMUTABLE WORD OF GOD. The word of God now will be the same thing as the word of God in fifty years.

This makes perfect sense from a sociologist's or historian's perspective, but it still doesn't validate the beliefs, nor does it negate our attacks on Islam. Yes, it took the west quite a long while to stop with the whole empire building, mass slaughter, and monarchy nonsense, but WE HAVE. We did it! Hooray for us! It's the twenty-first fucking century and saying that Islam just needs time is no excuse to lampoon it as the culture of a slavering hoard of backward savages.

A Muslim cannot try to defend Islam, because their Islam and the Islam of the fanatics are on equal ground. They are both valid interpretations, and if the word Islam is to have ANY meaning, it must apply to something! Either Muslims are the psychos that crash into buildings with planes, or they aren't. Having millions of people calling themselves Muslims, while all having wildly divergent beliefs is nonsensical.

I want to stress that I'm not defending the west historically. Fair dinkum, the West has actually been much worse than the Islamic countries in regards to past atrocities. What I'm attacking is all that is happening now. Islam now is a tumor and a disappointment to the potential that was their culture 500 years ago.

Further Thoughts on Cults

I've seen a few documentaries on cults, and one scene, repeated in every production, that really sticks in my mind is the parents expressing their absolute disbelief that their kids could get sucked into a cult. They talk about how their child was popular, played sports, had parties, and all of the other trappings of everyday life in America.

But if statistics are correct, there is an incredibly high probability that these parents, and their little childers, are religious. Does this not make sense to you? Because it's certainly senseless to me. The core of your standard, every-day religions is identical to the core of cults. The only difference is the behaviors that develop around that core. What the parents are actually saying is that they can't believe that their child would abandon the behavior patterns that they inculcated into them.

Accepting religious belief as something valid opens the door to cults. It is a door that nearly 200,000 people walk through every year. No, the average American life is not specifically... cultogenic... is that a word? I just made it a word. American life is not specifically cultogenic, but it is also not specifically antagonistic to cults. The only way to be specifically antagonistic to cult thought is to engender critical thinking, and an absolute rejection of belief without evidence. Effectively, the only way to prevent your kids from falling into a cult is to eliminate religion. And don't eliminate it in an equally dogmatic way. Eliminate it by explaining all reasoning behind the decisions and beliefs. You must make the answers logically self-evident. Instilling this framework of logic and thinking is the way to save your kids, not by simply saying that these baseless behaviors are somehow correct in comparison to other baseless beliefs.