Friday, February 25, 2011

Cheesehead Shame

One could argue that the Wisconsin GOP's tactics in calling a vote for the governor's/Koch brother's state budget bill is balanced by the Democratic senators' quorum-denying maneuver of vacating the state.

Once one peruses the 140+ page bill in depth, however, all semblance of equivalency dissolves. The Republicans expose themselves as the corrupt and power-hungry scoundrels that they are.
To wit, this gem from the bill:
“Notwithstanding ss. 13.48 (14) (am) and 16.705 (1), the department may sell any state-owned heating, cooling, and power plant or may contract with a private entity for the operation of any such plant, with or without solicitation of bids, for any amount that the department determines to be in the best interest of the state. Notwithstanding ss. 196.49 and 196.80, no approval or certification of the public service commission is necessary for a public utility to purchase, or contract for the operation of, such a plant, and any such purchase is considered to be in the public interest and to comply with the criteria for certification of a project under s. 196.49 (3) (b).”
Basically, the governor can sell state assets to his cronies (read the Koch brothers?) for any sweetheart price he likes and not be subject to any oversight. In what way is this good government? Or government at all? As Krugman points out, this is more Baghdad than middle America and the governor and his buddies should be ashamed!

ht: pk

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


That's BUMPER STICKER of the day!
When Jesus said love your enemies, I think he meant don't shoot them.

Monday, February 21, 2011


Only in the lived out life, death and resurrection of the Word made flesh is God’s presence most fully encountered. But that is in tune with the way in which Torah in Judaism is also a vehicle of encounter...

Doug Chaplin

Many Christians are way too quick to jump on the bandwagon of the Impossible Law of the Jews. I always ask myself why that nation would treasure the so-called Law* for so many millenia if it were of such little use. Nice to see there are those recognizing the possible value of the Torah from the Christian side of the aisle.

* - As a bonus, Doug sets the record straight: Torah meant "Teaching" until the LXX translated it as "Law". As the much missed Emily Litella would have said, "Oh, that's very different.... Never mind!"

Thursday, February 17, 2011


Before Borland's new spreadsheet for Windows shipped, Philippe Kahn, the colorful founder of Borland, was quoted a lot in the press bragging about how Quattro Pro would be much better than Microsoft Excel, because it was written from scratch. All new source code! As if source code rusted.
Joel Spolsky, Joel on Software

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

By Any Other Name?

It is almost amusing to watch the kerfuffle over Bart Ehrman’s forthcoming book, Forged. From what I can determine from news coverage and the blurb on various websites, Dr. Ehrman is claiming that ancient writers sometimes used the names of persons of authority and wrote things that were not strictly true in order to win points for their theological side of the debates that characterized the first few centuries of the Christian era.

Ehrman’s sin it seems is in calling a spade a spade.

Jim West (who seems continuously on the prowl for his next outrage fix) sets the tone for the reaction on the conservative blogosphere. First the irony; in the very same sentence Doctor Pastor West states that Ehrman “cannot POSSIBLY know what intention was operative in the minds of the writers of those texts” while calling him a “publicity seeking deceiver”. Apparently Dr. West CAN POSSIBLY know what intention was operative in the mind of Dr. Ehrman! Tee Hee!

More to the point, is this criticism valid? Would any of Ehrman’s critics cringe if The Book of Mormon were referred to as a forgery? I doubt it. It would be universally acknowledged that throughout history religious writings were passed off as authentic works of figures from the Bible. A pile of works was rejected from the canon because each was suspected of being “inauthentic” – read “a forgery”. We all know it was going on. So if we can detect in a work some anachronistic element that conveniently counters a later “heretical” claim and have good reason to doubt the attributed authorship of the work then what other conclusion are we supposed to come to other than that it is a forgery perpetrated to further the views of the forger. It may soothe West’s feelings to call it mimicry but the fact is that even Paul was concerned about forgeries. To wit, he writes in 2 Thess 3:17 “I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand, which is the distinguishing mark in all my letters. This is how I write.” Why would Paul feel the need to authenticate his letters if so-called mimesis was harmless and nothing like that as nasty forgery?

Personally, I applaud Bart Ehrman’s attempts to bring these kinds of issues to the attention of a public who has is still being told that Moses wrote Deuteronomy and Matthew is an eyewitness account. Does he over do it sometimes? Yeah, perhaps. But compared to the twaddle that passes religious instruction these days, I am willing to take a risk.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Rumors of the Death of Hal

As I watched the Nova episode introducing our new overlord,the Jeopardy-playing computer named Watson, I was reminded of an observation my AI professor once made. The history of artificial intelligence is crisscrossed with lines drawn in the sand declaring something like,"machines are not intelligent because only humans can do X" whether X is playing chess or playing Jeopardy. When at last IBM produces a computer that can accomplish the forbidden task, the nay-sayers look under the hood and say, "It isn't really displaying intelligence. It is just some clever programming, etc..." Then they grab a bit of drift wood and start drawing a new line.

I am here to declare that I have seen under the hood and am willing to admit, "It isn't really displaying intelligence. It is just some clever programming, etc..."

There has been a seeming breakthrough in the last few years in the realm of computer translation. The best known example of this is the translation feature at After decades of research in language parsing and artificial intelligence, has the Holy Grail of AI been achieved? Not at all. Some computer scientists decided that they could do translation without understanding the content of the text they are translating. All they had to do was gather a large amount of text with corresponding translations in other languages and smash them together until, through clever programming, they can map one series of sub-phrases in Ukrainian to a statistically similar series in English. Turns out this is good enough for government work and the scientists involved deserve kudos. But let us be honest, what has happened is that they have thrown hardware at the problem in much the same they calculate the value of pi to rediculous decimal places.

Enter Watson.

How does this clever bit of programming convert the sometimes satirical Jeopardy clues to answers-in-the-form-of-a-question? It smashes vast amounts of text together along with vast numbers of historical Jeopardy clues until it winnows the possible answers to the most likely. Oh yeah, and in order to save Watson's hide prior to its debut on national television, the developers added a subroutine to use the other, human, players' answers to help understand the categories. I realize that the human players use their opponents responses to narrow down possible answers but it seems that Watson is piggy-backing on the human facility with language to glean the crucial factor of context.

The creators of Watson are quick to point out that they are not claiming that the machine is intelligent in any way that humans would recognize. I agree that it is merely a highly sophisticated search engine. However, judging by the way the project leader takes offense at jokes made at Watson's expense, the urge to anthropomorphize a "language using" machine is irresistible.

Although it sometimes seems that artificial intelligence has been thrown over in favor of flashy tools that "play" chess or game shows, perhaps this is good for the field. While Murray Wiggle (I swear that one of the developers looked just like the red Wiggle) labors to get Watson a date with Alex Trebek, researchers in AI are recognizing that no matter how many games of chess they win, they must conquer the things a five year old has mastered - e.g. the motivations of others - before they can arrive at true machine intelligence.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Doubleplusungood Oz

I finished The Oz Principle (no link provided for fear of spreading contagion) in advance of a day long training session on Oz. I am all a-quiver!

This questionable tome seems to be summed up with this gem in its last chapter:
most anything will work if you get Above The Line® and use your head
Basically, if your efforts are successful you were obviously following the authors principles. If you fail, you fell Below The Dredded Line. In the end they have covered their tails by redefining "GOOD" as "Above The Line" and "BAD" as "Below The Line".

Orwell would be proud.

Missing Mark Found!

In my last post I examined what the post-resurrection appearance in Matthew's gospel might tell us about original ending of Mark. It was late and, well, I'm a moron so I left out the other equally probable interpretation.

Instead of having an indication that Matthew was "correcting" an appearance-less Mark, Matthew may be preserving the original but now lost ending of Mark. Matthew obviously has very little tradition of Jesus appearances to draw on and the short scene he did include would be in keeping with the sparsity of Mark's narrative. Are the vocabulary and grammar sufficiently Markan to warrant this conclusion or my previous one? I will have to leave that analysis to the experts.

Now imagine that Matthew got to the end of his source, Mark, found no post-resurrection Jesus and just, well, stopped like Mark did. Wouldn't "is told among the Jews to this day" make a snazzy ending. I can just see Matthew stoking his beard significantly as he reads these words to the audience at the Gospel Slam. Now we would have both Mark's and Matthew's sitting around with the ends exposed and the scribes having to fix up both!