Tuesday, December 26, 2006

The problem of induction

[Even more fun than the problem of evil.]
The problem of induction is the philosophical issue involved in deciding the place of induction in determining empirical truth. The problem of induction is whether inductive reason works. That is, what is the justification for either:
  1. generalizing about the properties of a class of objects based on some number of observations of particular instances of that class of objects (for example, "All swans we have seen are white, and therefore all swans are white", Hume's Problem of Induction, C18, pre discovery of Cygnus atratus in Australia); or
  2. presupposing that a sequence of events in the future will occur as it always has in the past (for example, the attractive force described by Isaac Newton's law of universal gravitation, or Albert Einstein's revision in general relativity).

Francis Bacon, Isaac Newton, and numerous others up until at least the late 19th century have considered inductive reasoning the basis of scientific method—indeed inductive reasoning is used today, though in a more balanced interaction with deductive reasoning and abductive reasoning. By the inductive approach to scientific method, one makes a series of observations and forms a universal generalization. If correct and stated in a sufficiently accurate way, an inductively arrived at statement relieves others of the need for making so many observations and allows them to instead use the generalization to predict what will happen in specific circumstances in the future. So, for instance, from any series of observations that water freezes at 0°C at sea-level it is valid to infer that the next sample of water will do the same--but only if induction works. That such a prediction comes true when tried merely adds to the series; it does not establish the reliability of induction, except inductively. The problem is, then, what justification can there be for making such an inference?

David Hume framed the problem in An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, §4.1.20-27, §4.2.28-33[1]. Among his arguments, Hume asserted there is no logical necessity that the future will resemble the past. Justifying induction on the grounds that it has worked in the past, then, begs the question. It is using inductive reasoning to justify induction, and as such is a circular argument. This logical positivist formulation of the problem would prove to be a tenacious counterargument to the use of inductive propositions. Further, even the largest series of observations consistent with a universal generalization can be logically negated by just one observation in which it is false. By Hume's arguments, there also is no strictly logical basis for belief in the Principle of the Uniformity of Nature. Notably, Hume's stated position on the issue was that instead of unproductive radical skepticism about everything, he actually was advocating a practical skepticism based on common sense, where the inevitability of induction is accepted (but not explained). Hume noted that someone who insisted on sound deductive justifications for everything would starve to death, in that they would not, for example, assume that based on previous observations of, e.g., what time of year to plant seeds, or who has bread for sale, even that bread previously nourished them and others, that these inductions would likely continue to hold true. Hume nonetheless left a lasting legacy by showing that there is no absolute certainty to any induction, even those inductions for which a contrary has never been observed. Bertrand Russell elaborated and confirmed Hume's analysis in his 1912 work, The Problems of Philosophy, chapter 6.[2] (see also: logical positivism)

Karl Popper, an influential philosopher of science, sought to resolve the problem in the context of the scientific method, in part by arguing that science does not primarily rely on induction, but rather primarily upon deduction, in effect making modus tollens the centerpiece of his theory. On this account, when assessing a theory, one should pay greater heed to data which is in disagreement with the theory than to data which is in agreement with it. Popper went further and stated that a hypothesis which does not allow for experimental tests of falsity is outside the bounds of science. However, critics of Popper's approach to solving the problem, such as the famous utilitarian and animal rights advocate Peter Singer, argue that Popper is merely obscuring the role induction plays in science by concealing it in the step of falsification. In that, they mean that the proposition of something having been falsified is in and of itself a scientific theory and can only be assumed to be definitive through induction; no matter how many times a proposition is demonstrated to be accurate, when taken as a strict matter of logic it cannot necessarily be assumed that the proposition will always be accurate under the same circumstances. For this reason, among others, contemporary scientific research tends to regard hypotheses and theories as tentative, validated in terms of degrees of confidence rather than true/false propositions.

Nelson Goodman presented a different description of the problem of induction in the article "The New Problem of Induction" (1966). Goodman proposed a new property, "grue". Something is grue if it has been observed to be green before a given time t, or if it is has been observed to be blue thereafter. The "new" problem of induction is, since all emeralds we have ever seen are both green and grue, why do we suppose that after time t we will find green but not grue emeralds? The standard scientific response is to invoke Occam's razor.


Sunday, December 17, 2006

William Rawls

[Where has this site been? Down in the hole -- lost to the latest season of "The Wire." And now that we're all caught up, a week-long wiki-review of the show's most interesting characters seems in order. So here goes, fictional characters. Let's start with the one with the biggest secret: (WARNING: SPOILERS FOLLOW.)]
William Rawls is a fictional Police officer in the Baltimore Police Department played by John Doman on the HBO drama The Wire. Over the course of the series he has ascended to the rank of Deputy Commissioner of Operations. Only brief glimpses have been seen of his personal life, but it has been strongly implied that he is a closet homosexual....

Nothing has been shown of Rawls's personal life, with one exception: he appeared, out of uniform, in the background in a scene which took place in a gay bar.[2]

....Rawls lack of a sense of humour and distinctive technique for intimidating others is based on real Baltimore CID commander Joe Cooke, although Rawls is far more banal. Simon has also commented that Rawls attitude to the murder rate and his units clearance record is a product of the extreme pressure he is under.[4]


Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Gödel's incompleteness theorems

[Spun off from Monday's toughie, first-order logic. This one's just on the border of comprehensibility, but kind of in the way that Reykjavik borders New York.]
In mathematical logic, Gödel's incompleteness theorems are two celebrated theorems about the limitations of formal systems, proved by Kurt Gödel in 1931 .These theorems show that there is no complete, consistent formal system that correctly describes the natural numbers, and that no sufficiently strong system describing the natural numbers can prove its own consistency....

Gödel's theorems are theorems in first-order logic, and must ultimately be understood in that context. In formal logic, both mathematical statements and proofs are written in a symbolic language, one where we can mechanically check the validity of proofs so that there can be no doubt that a theorem follows from our starting list of axioms. In theory, such a proof can be checked by a computer, and in fact there are computer programs that will check the validity of proofs. (Automatic proof verification is closely related to automated theorem proving, though proving and checking the proof are usually different tasks.)

To be able to perform this process, we need to know what our axioms are. We could start with a finite set of axioms, such as in Euclidean geometry, or more generally we could allow an infinite list of axioms, with the requirement that we can mechanically check for any given statement if it is an axiom from that set or not (an axiom schema). In computer science, this is known as having a recursive set of axioms. While an infinite list of axioms may sound strange, this is exactly what's used in the usual axioms for the natural numbers, the Peano axioms: the inductive axiom is in fact an axiom schema — it states that if zero has any property and whenever any natural number has that property, its successor also has that property, then all natural numbers have that property — it does not specify which property and the only way to say in first-order logic that this is true of all properties is to have infinitely many statements.

Gödel's first incompleteness theorem shows that any such system that allows you to define the natural numbers is necessarily incomplete: it contains statements that are neither provably true nor provably false.

The existence of an incomplete system is in itself not particularly surprising. For example, if you take Euclidean geometry and you drop the parallel postulate, you get an incomplete system (in the sense that the system does not contain all the true statements about Euclidean space). A system can be incomplete simply because you haven't discovered all the necessary axioms.

What Gödel showed is that in most cases, such as in number theory or real analysis, you can never create a complete and consistent finite list of axioms, or even an infinite list that can be produced by a computer program. Each time you add a statement as an axiom, there will always be other true statements that still cannot be proved as true, even with the new axiom. Furthermore if the system can prove that it is consistent, then it is inconsistent.

It is possible to have a complete and consistent list of axioms that cannot be produced by a computer program (that is, the list is not computably enumerable). For example, one might take all true statements about the natural numbers to be axioms (and no false statements). But then there is no mechanical way to decide, given a statement about the natural numbers, whether it is an axiom or not.

Gödel's theorem has another interpretation in the language of computer science. In first-order logic, theorems are computably enumerable: you can write a computer program that will eventually generate any valid proof. You can ask if they have the stronger property of being recursive: can you write a computer program to definitively determine if a statement is true or false? Gödel's theorem says that in general you cannot.

Many logicians believe that Gödel's incompleteness theorems struck a fatal blow to David Hilbert's program towards a universal mathematical formalism which was based on Principia Mathematica. The generally agreed upon stance is that the second theorem is what specifically dealt this blow. However some believe it was the first, and others believe that neither did....


Tuesday, November 28, 2006


[This is either a bad article, or a hard subject. You decide.]
The lift force, lifting force or simply lift consists of the sum of all the fluid dynamic forces on a body perpendicular to the direction of the external flow approaching that body.

Sometimes the term dynamic lift (dynamic lifting force) is used in reference to the vertical force resulting from the relative motion of the body and the fluid, as opposed to the static lifting force resulting from the buoyancy.

The most straightforward and frequently-mentioned application of lift is the wing of an aircraft. However there are many other common, if less obvious, uses such as propellers on both aircraft and boats, rotors on helicopters, fan blades, sails on sailboats and even some kinds of wind turbines.

While the common meaning of the term "lift" suggests an "upwards" action, in fact, the direction of lift (and its definition) does not actually depend on the notions of "up" and "down", e.g., as defined with respect to the direction of the gravity. Specifically, the term negative lift refers to the lift force directed "down".

There are a number of ways of explaining the production of lift, all of which are equivalent. That is, they are different expressions of the same underlying physical principles....


Monday, November 27, 2006

First-order logic

[A theme week? Well, why not. Let's start with extremely difficult subjects, things that make your head spin. So here's #1:]
First-order logic (FOL)
, also known as first-order predicate calculus (FOPC), is a system of deduction extending propositional logic (equivalently, sentential logic). It is in turn extended by second-order logic.

The atomic sentences of first-order logic have the form P(t1, ..., tn) (a predicate with one or more "arguments") rather than being propositional letters as in propositional logic. This is usually written without parentheses or commas, as below.

The new ingredient of first-order logic not found in propositional logic is quantification: where φ is any sentence, the new constructions ∀x φ and ∃x φ -- read "for all x, φ" and "for some x, φ" -- are introduced. For convenience in explaining our intentions, we write φ as φ(x) and let φ(a) represent the result of replacing all (free) occurrences of x in φ(x) with a, then ∀x φ(x) means that φ(a) is true for any value of a and ∃x φ(x) means that there is an a such that φ(a) is true. Values of the variables are taken from an understood universe of discourse; a refinement of first-order logic allows variables ranging over different kinds of objects.

First-order logic has sufficient expressive power for the formalization of virtually all of mathematics. A first-order theory consists of a set of axioms (usually finite or recursively enumerable) and the statements deducible from them. The usual set theory ZFC is an example of a first-order theory, and it is generally accepted that all of classical mathematics can be formalized in ZFC. There are other theories that are commonly formalized independently in first-order logic (though they do admit implementation in set theory) such as Peano arithmetic....


Friday, November 24, 2006

The tryptophan turkey

[From non-Wik haunts: Feeling sleepy? Don't look to the bird.]
"Turkey does contain tryptophan, an amino acid which is a natural sedative. But tryptophan doesn't act on the brain unless it is taken on an empty stomach with no protein present, and the amount gobbled even during a holiday feast is generally too small to have an appreciable effect. That lazy, lethargic feeling so many are overcome by at the conclusion of a festive season meal is most likely due to the combination of drinking alcohol and overeating a carbohydrate-rich repast, as well as some other factors...."


Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Centurion Card

[For when you get phat money.]
The Centurion Card, popularly known as the Black Card, is American Express's most exclusive charge card. Urban legends of a special, black-colored card offering dignitaries and celebrities unlimited spending power and after-hours access to high-end stores circulated in the 1980s. [1] While the rumors were false, American Express decided to capitalize on them by launching the Centurion Card in October 1999 to selected holders of The Platinum Card®, with an annual fee originally at $1,000.

The card is available only by invitation and, as of January 1, 2006, requires minimum annual spending of $250,000 on another American Express card and exceptional credit history among other requirements. Certain requirements have been known to be waived for major celebrities and business figures. "Charter" cardmembers that joined at the $1000/year annual fee are "grandfathered" at that rate as long as they hold the card. If they cancel and re-join, it will be at the higher rate. As of 2006 the annual new cardholder fee was $2,500 and it is estimated that there are fewer than 10,000 cards issued worldwide. The card offers numerous exclusive privileges, including complimentary companion airline tickets on trans-Atlantic flights, personal shoppers at retailers such as Escada, Gucci and Saks Fifth Avenue, access to airport clubs, first class flight upgrades, membership in Sony's Cierge personal shopping program, and dozens of other elite club memberships. Centurion membership also includes personal services including a personal concierge and travel agent. The program offers many hotel benefits, including a free one-night's stay in every Mandarin Oriental hotel worldwide (excluding the New York City property) once a year....

The card is available both as a personal and a business card. A new Centurion card crafted from anodized titanium [2] is being issued as a replacement for all U.S. Centurion plastic cards in the first half of 2006. Centurion members in other countries have previously received this titanium card....

Several rappers have referenced use and possession of the black card in their lyrics. For example, Kanye West's lyric, "She was like, 'Oh my God, is that a black card?' / I turned around and replied 'Why yes, but I prefer the term "African American Express"'", and Bow Wow's reference in the track "I Think They Like Me (Remix)" with the line "I ain't got to act hard / I'm under 21 with a black card"....


Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Other: page view rank vs number of employees

pages employees company (subsidiary sites)
110000Yahoo! (Hotjobs, Flickr , etc)
290000TimeWarner(AOL, CNN, Netscape, etc)
310000Google (YouTube, Blogger, etc)
470000Microsoft(MSN, Hotmail, etc)
550000News Corp(Myspace, Fox, IGN, etc)
612000eBay (Paypal, Skype, etc)
9130000Disney (ESPN, Go, ABC, etc)
1012000Amazon (IMDB, A9, etc)

[More(via SVN)]


[When your magic is most potent.]
Halloween is a tradition celebrated on the night of October 31, most notably by children dressing in costumes and going door-to-door collecting sweets, fruit, and other treats. It is celebrated in parts of the Western world, most commonly in the United States, Canada, the UK, Ireland, and with increasing popularity in Australia and New Zealand, as well as the Philippines. In recent years, Halloween is also celebrated in parts of Western Europe, such as Belgium and France. Halloween originated as a Pagan festival among the Celts of Ireland and Great Britain with Irish, Scots, Welsh and other immigrants transporting versions of the tradition to North America in the 19th century. Most other Western countries have embraced Halloween as a part of American pop culture in the late 20th century.

The term Halloween, and its older spelling Hallowe'en, is shortened from All-hallow-even, as it is the evening before "All Hallows' Day"[1] (also known as "All Saints' Day"). The holiday was a day of religious festivities in various northern European Pagan traditions, until Popes Gregory III and Gregory IV moved the old Christian feast of All Saints Day from May 13 to November 1. In Ireland, the name was All Hallows' Eve (often shortened to Hallow Eve), and though seldom used today, it is still a well-accepted label. The festival is also known as Samhain or Oíche Shamhna to the Irish, Calan Gaeaf to the Welsh, Allantide to the Cornish and Hop-tu-Naa to the Manx. Halloween is also called Pooky Night in some parts of Ireland, presumably named after the púca, a mischievous spirit.

Many European cultural traditions hold that Halloween is one of the liminal times of the year when spirits can make contact with the physical world and when magic is most potent (e.g. Catalan mythology about witches, Irish tales of the Sídhe).....

Halloween did not become a holiday in America until the 19th century, where lingering Puritan tradition meant even Christmas was scarcely observed before the 1800s. North American almanacs of the late 18th and early 19th centuries make no mention of Halloween in their lists of holidays.[11] The transatlantic migration of nearly two million Irish following the Irish Potato Famine (1845–1849) brought the holiday and its customs to America. Scottish emigration from the British Isles, primarily to Canada before 1870 and to the United States thereafter, brought that country's own version of the holiday to North America.

When the holiday was observed in 19th-century America, it was generally in three ways. Scottish-American and Irish-American societies held dinners and balls that celebrated their heritages, with perhaps a recitation of Robert Burns' poem "Halloween" or a telling of Irish legends, much as Columbus Day celebrations were more about Italian-American heritage than Columbus. Home parties would center around children's activities, such as bobbing for apples and various divination games, particularly about future romance. And finally, pranks and mischief were common on Halloween....

There is little primary documentation of masking or costuming on Halloween in America, or elsewhere, before 1900.[15] Mass-produced Halloween costumes did not appear in stores until the 1930s, and trick-or-treating became a fixture of the holiday in the 1950s, although commercially made masks were available earlier.


Monday, October 30, 2006

Daylight saving time

[Note the lack of citations in the criticism section.]

Daylight saving time (DST), also known as summer time, is a widely used system of adjusting the official local time forward, usually by one hour from its official standard time, for the spring, summer, and early autumn periods. The term Daylight savings time, although commonly used, is technically incorrect.

DST is most commonly used in temperate regions, due to the considerable variation in the amount of daylight versus darkness across the seasons in those regions.

Governments often tout it as an energy conservation measure, on the grounds that it allows more effective use of natural sunlight resource in summer time. Since there is less darkness in the "waking day", there is less use of electric lights. Some opponents reject this argument (see below, Criticism).

Europeans commonly refer to the system as summer time: Irish Summer Time, British Summer Time, and European Summer Time. This is reflected in the time zones' names as well, e.g., Central European Time (CET) becomes Central European Summer Time (CEST)....

Rationales for DST

One of the major reasons given for observing DST is energy conservation. Theoretically, the amount of residential electricity needed in the evening hours is dependent both on when the sun sets and when people go to bed. Because people tend to observe the same bedtime year-round, by artificially moving sunset one hour later, the amount of energy used is theoretically reduced. A 1975 United States Department of Transportation study showed that DST would theoretically reduce the country's electricity usage by 1% from March to April, if implemented during these months.[3] These numbers have been supported in Mexico, which began implementing daylight savings time in 1996. Evaluations show a national savings of 0.7% of national electric consumption (1.3 billion KWh TWh) and reduction of peak load by 500MW[4].

Part of the reason that it is normally observed only in the early spring, summer, and early autumn instead of the winter months is that the amount of energy saved by experiencing sunset one hour later would be negated by the increased need for artificial morning lighting due to a later sunrise. During the summer most people would wake up after the sun rises, regardless of whether daylight saving time is in effect or not, so there is no increased need for morning lighting to offset the afternoon drop in energy usage. Another reason for not observing daylight saving time in the winter is concern about children walking to school in the dark.

Another argued benefit of DST is increased opportunities for outdoor activities, including shopping in tourist areas. Most people plan outdoor activities during sunlight hours. Other benefits cited include prevention of traffic injuries (by allowing more people to return home from work or school in daylight), and crime reduction (by reducing people's risk of being targets of crimes that are more common in dark areas).

When the U.S. went on extended DST in 1974 and 1975 in response to the 1973 energy crisis, Department of Transportation studies found that observing DST in March and April saved 10,000 barrels of oil a day, and prevented about 2,000 traffic injuries and 50 fatalities saving about U.S. $28 million in traffic costs.

Criticism of DST

DST is not universally accepted and many localities do not observe it. Opponents claim that there is not enough benefit to justify the need to adjust clocks twice every year. The disruption in sleep patterns associated with setting clocks either forward or backward correlates with a small increase in the number of fatal auto accidents,[5] (cf. above estimate of net decrease in fatal auto accidents of 50) as well as lost productivity as sleep-disrupted workers adjust to the schedule change.[6] It is also noted that much effort is spent reminding everyone twice a year of the change, and thousands are inconvenienced by showing up at the wrong time when they forget.[citation needed] Since DST exchanges morning daylight for evening daylight, late sunrises occur when DST is in effect either too far before the vernal equinox or too far after the autumnal equinox and darkness in the morning can be undesirable for early risers like schoolchildren and workers who must awaken at 6:30 a.m. or earlier.

There is also a question whether the decrease in lighting costs justifies the increase in summertime air conditioning costs. Workers arriving home to an empty house during hotter hours will need to use more energy to cool their house.[citation needed]

It is also speculated that one of the benefits—more afternoon sun—would also actually increase energy consumption as people get into their cars to enjoy more time for shopping and the like.[citation needed]

DST's twice-annual shifts in recorded time cause legal and business-operational complications, as shown in the following examples. During a North American time change, a fall night during which clocks are reset from 2 a.m. DST to 1 a.m. Standard Time, times between 1 a.m. and 2 a.m. will occur twice, causing confusion in transport schedules, payment systems, etc.[citation needed] DST's annual autumn shift in recorded time—which causes an hour of the same numerical name to be recorded twice—also means that people born during one of those two hours have no way to know which of standard time or DST was used to record the time of their birth, unless someone such as a parent makes a note of it; birth certificates rarely keep track of this. A British politician, Lord Balfour, noted the legal complications in British law: "Supposing some unfortunate Lady was confined with twins and the first child was born 10 minutes before 3 o'clock British Summer Time. ... the time of birth of the two children would be reversed. ... Such an alteration might conceivably affect the property and titles in that House."[7]

Daylight saving time also causes much confusion with international business, people who commute across time zones, and computer networks that span multiple time zones. One particular problem for scheduling systems is that it makes the length of a day variable. Each year there is one 23 hour day and one 25 hour day, causing display and time tracking problems, especially when coordinating events between time zones.

Some studies do show that changing the clock increases the traffic accident rate.[8] Following the spring shift to DST, when one hour of sleep is lost, there is a measurable increase in the number of traffic accidents that result in fatalities.

People who work nights often have an extra hassle logging how many hours they worked, since it will be either one hour more or one hour less than the simple difference in start/stop times.

DST is particularly unpopular among people working in agriculture[9] because they must rise with the sun regardless of what the clock says, and thus the people are placed out of synchronization with the rest of the community, including school times, broadcast schedules, and the like.

Other critics suggest that DST is, at its heart, government paternalism and that people rise in the morning as a matter of choice because many people enjoy night-time hours and their jobs do not require them to make the most of daylight. Different people start their day at different times (office workers start their day later than factory workers, who start their day later than farm workers), regardless of daylight saving time.



[How to know how to do it.]
A heuristic is a replicable method or approach for directing one's attention in learning, discovery, or problem-solving. It is originally derived from the Greek "heurisko" (εὑρίσκω), which means "I find". (A form of the same verb is found in Archimedes' famous exclamation "eureka!" – "I have found [it]!") The term was introduced in the 4th century CE by Pappus of Alexandria.

The study of heuristics is sometimes called heuristic, but more often called heuristics. Heuristics, in this sense, is treated as a singular, like physics or mathematics.[1]

The mathematician George Pólya popularized heuristics in the mid–20th century, in his book How to Solve It. He learned mathematical proofs as a student but he did not know, nor was he taught, the way mathematicians arrived at such proofs. How to Solve It is a collection of ideas about heuristics that he taught to maths students – ways of looking at problems and formulating solutions.

How to Solve It describes the following common and simple heuristics:

  • If you are having difficulty understanding a problem, try drawing a picture.
  • If you can't find a solution, try assuming that you have a solution and seeing what you can derive from that ("working backward").
  • If the problem is abstract, try examining a concrete example.
  • Try solving a more general problem first (the "inventor's paradox": the more ambitious plan may have more chances of success).

Adjective: (e.g. "is it heuristic?") applies to research or intellectual pursuits. For example, a good theory or idea may be heuristic in that it attempts to find something out or stimulates further investigation. When critiquing theories in the sciences good theories tend to be heuristic....


Thursday, October 19, 2006

Tết Offensive

[Will this month's surge in American deaths in Iraq become a turning-point propaganda victory for the insurgents? An analogue:]
The Tết Offensive (January 30, 1968 - June 8, 1969) was a series of operational offensives during the Vietnam War, coordinated between battalion strength elements of the National Liberation Front's People's Liberation Armed Forces (PLAF or Viet Cong) and divisional strength elements of the North Vietnam's People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN), against South Vietnam's Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN), and United States military and other ARVN-allied forces. The operations are called the Tết Offensive as they were timed to begin on the night of January 30–31, 1968, Tết Nguyên Đán (the lunar new year day). The offensive began spectacularly during celebrations of the Lunar New Year, and sporadic operations associated with the offensive continued into 1969.

The Tết Offensive can be considered a crushing military defeat for the Communist forces, as neither the Viet Cong nor the North Vietnamese army achieved any of their tactical goals. Furthermore, the operational cost of the offensive was dangerously high, with the Viet Cong essentially crippled by the huge losses inflicted by South Vietnamese and other Allied forces. Nevertheless, the Offensive is widely considered a turning point of the war in Vietnam, with the NLF and PAVN winning an enormous psychological and propaganda victory. Although US public opinion polls continued to show a majority supporting involvement in the war, this support continued to deteriorate and the nation became increasingly polarized over the war.[1] President Lyndon Johnson saw his popularity fall sharply after the Offensive, and he withdrew as a candidate for re-election in March of 1968. The Tết Offensive is frequently seen as an example of the value of propaganda, media influence and popular opinion in the pursuit of military objectives....

In total, the United States estimated that 45,000 Viet Cong and PAVN soldiers were killed, though this figure may be significantly lower due to the nature of overclaims. About 6,000 were captured, with the number of wounded being unclear. The USA, ARVN, and allied Australian and South Korean forces suffered 4,324 killed, 16,063 wounded, and 598 missing....

The Viet Cong's operational forces were effectively crippled by the Offensive. Many Viet Cong who had been operating under cover in the cities of South Vietnam revealed themselves during the Offensive and were killed or captured. The organization was preserved for propaganda purposes, but in practical terms the Viet Cong were finished. Formations that were referred to as Viet cong were in fact largely filled with North Vietnamese replacements. In reality, this change had little effect on the war, since North Vietnam had no difficulty making up the casualties inflicted by the war.[12] The National Liberation Front (the political arm of the Viet Cong) reformed itself as the Provisional Revolutionary Government of South Vietnam, and took part in future peace negotiations under this name.

The Communist high command did not anticipate the psychological effect the Tết Offensive would have on America. For example, the attack on the U.S. Embassy was allocated only 19 Viet Cong soldiers, and even the expenditure of this force was considered by some VC officers to be misguided. Only after they saw how the U.S. was reacting to this attack did the Communists begin to propagandize it. The timing of the Offensive was determined by the hope that American and South Vietnamese forces would be less vigilant during the Tết holiday. It was purely coincidence that it occurred at a time when it would have maximum effect on a U.S. presidential Election....

That the Communists were able to mount a major, country-wide assault at all was a blow to U.S. hopes of winning the war rapidly, and starkly called into question General Westmoreland's now-infamous public reports of the previous progress in the War. Likewise, the optimistic assessments of the Johnson administration and The Pentagon came under heavy criticism and ridicule.

Seeing the complete collapse of the PAVN/Viet Cong offensive, the lopsided casualty ratio, the lack of a popular uprising in support of the attacks, and the failure of the attacking forces to gain and hold significant territorial assets, Westmoreland considered it an appropriate opportunity for a counteroffensive action. He put together a request for 206,000 additional troops to prosecute the war in the wake of the Offensive, a move that would have required mobilization of the U.S. Reserves.

While this was being deliberated, the request was leaked to the press and published across three columns of the Sunday edition of The New York Times on March 10, 1968. Then-Lieutenant Colonel Dave Palmer later wrote in Summons of the Trumpet: "Looked upon erroneously but understandably by readers as a desperate move to avert defeat, news of the request for 206,000 men confirmed the suspicions of many that the result of the Tết Offensive had not been depicted accurately by the President or his spokesmen. If the Communists had suffered such a grievous setback, why would we need to increase our forces by 40 percent?"

Many people, both at the time and in retrospect, have criticized the U.S. media for the negative light in which it portrayed both the war in general and the Tết Offensive in particular. Earle Wheeler, then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, complained of "all the doom and gloom we see in the U.S. press" after Tết.

The most famous example of an anti-war attitude on the part of an influential press figure was Walter Cronkite's special report on the war of February 27, 1968. After touring the ruined streets and battlefields of the Tết Offensive and interviewing discouraged soldiers and officers in the field, he directly criticized the military leadership and the Johnson administration: "We have been too often disappointed by the optimism of the American leaders, both in Vietnam and Washington, to have faith any longer in the silver linings they find in the darkest cloud." He concluded by saying that the U.S. was "mired in a stalemate" and called for a negotiated end to the conflict.[14]

Days after the publication of the New York Times story concerning Westmoreland's request for additional troops, President Johnson suffered a staggering setback in the United States Democratic Party New Hampshire Primary, finishing barely ahead of United States Senator Eugene McCarthy. Soon after, Senator Robert F. Kennedy announced he would join the contest for the Democratic nomination, further emphasizing the plummeting support for Johnson's Administration in the wake of Tết. Although some have asserted Johnson's lack of support implied the public sought disengagement from Vietnam, others have suggested it was Johnson's failure to prosecute the war effectively that caused his decline at the polls. On March 31, Johnson announced he would not seek reelection, and announced a halt to the bombing of North Vietnam.

Also in March of 1968, Johnson announced that General Westmoreland would be replacing General Harold K. Johnson as Army Chief of Staff. Although technically a promotion, few doubted that Westmoreland was being "kicked upstairs" in response to Tết...[15]


Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Jack Thompson

[The warrior.]
John Bruce “Jack” Thompson (born July 25, 1951) is an American attorney and activist against obscenity and violence in media and entertainment, based in Coral Gables, Florida. Thompson describes himself as a Christian conservative and a Republican.[1]

After an initial foray into politics, Thompson concentrated his efforts on activism against obscenity, particularly obscenity in rap music and broadcasts by radio personality Howard Stern. More recently, he has focused on violence as well, particularly in the content of computer and video games and their alleged effects on children....

Thompson first met Janet Reno in November 1975, when he applied for a job as an assistant State’s Attorney in Dade County. He was not hired.[5] In 1988, he ran for prosecutor against then incumbent Dade County State Attorney Janet Reno. At the time, Thompson was involved in a feud with local radio host Neil Rogers and Reno had declined his request to prosecute Rogers.[6] Thompson was instrumental in getting the FCC to fine Miami radio station WIOD $10,000 for airing such parody songs as “Boys Want to Have Sex in the Morning” on Rogers’ show.[2] Thompson also sued the station for violating a December 1987 agreement to end on-air harassment against him. Thompson had complained to the station after Rogers solicited homosexuals to join Thompson on his vacation; Rogers aired Thompson’s address and phone number. Thompson claimed one of the terms of his agreement with the station was that it would pay him $5,000 each time his name was mentioned. For the next eight months he recorded all of Rogers’ broadcasts and documented 40,000 mentionings of his name, so he asked for $200 million in the suit.[7]

Thompson gave Reno a letter at a campaign event requesting that she check a box to indicate whether she was homosexual, bisexual, or heterosexual. Thompson said that Reno then put her hand on his shoulder and responded, “I’m only interested in virile men. That’s why I’m not attracted to you.”[8] He filed a police report accusing her of battery for touching him. In response, Reno asked Florida governor Bob Martinez to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate.[9] The special prosecutor rejected the charge and concluded that Thompson did it as “a political ploy.” Reno was ultimately re-elected with 69% of the vote. Thompson repeated allegations that Reno was a lesbian when she was nominated as U.S. Attorney General, leading one of her supporters, lieutenant governor Buddy MacKay, to dismiss him as a “kook.”[8]

In 1990, after his election loss, Thompson began a campaign against the efforts of Switchboard of Miami, a social services group of which Reno was a board member. Thompson charged that the group was placing “homosexual-education tapes” in public schools. Switchboard responded by getting the Florida Supreme Court to order that he submit to a psychiatric examination. Thompson did so and passed, and since then has stated on more than one occasion that he is “the only officially certified sane lawyer in the entire state of Florida....”[10]

Thompson came to national prominence in the controversy over 2 Live Crew’s As Nasty As They Wanna Be album. (Luke Skyywalker Records, the company of 2 Live Crew’s Luther Campbell, had previously released a record supporting Reno in her race against Thompson.)[11] On January 1, 1990, he wrote to Martinez and Reno asking them to investigate whether the album violated Florida obscenity laws. Although the state prosecutor declined to proceed with an investigation, Thompson pushed local officials in various parts of the state to block sales of the album, along with N.W.A’s Straight Outta Compton.[12] In sending documents to opponents, Thompson would frequently attach a photocopy of his driver's license, with a photo of Batman pasted over his own, just to make sure they knew who they were dealing with. Thompson said, "I have sent my opponents pictures of Batman to remind them I'm playing the role of Batman. Just like Bruce Wayne helped the police in the movie, I have had to assist the sheriff of Broward County." He also wore a Batman wristwatch.[13] Thompson compared Campbell to the Joker.[14] Thompson also said, “I understand as well as anybody that the First Amendment is a cornerstone of a free society — but there is a responsibility to people who can be harmed by words and thoughts, one of which is the message from Campbell that women can be sexually abused.”[2]

Thompson also took issue with another 2 Live Crew song, "Banned in the USA." Thompson sent a letter to Jon Landau, manager of Bruce Springsteen, whose song "Born in the USA" was to be sampled by the group. Thompson suggested that Landau "protect `Born in the U.S.A.' from its apparent theft by a bunch of clowns who traffic toxic waste to kids," or else Thompson would "be telling the nation about Mr. Springsteen's tacit approval" of the song, which, according to Campbell, "expresses anger about the failure of the First Amendment to protect 2 Live Crew from prosecution."[15] Thompson also said, "the "social commentary" on this album is akin to a sociopath's discharging his AK-47 into a crowded schoolyard, with the machine gun bursts interrupted by Pee Wee Herman's views on politics."[16]

The members of 2 Live Crew responded to these efforts by suing the Broward County sheriff in federal district court. The sheriff had previously told local retailers that selling the album could result in a prosecution for obscenity violations. While they were granted an injunction because law enforcement actions were an unconstitutional prior restraint on free speech, the court ruled that the album was in fact obscene. An appellate court reversed the obscenity ruling, however, because simply playing the tape was insufficient evidence of the constitutional requirement that it have no artistic value.[17]

As the debate continued, Thompson wrote, “An industry that says a line cannot be drawn will be drawn and quartered.”[18] He said of his campaign, “I won’t stop till I get the head of a record company or record chain in jail. Only then will they stop trafficking in obscenity.”[19] Bob Guccione Jr., founder of Spin magazine, responded by calling Thompson “a sort of latter-day Don Quixote, as equally at odds with his times as that mythical character was,” and argued that his campaign was achieving “two things...: pissing everybody off and compounding his own celebrity.”[20] Thompson responded by noting, “Law enforcement and I put 2 Live Crew’s career back into the toilet where it began.”[21]

Thompson wrote another letter in 1991, this time to Minnesota attorney general Hubert H. Humphrey III, complaining about the N.W.A album Efil4zaggin. Humphrey warned locally-based Musicland that sales of the album might violate state law against distribution of sexually explicit material harmful to minors. Humphrey also referred the matter to the Minneapolis city attorney, who concluded that some of the songs might fit the legal definition if issued as singles, but that sales of the album as a whole were not prosecutable.[22] Thompson also initiated a similar campaign in Boston.[23] Later, Thompson would criticize the Republican Party for inviting N.W.A member and party donor Eric “Eazy-E” Wright to an exclusive function.[24]

In 1992, Thompson was hired by the Freedom Alliance, a self-described patriot group founded by Oliver North, described as "far-right" by the Washington Post. By this time, Thompson was looking to have Time Warner, then being criticized for promoting the Ice-T song “Cop Killer,” prosecuted for federal and state crimes such as sedition, incitement to riot, and “advocating overthrow of government” by distributing material that, in Thompson's view, advocated the killing of police officers.[25] Time Warner eventually released Ice-T and his band from their contract, and voluntarily suspended distribution of the album on which Cop Killer was featured.

Thompson’s push to label various musical performances obscene was not entirely limited to rap. In addition to taking on 2 Live Crew, Thompson campaigned against sales of the racy music video for Madonna’s “Justify My Love.”[26] Then in 1996, he took on MTV broadcasts for “objectification of women” by writing to the station’s corporate parent, Viacom, demanding a stop to what he called “corporate pollution.”[27] He also went after MTV’s advertisers and urged the U.S. Army to pull recruiting commercials, citing the Army’s recruitment of women and problems with sexual harassment scandals....[28]

More recently, Thompson has heavily criticized a number of video games and campaigned against their producers and distributors. His basic argument is that violent video games have repeatedly been used by teenagers as “murder simulators” to rehearse violent plans. He has pointed to alleged connections between such games and a number of school massacres. According to Thompson, “In every school shooting, we find that kids who pull the trigger are video gamers.”[29] Also, he claims that scientific studies show teenagers process the game environment differently from adults, leading to increased violence and copycat behavior.[30] According to Thompson, “If some wacked-out adult wants to spend his time playing Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, one has to wonder why he doesn’t get a life, but when it comes to kids, it has a demonstrable impact on their behavior and the development of the frontal lobes of their brain.”[31] Thompson has described the proliferation of games by Sony, a Japanese company, as “Pearl Harbor 2.”[32] According to Thompson, “Many parents think that stores won’t sell an M-rated game to someone under 17. We know that’s not true, and, in fact, kids roughly 50 percent of that time, all the studies show, are able to walk into any store and get any game regardless of the rating, no questions asked.”[33]

Thompson has rejected arguments that such video games are protected by freedom of expression, saying, “Murder simulators are not constitutionally protected speech. They’re not even speech. They’re dangerous physical appliances that teach a kid how to kill efficiently and to love it.” In addition, he has attributed part of the impetus for violent games to the military, saying that it was looking “for a way to disconnect in the soldier’s mind the physical act of pulling the trigger from the awful reality that a life may end.”[34] Thompson further claims that some of these games are based on military training and simulation technologies, such as those being developed at the Institute for Creative Technologies, which, he suggests, were created by the Department of Defense to help overcome soldiers’ inhibition to kill.[35] He also claims that the PlayStation 2's DualShock controller "gives you a pleasurable buzz back into your hands with each kill. This is operant conditioning, behavior modification right out of B.F. Skinner's laboratory."[36]


Tuesday, October 03, 2006

1983 Congressional page sex scandal

The 1983 Congressional page sex scandal was a political scandal in the United States involving members of the United States House of Representatives.

On July 14, 1983 the House Ethics Committee concluded that Rep. Dan Crane (R-Ill.) and Rep. Gerry Studds (D-Mass.) had engaged in sexual relationships with minors, specifically 17-year-old congressional pages. In Crane's case, it was a 1980 relationship with a female page and in Studds's case, it was a 1973 relationship with a male page. Both representatives immediately pleaded guilty to the charges and the committee decided to simply reprimand the two.

However, Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) demanded their expulsion. On July 20, 1983 the House voted for censure, the first time that censure had been imposed for sexual misconduct. Crane, who tearfully apologized for his transgression, lost his bid for reelection in 1984.

Studds, however, stood by the facts of the case and refused to apologize for his behavior, and even turned his back and ignored the censure being read to him. He called a press conference with the former page, in which both stated that the young man, who was 17, consented. Studds had taken the adolescent to Morocco to engage in sexual activity, and therefore did not break any U.S. laws in what he called a "private relationship."[1] He continued to be reelected until his retirement in 1996....


Tuesday, September 26, 2006

L’Origine du monde

[What a title!]

L’Origine du monde (The Origin of the World) is an oil on canvas painted by Gustave Courbet in 1866. Measuring about 55 cm by 46 cm (21.7 by 18.1 inches), it depicts the close-up view of the genitals and belly of a naked woman, lying on a bed and spreading her legs.

The framing of the scene, between the thighs and the chest, emphasizes the eroticism of the work. Moreover, an erect nipple and the redness of the vaginal lips suggest that the model had just had a sexual encounter....

L’Origine du monde was painted in an era when moral values were being questioned. By the very nature of its realistic, graphic eroticism, the painting still has the power to shock....

During the nineteenth century, the display of the nude body underwent a revolution whose main activists were Courbet and Manet. Courbet rejected academic painting and its smooth, idealised nudes, but he also directly recriminated the hypocritical social conventions of the Second Empire, where eroticism and even pornography were acceptable in mythological or oneiric paintings.

Courbet later insisted he never lied in his paintings, and his realism pushed the limits of what was considered presentable. With L'Origine du monde he has made even more explicit the eroticism of Manet's Olympia. Maxime Du Camp, in a harsh tirade, reported his visit of the work’s purchaser, and his sight of a painting “giving realism’s last word”....

In February 1994 the novel Adorations perpétuelles (Perpetual Adorations) by Jacques Henric, reproduced L’Origine du monde on its cover. Police visited several French bookshops to have them withdraw the book from their windows. A few proprietors, such as the Rome bookshop in Clermont-Ferrand, maintained the book, but others such as Les Sandales d’Empédocle in Besançon complied, and some voluntarily removed it. The author was saddened by these events: “A few years ago, bookshops were counter-powers. When the Ministry of Interior, in 1970, banned Pierre Guyotat’s book, Eden, Eden, Eden, bookshops had been resistance places. Today, they anticipate censorship…”.

Although moral standards and resulting taboos regarding the artistic display of nudity have evolved since Courbet, owing especially to photography and cinema, the painting remained provocative. Its arrival at the Musée d'Orsay caused high excitement. A guard was permanently assigned to the monitoring of this sole work, to observe the reactions of the public....


Friday, September 22, 2006

Honor system

[Note: Doesn't work with thieves.]
The honor system is a philosophical way of running a variety of endeavors based on trust and honor. Something that operates under the rule of the "honor system" is usually something that does not have strictly enforced rules behind its functioning. In the UK, it would more often be called a "trust system" and should not be confused with the British honours system.

A person engaged in a honor system has strong negative connotations associated with breaking or going against it. The negatives may include things like community shame, loss of stature, or in extreme situations, banishment....

In some places, public transportation such as trains operate on an honor system. The local government may find it impractical or overly expensive to install ticket-checking turnstiles at every station, and instead rely on casual human surveillance to check if all train riders possess tickets. In such a system one could thus ride the train without paying, and simply hope to be lucky enough to avoid a random ticket check during the trip. Though unethical, such behavior is impossible for an honor system by itself to prevent, although the behavior can be reduced by enforcing penalties for those who choose to cheat the system.

Some hotels in continental Europe operate an honor bar, allowing guests to serve and record their own drinks and saving the cost of a night bartender. Patrons could theoretically lie about their drink consumption, and the hotel would have only limited powers to verify their claims. The concept of hotel "mini bars" in the United States is similar.

Many publicly funded museums and art galleries around the world ask for a certain "suggested" or "minimum" donation in exchange for admission. Patrons are almost never supervised during their donations, so there is no way of making sure the suggested minimum is being paid.

In some colleges, the honor system is used to administer tests unsupervised. Students are generally asked to sign an honor code statement that says they will not cheat or use unauthorized resources when taking the test. As an example, at the Washington & Lee University a student taking an examination is required to sign, date and include the following pledge: "On my honor as a student I have neither given nor received aid on this examination." There is but one penalty for transgression of the honor code, and that is dismissal from the University.

Another example can be seen in fundraising drives. Many charities distribute boxes of confectionery to businesses, which are placed in waiting rooms or similar for people to purchase items from. The confectionery is free to be removed by anyone who wishes to take it, and there is no enforcing of payment other than through the expectation of honesty. Indeed, most such boxes of confectionery bear the comment 'Your honesty is appreciated' near where money is deposited....