bhurt-aw

Dynamic Languages are Static August 20, 2014 | 04:06 pm

This article is a response to this blog post. The problem with this post is that it makes several mistakes around the behavior of sum types, which undrcut the argument the post is making. I want to explain why Bob Harper’s original (and admittedly some-what flaime-baity) post is correct.

But first, I need to actually state the argument Bob Harper was making. He was said that every dynamic language could be incoded as a sum type in a static language. As example of this, let me demonstrate exactly how to do this, by encoding lisp into a sum type in haskell:

    data Lisp =
        LInt Int
        | LString String
        | LSymbol String
        | LList [ Lisp ]

This says a Lisp value is either an Int (labelled with the tag LInt), a String (LString), a Symbol (LSymbol), or a list of Lisp values. You can, if you feel like, extend this with more data types- add floats, and doubles, and chars, and vectors, and maps, and sets, etc. I can then happily write functions that take and return my Lisp values.

At this point, the OP makes a critical error right about here- she assumes that the values 3 and LInt 3 are the same. They aren’t. No, you can’t add an integer and a string in Haskell- but you can write an add function (of type Lisp -> Lisp -> Lisp) which can add an LInt 3 to an LString "foo".

This is interesting because it demonstrates another point the OP missed. So let’s consider the add function, to add two lisp function together. As there are two arguments, and each argument can be one of four different types (variants), you might think I need to write 16 different case statements down. You’d be wrong. The code looks like:

    add :: Lisp -> Lisp -> Lisp
    add (LInt x) (LInt y) = Lint (x + y)
    add _ _ = error "add called with a non-integer argument"

The _ is a discard matcher- it matches anything. And since matching precedes in order, and the first pattern to fit is the one that is evaluated, if both arguments are ints, the first expression is evaluated, and we get an int. If any of the other 15 different situations occurs, then the second expression is evaluate, and we throw an error at run time. Just like Lisp. In this way, the _ acts as a sort of escape hatch from having to deal with all the different cases, which all get handled the same way anyways. Indeed, the whole Lisp type itself acts as a sort of escape hatch.

From one angle, all Bob Harper has done here is restate Greenspun’s tenth law. But here’s the difference, and the point Harper was making: we can choose not to use the Lisp type. By taking a value of type Lisp, we are expressly stating that this function takes any value that can be encoded as an s-expression. If that’s what we mean, all right. But we have the choice of using a more restrictive type, we express something of the assumptions the function is making.

This is what Bob Harper meant by more expressive. Everything we can express in language X was can also expression in language Y- but there are things we can express in language Y that we can not in language X. For example, that a given function doesn’t handle every possible case.

Repealing Godwin’s Law August 3, 2014 | 02:22 pm

Memetic drift has changed Godwin’s Law from a wry observation, to an indication that useful conversation is over, to a statement that discussing Fascism at all is verboten. Discussion of Fascism at all has been fraught for some time- most people seem to think the definition of “fascist” is “someone I don’t like”. Which is why Obama can be both a communist and a fascist (and if your proof that this makes sense is that the Nazi’s had the word “socialist” in their party name, then North Korea is a Democracy).

Which is unfortunate, because there are a lot of lessons from that era that need learning. One that has been weighing on my heart a lot lately is just this: The final solution was not the first solution tried. The history most people remember has the Nazis gaining power, and then one day going “Hey, I know: let’s kill all the jews!” There is no logic to the decision, no progressions, and certainly no parallels to any other situations- just the innate evilness of nazis.

But first, let me back up and ask a simple question: what was the problem to which the final solution was a (proposed) solution? In the most general terms, the problem was one of having an existing subculture you’ve decided is a problem. The very existence of this subculture is harming you (you think). By striping the problem of it’s specific cultural aspects, it becomes more obvious that the holocaust was not unique, that many other countries/cultures have faced the same problem. Two other examples I want to point at this juncture is the American (US) and apartheid South Africa’s behavior towards blacks, and our behavior to the Native Americans (especially in the 19th century).

Now the question is: if the final solution was not the initial solution tried, what where the previous (non-final) solutions tried? And why did they fail, and how does that lead to the final solutiom?

I count four steps on this express lane to hell. Step one is ghettoization. So, you have a subculture- jews, blacks, native Americans, doesn’t matter- who a problem, you quarantine them. They have their own parts of the city, or their own land over there, and you make sure they don’t come over here. It’s no coincidence that ‘ghetto’, a term which originally described the jewish sections of european cities also got applied to the black sections of US cities. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck…

Of course, there turns out to be two problems with this. First, it’s hard to make sure they stay over on their land/neigborhoods. As the saying goes, a 10 foot wall just sells 12 foot ladders (“Mr. Perry, tear down this wall!”). But the bigger problem is just that land is expensive. Especially city property- gee, you have this neighborhood which is only a 45 minute commute from Wall Street? Guess what- Harlem gets gentrified. Even forcing the problem subculture into waste land that no one wants now only works until oil or uranium or something is found under the land, as the Native Americans can well attest.

So, as ghettoization fails, the solution number two presents itself: deportation. Pack up the problem subculture and send them somewhere else. Of course, this fails as well. As a general rule, everyone has more than enough problems of their own, and aren’t interested on taking on someone else’s problems.

So deportation fails, which leads to solution number three: incarceration. Round up the problem subculture and put them in jail. It’s a gray line between extreme ghettoization and actual incarceration- but the line gets crossed when the subculture gets packed so tight that some form of support from the majority culture is needed. Of course, now you’re responsible for feeding, clothing, and housing the entire subculture. You can try to make them productive by forcing them to work- but prison labor is never worth it (in terms of productivity, it’s generally worthwhile to simply have the guards do the work, and get rid of the prisoners). And as soon as things get tight (and they will always get tight, sooner or later), the cost of maintaining the subculture in the prisons will become unsustainable, and some way to reduce the cost of keeping them in jail.

At which point we reach the final solution: just kill them. And welcome to hell, and deservedly so. But hey, at least it really solves the problem of the subculture.

There is an inevitable logic to the situation, which is not at all specific to Germany in the 1930′s. With the US and Blacks, we’ve gone at least to step 2 (look up the history of Liberia), and arguably to step 3 (consider the War on Some Drugs). And the path is not always walked cleanly or discreetly- for example, during World War 2, the US skipped steps 1 and 2 and went right to step 3 with respect to Japanese Americans. And the US again skipped step 3 with the native Americans, and went directly to step 4 (small pox blankets? Really? You expect me to not see through that ploy?).

But the logic still applies. The only way off is to redefine the problem. Stop labelling the subculture as a problem, make the subculture no longer “them” but now just a part of “us”. This may require a redifinition of what your culture is. Germany, for example, would have had to give up it’s vision of being a Christian Aryan nation, and admitted it’s plurality. The US had (has) to give up it’s vision of itself as a european and christian nature, and admit it’s pluralistic nature- that Native Americans and Japanese Americans and African Americans are all, first and foremost Americans. Just like Irish Americans, German Americans, French Americans, Italian Americans, Polish Americans, Chinese Americans, Mexian Americans, etc., are.

The holocaust was not the result of unqiue circumstances in Germany in the 1930′s. It was the inevitable and logical result of bigotry. And anywhere where bigotry flurishes, against anyone, there is the possibility of a new holocaust. This is the true problem with Godwin’s law, the shouting down of anyone talking about Fascism, especially in relationship to anything else. The lesson not taught is the lesson learned the hard way. Not talking about the Fascists means the Fascists will rise again.

The fundamental conflict between Science and Religion July 10, 2014 | 05:29 pm

First off, an apology for my long silence on this blog. Life intervened (and I don’t even have the excuse Robert has, not having spawned a subprocess). But I’d like to take the opportunity to address a topic that’s been bothering me for a while.

There is a widespread belief, especially among the more liberal theists, that religion and science can somehow be reconciled. Simplifying to the point of near-insult, this belief holds that science only applies to sciency things, like gravity or sucrose consumption by the mitocrondria, or things like that. While religion only applies to religousy things, like the meaning of life or whose outies get to go in whose innies, and so on. Or, to use bigger words, that science and religion are non-overlapping magisteria, and thus are not in conflict (unless one or the other is stepping out of bounds).

Or, to put it another way, theologians are demanding rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty.

The problem I have is just this: religion’s right to define what the meaning of life is, and whose outies go into whose innies, is predicated on having a communications to channel to the creator of all. And the existance of this communication channel is itself subject to scientific proof- or disproof. And the evidence says that the communication channel doesn’t exist.

Before I go on, two comments I’m going to need to make. First of all, there is no proof so strong, so irrefutable, that someone can’t go “nuh uh!” The existence of people who disbelieve in evolution, or global warming, or even the round earth, proves this. So simply because you refuse to accept the proof doesn’t mean the proof isn’t valid.

Second, yes, abscence of evidence doesn’t qualify as evidence of absence. But evidence of absence *does*. There is a difference between not having looked for something (absence of evidence), and having looked for it and not found it (evidence of absence). There are accepted scientific proofs tha something doesn’t exist. A classic example of this is the luninous ether. Basic logic said it had to exist- water waves don’t exist without water, and sound waves don’t exist without air, so if light was a wave, then it had to be a wave in something. Unfortunately, the Michaelson-Morley experiments (which were repeated multiple times in differing circumstances) failed to find any evidence for the ether. Conclusion: it didn’t exist. We had evidence of absence.

So, with those points in mind, I present my argument. Let’s engage in a thought experiment. Lets us assume I suddenly announce that I am in contact with an alien species. For long, irrelevent reasons, I can only communicate with this species, I’m not in physical contact (so I can’t pocket a alien artifact, as Neil deGrasse Tyson advises). And they won’t communicate with you, only with me. And let us furthr assume you’re willing to at least entertain the possibility that I’m telling the truth and not just a crank- it’s a thought experiment, work with me here.

Even under those constraints, it is still possible to determine, with a very high degree of certainity, whether I’m telling the truth or not- whether my aliens are real, or just a figure of my imagination. You could ask for an explanation of how to reconcile relativity and quantum mechanics, say, or a proof of the Goldbach conjecture, or whether P=NP (and a proof of whichever), and so on. These are things we humans are likely to figure out ourselves in the next century or two- any alien civilization advanced enough to be comunicating with other start systems is almost certainly will have the answer to those questions.

So, if you ask me to ask my alien friends these questions, and I come back later with pages of mathematics that cause the experts in those fields to get all exicited, that counts as pretty strong evidence that the aliens are real. On the other hand, if I come back with mealy-mouthed excuses (“those are problems humans are supposed to solve for themselves”), that’s pretty strong evidence that the aliens are simply figments of my imagination. I may still enthusiastically insist that my aliens are really real, but it’s hard for any rational person to take my claim seriously.

And something to note: my aliens are every bit as mortal, every bit as limited, every bit as physical, as humans are. They’re just in sixth grade while humans are still in first grade. They’re just a little bit more knowledgable, a little bit more technologically advanced, than we humans are. They don’t violate the fundamental laws of physics (well, except possibly relativity’s ban on information travelling faster than light, but even that I can get around by positing worm holes). They don’t cause logical paradoxes. Given the approximately 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000
stars in the visible universe, even hardened skeptics would be surprised if aliens didn’t exist- the only surprising thing is my claim that I’m in contact with them. It is just insane to hold religions to a lower standad of evidence than we hold my aliens to.

This is, at the end, just a thought experiment (no, I’m not really in contact with aliens). But it demonstates the fundamental problem religion has, and why it runs into fundamental conflict with religion.

Science has shown us huge things. Provable things. Things the all-knowing creator of all *has* to know. Why didn’t God say something? “Dude- it’s *round*. I know it doesn’t look like it to you, but trust me! From up here, you can’t mistake it’s round. Yep. A sphere. OK, oblate spheroid, if you want to get technical. Anyways, here’s how you prevent smallpox, and save billions of lives over the next couple of millenia…” In fact, there’s no religious book I know of that contains demonstable information that wasn’t known to well read people at the time they are written.

Yes, I know that God doesn’t work that way. God requires faith for reasons. Just like my hypothetical aliens who didn’t provide a proof of Goldbach’s conjecture, God acts in ways that are mysteriously indistinguishable from being a fiction.

Note that this is a challenge that still holds. Next time God communicates with you, I’ve got some questions to ask him. This is the challenge that science poses for religion. Not (just) that we have figured things out since holy scripture was written, but that we are still, today, finding new things out. Things God could have communicated, but strangely didn’t.

And without this pipeline to he is who is, religion loses all claim to it’s magisteria. No, science can’t speak to whether gay marriage is moral or not- but neither can religion. Religion can not be used as a basis for morality- because it’s basis for morality (communication with the supreme being) doesn’t exist. Science may not be able to disprove god- but it can (and has) disproven your god, a god who communicates.

A religion which does not want to confront this dilemna has no basis to influence anything. They are not unlike Emperor Norton, who declared himself Emperor of United States and Protector of Mexico. Just because you claim dominion, doesn’t mean you have dominion.

If anything, the biblical literalists, the fundamentalists, are more honest in their faith. Their position is that God did tell the biblical writers the real truth, in plain language and with no mealy mouthed excuses about poetry and limited understanding, and it’s science who has it wrong. Of course, their problem is that the science refuses to go away (evolution isn’t science any more, it’s technology).

They’re wrong, but no more wrong than those who hold that science and religion are not in unavoidable conflict.

Morality and Probability September 30, 2012 | 08:33 pm

I’ve been noodling around with a response to Robert about god-less morality for a while now, and I’ve come to the conclusion that a large part of my problem is that the subject is so large, that condensing the whole thing down into a single blog post is impossible. So I’ve decided to start splitting it up into multiple blog posts (as the muse moves me), each dealing with a small corner. And I’ve decided to tackle the “gotcha” question for utilitarian morality: whether you would kill someone if you knew that you’d make $1 doing so, and that there were no other consequences of said action.

The idea here is that, to make a choice like this, you’d draw up a little diagram like this:




Result
Perform actionB1 – C1
Don’t perform actionB2 – C2

Where here, “perform action” means “kill this person”, and Bn is the benefit of performing (or not) said action, and Cn is the cost. Simplistic utilitarian philosophy says that if B1 – C1 > B2 – C2, you should perform the action. The trick question has us set B1 – C1 = +1 dollar, and B2 – C2 = 0, and thus show that those with utilitarian morality are evil people who’d kill someone for a single lousy buck.

The first thing I’d like to point out is religious moralists are also utilitarian moralists, they just have some additional potiential costs and benefits added to the equation, based on the reactions of their deity, that atheistic utilitarian moralists don’t have. The argument is that no earthly reward can compensate for an eternity of punishment, so $1, $1 million dollars, $1 trillion dollars, it doesn’t matter what the reward is, it’s not worth it.

But deist-based costs can change as well. One can fairly ask the religious people if they would kill someone for $1, if they knew that God wouldn’t punish them for doing so? That’s the equivalent to the question first posed in this post. Indeed, you can go much further along this spectrum, and ask if they would kill someone, even if the face of extreme corporial cost, if they knew God would reward them for doing so? What earthly, temporary, punishment isn’t worth suffering for eternal reward? Abraham proved his faith by being willing to kill even his own son for eternal reward. And, more recently, this is exactly the logic that suicidal terrorists use. If God wanted you to blow yourself up in a crowded market place, and would reward you for all eternity, would you do it?

Of course, there’s a key word, and all it implies, I’ve been throwing around with impunity, which is “know”. We’ve been assuming that the benifits and the consequences of both committing and not committing the action are known with absolute certainity. Once we open up the possibility that we might be wrong, the situation becomes a little more complex. Our table above now becomes:




We’re rightWe’re wrong
Perform actionB1 – C1B3 – C3
Don’t perform actionB2 – C2B4 – C4

And if the probability that we’re right is P (as a fraction), and thus the probability that we’re wrong is (1-P), the equation to determine if we should perform the action becomes: P*(B1 – C1) + (1-P)*(B3 – C3) > P*(B2 – C2) + (1-P)*(B4 – C4). We’ve been implicitly assuming that P = 1, and that thus (1-P) = 0, in which case this equation simplifies to the one above. But once we accept the possibility that P can be less than 1, that there is a possibility that we’re wrong, the equation literally changes.

So let’s take a look at the gotcha question a second time, using the full equation with the assumption that we could be wrong. Now, if we’re right, things remain the same- so B1 – C1 = 1 dollar, and B2 – C2 = 0. Furthermore, we assume that B4 – C4 = 0 as well, that if I pass on killing the person, and I’m wrong, there are still no consequences. Now, lets consider B3 – C3, the result if I kill the person and am wrong about there being no repercussions. In this case, even absent any divine retribution, I’m looking at serious negative consequences- a trial for certain, followed probably by either a lengthy and unpleasant prison stay, or possibly even the death penalty. B3 – C3 is a very large negative number.

So it all comes down to P. If P is close enough to 1, if I have enough confidence that I’m right, then the utilitarian argument is in favor of committing murder. Note that I would argue that it is impossible for P to be equal to 1. You can’t know for certain that, over my future life expectency, that we won’t suddenly develop remote time viewing technology, and that once the historians and paparrazi have had their field days, the cops don’t decide to go through their backlog of unsolved crimes and disappearances to determine what actually happened, and suddenly I’m up for murder one again. Current physics says such a capability is impossible, but current physics doesn’t have a workable theory of quantum gravity, and has aboslutely no idea what 96% of the universe is made of (the dark matter and dark energy). So neither you nor anyone else can rule out such a possibility. And such technological leaps are happening- there has been a spate of rape and murder convinctions recently of very old cases, based on recently discovered DNA evidence. Evidence that, at the time the crime was committed, wasn’t known to exist. So people who had thought they had literally gotten away with murder are now discovering that they were mistaken.

The next thing to understand is that we humans suck at probability. We suck badly enough in abstract, more or less purely mathematical situations where P can be calculated quite accurately- ask any serious poker player about how often suckers draw to an inside straight. But we suck even worse in amorphous, real world situations where P can not be calculated exactly. Like what the probability is that we won’t leave any incriminating evidence at the scene of the crime. We wildly over to underestimate probabilities all the time. This is because the heuristics are brains use to calculate probabilities, which served us well on the Serengeti, fail spectacularly in the modern world. Witness how many people are terrified of flying, when it’s much more likely you’ll be killed driving to the airport.

Given that P can not be mathematically deduced, and given that our intuitions are probability are prone to wild inaccuracies, the only logical course of action is to assume that P, the probability that we’re right, is much lower than we think. This will tend to drive our decisions towards choices that avoid catastrophic downsides if we’re wrong, even to the point of missing potential opportunities. To pass up the opportunity to make a quick buck, to avoid the possibility of being hauled up on murder charges. A rule of thumb might be that any P value greater than about 0.85 (5/6th) should be assumed to be 5/6th. That you can’t be 99% sure about anything. At which point, the gotcha question has a simple, obvious answer- the downside to being wrong is greater than $6, so it’s not worth the risk of being wrong.

This does raise the issue of why crimes happen, given that it’s not rational, given then logic I just gave. And the answer is that people are often irrational. And we not only suck at probability, we suck at math in general (especially when our emotions are involved).

This allows me to raise another point. I have, in other debates, called Communism a religion. Part of this is that it shares the trappings of religion- it has it’s own ten commandments, it hates all other religions (“You shall not make for yourself any carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God”), you go to a special building or room every weekend where you listen to specially elected person who reads passages from the special books and gives a lecture on their meaning, interspersed with chants and songs, and so on.

But the key commonality between Communism and religion is just this: the illusion of certainity. Communism’s illusion of certainity came from a misunderstanding or deliberate perversion of both the theory and practice of science. Religion’s illusion of certainity comes from the claimed communication with the omnipitent omnipresent omnipotent creator of all, who (by definition) can not be wrong. And this is the great danger in both religion and communism- all of the great crimes, all of them, throughout history, all the wars and genocides, were committed by people who firmly believed that it was inconceivable that they were wrong. Inconceivable, I say!

In this sense, the current atheist/skeptic philosophy is diameterically opposite of both communism and religion. It’s response is literally “I do not think that word means what you think it means.” Not only is it conceivable, history has shown time and again that we humans are never more likely to be wrong than when we are certain we are right. As Oliver Cromwell said, “I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible that you may be mistaken.”

Programmers need to know math! June 2, 2012 | 08:12 pm

OK, I’m wigging out again. The debate has come up *again* as to whether or not programmers need to know math. The answer, in my mind, is an unarguable “yes”. If you don’t, then many things will be extremely hard, and some things impossible, which people who do know the math will find quite easy. But rather than take the high road, and make vague and unconvincing general arguments, I thought I’d dive down into the details and list the higher level mathematics I’ve found useful in my programming career. Note that the high school level mathematics- algebra, geometry, trigonometry, I’m going to ignore. This is the higher level stuff- stuff mathematicians think is mathematics. This is a personal list, and off the top of my head, so it is no doubt incomplete.

Let’s start with graph theory. If there is on branch of mathematics a programmer can’t live without, this would be it. It’s about things (nodes) that have relationships (edges) with other things. Like cities connected by roads. Or- in the more programaticaly useful, objects with pointers to each other. Pretty much all data structures are graphs. Run the standard graph theory algorithms to find out which objects can be reached from some set of root objects, and you have a garbage collector. Or how about this: functions that call other functions- the functions are the nodes, edges represent that one function calls another. Reachable algorithms tell you what functions can be dispensed with. Do a clique finding algorithm, and this determines which sets of functions for recursive loops. And so on. ‘Cmon, people- damned near everything we do as programmers is dealing with things that have relationships to other things.

Next up is linear algebra. Want to do 3D programming? Welcome to linear algebra. Lots and lots of linear algebra. Learning quaternions and geometric algebra is probably a good idea too- but linear algebra is a requirement. But linear algebra is useful for way more than that. Lots of other forms of mathematics (for example, graph theory) tend to reduce to linear algebra. Machine learning also uses linear algebra heavily- if you want to write an algorithmic trading platform or a search engine, better brush up on your linear algebra. Add in a dash of calculus, and you’re solving systems of non-linear equations (via Newton-Kantorovich).

Numerical analysis is how to implement linear algebra is the real world (i.e. on computers). Also, it covers the care and feeding of floating point numbers. If I were king, programmers would be required to pass a class on numerical analysis before being allowed to use floats.

Abstract algebra and number theory are useful for cryptography, random number generation, hashing, error detection, and a couple of other things. For example, 2′s complement arithmetic makes perfect sense once you realize that it’s just arithmetic modulo 2n.

Statistics. How could I forget statistics? There is more to statistics than Bayes theorem (and Bayesian reasoning), but for that alone it is indispensable.

I’m not sure what branch of mathematics Fourier transform falls over, but it’s another one that shows up all over. Including weird places, like multiplying large numbers.

There are a lot of “little branches” of mathematics, which aren’t full disciplines themselves, but are still worth learning. Knowing the relational calculus makes SQL make a more sense, knowing the Pi Calculus makes Erlang make a lot more sense, knowing the Lambda Calculus makes Lisp and Haskell make a lot more sense, and so on. Being able to at least read and follow the mathematicians gives insights into the fundamentals of what is going on.

For the record, I don’t know category theory, and don’t feel any deep seated need to learn it either. I haven’t got my head around geometric algebra yet, and I want to take a swing at algebraic topology at some point (to take a deep approach to relativity and quantum mechanics). Speaking from experience, it’s certainly not necessary to learn Haskell or figure out monads.

But, at the end of the day, there’s this. Programming is about solving problems- that why anyone cares about it. What’s important isn’t the code produced, it’s the problems solved. And mathematics is about how to solve problems. How do these two things not go together like peas in a pod? Richard Feynman once compared knowing different mathematics to having extra tools in your tool chest. Not all mathematics is applicable to all problems, granted- but learning mathematics is like learning new APIs, or new languages. It allows us to solve problems we otherwise couldn’t.

What programming language should I use? February 22, 2012 | 08:56 pm

My answer to the question: what programming language should I use? Also answers the question: when should I use programming language X?

Silly flow chart.

The above is, obviously, IMHO. And if your favorite programming language isn’t represented here, feel free to assume I’m just fundamentally an evil person.

Nuclear Rationality March 20, 2011 | 08:24 pm

In the wake of Fukushima, an awful lot of irrationality has been going around about nuclear power. Some of it, I’ll grant, is on the anti-nuclear side of things. Especially with people thousands of miles away being terrified of radiation. But, at least from what I’ve seen, far more of it has been on the pro-nuclear side of the debate. I keep seeing the same fallacious arguments tossed around, the same straw man attacks, and I have to rebut them.

Read the rest of this entry »

I officially hate Apple February 16, 2011 | 08:22 am

So Apple announced it’s new rules for apps on their iPhones and iPads accessing paid content. The rules are pretty simple, albeit it evil:

  1. If you provide an app to view your paid content on the iPhone/iPad, you have to be able to register for the paid content via the app,
  2. If you register for the content from the app, Apple gets 30% of what you pay,
  3. The cost of registering via the app can not be higher than the cost of registering elsewhere.

So now, let’s look at the situation from, say, Amazon’s perspective. The online videos, music, ebooks, etc. they sell on line don’t have a 30% profit margin to give to Apple, so to pay the Apple extortion, they need to raise prices. But they can’t just whack the iPhone users- that violates rule 3. So they have to raise prices on everybody. In other words, even if I don’t own an Apple iPhone or iPad, I’m going to have to pay higher prices for my online content, to subsidize you iPhone/iPad users. You using an iPhone or iPad has now become my problem.

If the government as levied a, say, 10% tax on internet transactions, we’d all be up in arms. But Apple pulls the same damned stunt, and we’re all like “well, that’s OK then”? Spending money to provide for the common defense and promote the general welfare is bad, but subsidizing a greedy corporation is kosher?

Even if Apple backs away from this, I’m done with them. My philosophy is simple: Fuck Apple. And fuck all the black beret wearing “Think Different” drones who still support Apple.

Why does this ad make me more inclined to vote for Rand Paul? October 16, 2010 | 03:18 pm

This ad.

As you read this, please remember that I strongly disagree (and that’s putting it nicely) with Libertarianism, and that I’m a liberal, progressive, and staunch Democrat (if I leave the Democratic party, it’ll be to the left). But yeesh…

You know what? I support canceling all faith-based initiatives too. Why? Separation of church and state, that’s why. I don’t want my tax money going to fund your church. Or if we are going to provide some services via the church, then all religions should be included- the satanists and wiccans and atheists all get to play as well. But we all know that’s not how it works- only good protestant-christian, and maybe the odd catholic or jewish, denominations need apply.

Why was he a member of a secret society? Probably for the same reason that George W Bush and John Kerry were. Why was it banned for mocking christianity and calling the bible a hoax? Religious discrimination.

Why did he tie a girl up and make her say stupid things? If something criminal went on, bring charges already- but post Monica Lewinsky, I get a little bit queasy every time we start dragging a politicians sex life into the picture.

More to the point, why should any of this matter? The constitution explicitly forbids a religious qualification for office, the first amendment provides for the freedom of speech and prevents the establishment of religion, and most of the rest is nobody else’s business.

It matters because it might work. The attitudes to religion in that region of the country is disturbingly similar to the attitudes towards religion in Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia. By casting Rand Paul as the scary atheists/satanist/other, it switches the race from being a policy-oriented one, to being about tribalism- and Rand Paul is not of the tribe. This is exactly the crap I hate the Republicans for pulling- it’s exactly the same thing when Republicans go on about Obama being Muslim or Kenyian, casting Obama as the scary other, not a member of the tribe of good, white, Christian, “real” murkins.

As a side note, Republicans- that is exactly why you have no right to complain. Pot, kettle, black.

But still. I now can’t help but think I’ve lost this race, no matter who wins it. If Rand Paul wins, it’ll be because the people’s support of the libertarian ideology remains strong. But now, if Jack Conway wins it, it’ll be because he played what is effectively the race card. Heads I lose, tails they win. Unlike Markos Moulitsas, my political goal isn’t just to have as many elected officials as possible with (D) after their names, it’s to promote a specific ideology (liberalism). This ad does not help, not the least bit.

Sigh.

Ten Million Dead- a response about H1N1 October 9, 2010 | 05:27 pm

This will be a short (and hopefully not too incoherent) post, as I’m still recovering from a cold. But I have to respond to Robert’s post on the overhyping of the H1N1 Avian flu.

First of all, there’s a reason why the CDC has kittens every time flu season rolls around. This is because the CDC (unlike most Americans) knows their history. In 1918, a variation of the same flu that’s still going around killed over 50 million people world wide, or about 3% of the 1.6 billion world population. If it hit today, that means the US would have almost 10 million dead alone, of about 200 million world wide. And here’s the important part: we’re still not sure why. We’re not sure why that variant had such a high fatality rate. We’re not sure what genetic drift triggered the higher fatalities. What we do know is that it can happen again.

So now we see the cleft fork the CDC is in. So a new, unexpected strain of the flu shows up. Only a dozen or so cases so far, but a higher percentage than normal have died of it. Do you sound the warning, and step on the new flu outbreak while it’s still small and containable, or do you not? If you do sound the warning, and it turns out that the early deaths were just chance and the flu is no more dangerous than normal, then you’re shilling for corporate profits. But if you don’t raise the warning, and it turns out to be another 1918 and 10 million Americans die…

What is surprising to me is how rarely the CDC screws up, and calls things wrong. But they’re human, which means they will screw up and call things wrong. It’s inevitable. At which point you have to ask yourself which error would you rather they make: accidentally generating some extra profits to the pharma corps, or accidentally allowing 10 million people die?

By the way, there is no evidence in any of the links provided by Robert, that the intention of the CDC/WHO was to line the pockets of the pharma corporations, and not simply a screw up. I mean, to state the case baldly: 1) The CDC and WHO trumpeted the dangers of N1H1, 2) N1H1 turned out to be not as deadly as stated/feared, 3) Corporations made profits from distributing the vaccines, therefor, it was all a giant conspiracy to feed the profits of the pharma corporations. This is a conspiracy theory I would be ashamed to promote. Flu vaccines aren’t all the profitable at the end of the day- they simply aren’t that expensive. Really, how much money do you think they’re making on a $20 shot, given the costs of producing the vaccine, distributing it, paying the people to give out the shots and collect the $20, etc.

But there’s another aspect to Robert’s post that annoys me even more- and that is that he is feeding the anti-vax trolls. Children are dying, even as we speak, because their parents believe that all vaccinations are just scams by the pharma corporations to line their pockets. Whooping cough is making a big comeback. So is Polio. The only reason Small Pox isn’t making a come back is because we managed to eradicate it before we as a society came down with a case of the dumbs. Robert didn’t intend to feed the anti-vax story line, and thus aid and abet causing the preventable deaths of children, but that’s exactly what he did.