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Comment Re:It's all about the money (Score 5, Informative) 101

Do remember that he [Obama] was the first (and so far only) Presidential candidate to forgo Federal matching funds for his campaign, since skipping those funds meant he didn't have to abide by the campaign finance limits.

I don't believe that is accurate. This suggests that Steve Forbes skipped on matching funds in 1996 and 2000. G. W. Bush skipped on matching funds in 2000 and 2004, which caused Howard Dean and John Kerry to forgo in 2004 as well. Over the last decade, everybody who wins, forgoes matching funds, as well as a significant number of the losers.

There are valid reasons to say Obama is doing things that are bad, but I think we have a real tendency to say "He's the first to do this!" when he's doing stuff that has been the trend for quite some time.


Submission + - Is Technology Destroying Our Capacity to Love? (nytimes.com)

Thomas M Hughes writes: American Novelist Jonathan Franzen has recently argued that the telos of techne is to replace the natural world. In the process, we may end up losing that which is most dear to the human condition: the ability to love. That is to say, technology does two things. First, most technology seeks to make us self-sufficient, such that we never need to rely on another, and thus, never really believe we need another to complete us. At the same time, social networks like Facebook lead to a culture of liking, not loving. Is Franzen right to be concerned about our reliance on sexy new gadgets? Or is love possible in a technologically sophisticated world?

Comment Re:I am currently a terrorism suspect (no joke) (Score 2) 426

The No-Fly list is actually a misnomer. I was on the list for a few years, though I don't think I'm on it anymore. For American Citizens, being on the No-Fly list is annoying (and I'll even buy unjustified and useless), but it doesn't permanently ground you.

Basically, when you check in at the front desk, the auto-check in machines will flag you, and one of the people behind the counter will come over and ask for your identification. Then they'll pretend like they're subtle, and call in to some central number. Over the phone, they'll say your name, and rattle off your birthdate, and usually some other identifying number, like your driver's license number. This is basically a background check. If you're actually wanted, and there's a warrant out for your arrest, I suspect you'd be arrested there. If you're just a person of interest, they finish checking you in and put a special marking on your boarding pass.

The mark varies from airport to airport, but it's primarily to tell the TSA security guys that you are on the list, and that you need extra screening before they let you on the plane. Sometimes, this is cool, because it lets you go into a separate security line that's shorter. Sometimes it's not so cool, because someone's probably going to touch your junk. Often times you get the puffer machine, the pat down, the metal detector wand, etc. It seems to depend a lot on the airport. If you clear that, you're in the clear, and you're just like any other passenger.

They may also do additional screening on checked bags, but that was always out of my field of view, so I have no idea what they did with my stuff.

You may be asking "How do you know that you're on the no fly list?" My understanding is that airport personelle aren't supposed to tell you, but after a few years of going through this routine, I asked someone at the desk one time during the background call. He said, "You're on the No-Fly list. Well, what's most likely is that there's someone else out there with your same name who has a felony warrant out for their arrest. If you were to book your tickets using your middle initial, you probably wouldn't have to go through this."

Sure enough, once I started booking with my middle initial after my first name, I stopped getting extra screening. A few years ago they implemented the identifying characteristics system (gender & birthdate when buying tickets), I haven't been harassed near as much as I used to be, which may mean the list is a lot more refined than it used to be.

At least, this is the deal for US citizens. I've heard foreigners who are No-Fly listed literally cannot fly into or out of the U.S.

Comment Re:"Alternative Narratives"? (Score 5, Insightful) 642

The preamble of the United States constitution reads: "We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America." (emphasis added)

Article I, section 8 reinforces this general welfare statement by remarking: "To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof." (more emphasis added).

Insofar as Planned Parenthood encourages the development of families that are planned and not just accidents, ACORN encourages get out the vote projects to enhance American democracy, General Electric, General Motors, and Chrysler provide gainful employment for Americans, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac provide opportunities for home ownership, and the like, I think you reasonably have to say the goal is to provide for the general welfare.

You and I are welcome to disagree over whether those are the best ways to promote the general welfare (and in many cases, though not all, I suspect we would be in agreement, despite this post). However, the constitution is pretty clear that the US government has a general broad right to promote the general welfare in the United States.

I should also like to add, one of the primary advocates of the United States Constitution during the period leading up to its ratification was Alexander Hamilton, who was originally in favor of setting up a fairly powerful monarch. He lost out on the the first draft of the Constitution -- the Articles of Confederation -- which provided for a much more limited government. However, we threw that in the toilet and opted for the Constitution, which was designed to strengthen and centralize the Federal government's power, not really limit it (though it does have its own limitations laid out in the Bill of Rights).

Look, I'm pretty sympathetic to the Jeffersonian minimalist government ideal. But the Constitution isn't a Jeffersonian document. It's a Hamiltonian and Madisonian one, and those guys were more for centralized power than the original founders were. Insofar as that's the government we got, that's the government we got.

Comment Re:It will never happen (Score 5, Informative) 567

I simply worry about their ability to get it done at all.
Not the NIMBY's and the environmental impact, just the corruption factor and the fact that it's Tax-N-Spendifornia. If they were in the black it'd be one thing but they want the federal gov't to pay for it when they are deep in a major budget crisis? If I were the feds (or the rest of the nation) I'd say "screw you, come back when you can manage your own budget and maybe we'll talk."

I think you may be mistaking California for Massachusetts. If California were Tax-N-Spend, it wouldn't have a budget issue. The issue in California is that they can't tax. All budgets in California must (1) be balanced, and (2) be passed by a super-majority. The legislature's made up of the Senate consisting of 25 Democrats and 15 Republicans; and the Assembly having 49 Democrats, 29 Republicans, 1 Independent, and 1 vacancy. So the Dems have a significant majority (and have since 1970), but not enough to pass a budget on their own. And the California Republican party has maintained incredible party discipline for a while now, absolutely refusing any increases in taxes, period. So, obtaining taxes for services has become essentially impossible.

This has been complicated by being "tough on crime." Things like Three Strikes laws have dramatically increased California's prison population in recent years. This has resulted in an increase in funds that must go to prisons. This, combined with a refusal to increase taxes means that much more of the limited government revenue is going into the black hole that is the prison system. Because of this, pretty much every aspect of California's selection of services have been significantly cut back for at least a decade now. The impact on the University of California in particular has been huge; they lost 20% of their funding in this past year alone, on top of significant cuts before the budget crisis. (The increase in tough on crime laws is bi-partisan, the democrats have their fair share of blame in this one. The lack of increase in taxes to cover for shortfall is a R-party issue entirely though.).

Comment Re:Bullshit (Score 1) 754

The term 'bullshit' actually has a number of academic articles and books published on it. For those who think seriously about it, it's a rather precise word. The most famous book on the subject is Harry Frankfurt's On Bullshit . If Frankfurt is correct, 'bullshit' is should be defined as a lack of concern for the truth. Bullshit is not necessary false, though it can be. It may also turn out to be true. The point is, when one is bullshitting, one doesn't care if one is true or false. So, when you write bullshit for an exam answer as an undergrad, you don't care if you get it right or not, you care about your score on the exam. Likewise, if you're bullshitting someone about their favorite sports team, you don't really care if their team sucks or not, you're just trying to rile up the person.

That doesn't diminish Penn and Teller's point. Usually, a bullshit artist is not concerned with whether their vitamins cure AIDS. They're concerned with selling vitamins. I'm not sure if it does help you avoid libel claims though.

Comment Re:It's about damn time. (Score 1) 576

I don't know about professional philosophers, but ignorant citations of random quotations rather than demonstrating a real understanding of the text makes people who actually have read the Republic (and thought deeply about it) really angry.

As the slashdot story itself wasn't about the Republic or Plato, I didn't feel it was appropriate for a multi-paragraph essay to provide an interpretation of the book just to correct someone who said something spectacularly wrong. But, since there still seems to be a lot of people who are claiming to know what's going on in the Republic, and they're really missing the market, I'll fill my comment out more fully. I'm only going to do this if I make one caveat clear: the Republic is probably the most widely debated book in the history of humanity. There's only 1 other that comes close, and that would be the Bible (new testament + old testament). And I'm willing to wager the Republic has been debated even more than the Bible, primarily because the Republic is heavily read and taken seriously by thinkers of all major western religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), where the Bible may not be taken as seriously by certain sects of Judaism (new testament for example) or Islam. In short: No difference of interpretation about the Republic is going to be solved in a Slashdot comment.

Having said that, you would have to go through lots of interpretive hoops to claim that the Republic isn't about providing a definition for justice. And the surface (though not shallow) reading of the book is fairly explicit that Socrates reaches an exact definition of what justice is. And it is defined exactly as I said in my post: justice is minding one's own business and not being a busy body. The structure of the book is roughly as follows:

Book I of the Republic begins in traditional Socratic manner of Socrates running into various members of the Athenian community and beginning a discourse on some concept. In this case, it is about justice. Commonplace definitions of justice are provided by the various characters who make appearances. Cephalus defines justice as paying back your debts and telling the truth. Cephalus's son, Polemarchus, defines justice as helping your friends and hurting your enemies. Thrasymachus defines justice as whatever is to the advantage of the stronger, and then refines his position to say that justice is less profitable than injustice. Socrates finds all of these definitions to be inadequate and provides a rather shitty rejection of all of them. Thrasymachus gets pissed and says (in a rough paraphrase) "Socrates, stop screwing around and just tell us what you think justice is." Book I ends without any clear definition, and a rather unsatisfying result. This is traditional for the earlier Socratic dialogues, and it is sometimes believed that Book I was originally intended to be a stand alone piece titled the Thrasymachus.

After Book I, the style of the Republic changes dramatically. Instead of Socrates just rejecting positions, he actually begins to take a stance. This happens because Glaucon and Adiemantus (Plato's real life brothers) call Socrates out and say "You know, you haven't convinced me that Thrasymachus is wrong." Glaucon then suggests that the reason we concern ourselves with being just is that suffering injustice really sucks, and we'd all be better off if we agreed to do the just thing. However, Thrasymachus may be right, and doing what is unjust may lead to maximizing our own personal benefit in isolated cases. Glaucon then tells a rather famous story of a ring that turns one invisible, and the guy who gets it goes off and kills the king, seduces the queen and is living life pretty high. I don't know why turning invisible helps you seduce the queen, but whatever. That's what the book says.

At this point, Socrates suggests that they've been looking for justice in the individual, and since the individual is very small, it's hard to see it. So it would be best to blow it up to a situation that is much larger so you could see the details easier. Socrates assumes, without much argument, that justice in the individual soul is equivalent to justice in the city (which was the largest political unit of the day). Thus, Socrates says, if you can see the just city, it will help you understand the just soul. So Glaucon and Adiemantus start to help Socrates define what the best city would be.

From here on out, things get a little less straightforward, as they tend to jump around quite a bit. However, there are some major parts that happen in the rest of the book that help to explain what's going on. One is the explanation of the ideal city.

For Socrates (and Plato) the ideal city is one in which everyone has a specific task that they are good at, and the ideal city should have all of the four major greek virtues present. The four virtues are Temperance, Courage, Wisdom and Justice. So, he begins with the basics of the city. You need a class of people who are focused on production. These are farmers, craftsmen, traders, etc. These are people who care about making money and having a family. You need this part of the city if you are going to feed and clothe people. However, this is the lowest form of human activity, so they don't really represent any distinct virtue. But, you can instill within the working classes a sense of moderation, which can give them the virtue of Temperance.

The second class that the city needs in order to be a perfect city is a military class. The primary purpose of the military class seems to be to attack other city to steal with luxury items. (I'm not kidding, the military gets introduced because Glaucon is upset that the ideal city of just workers is lacking in relishes). Socrates gives into this for some reason and suggests that it would be a good idea to have a military class that governs over the city to moderate the producers (providing Temperance), and since the military needs to be able to successfully fight battles, they will embody the virtue of Courage. We now have two of the major virtues in our ideal/perfect city.

At this point, Socrates effectively tells a joke and says something to the effect of "We should let philosophers be kings of this city." The idea being that philosophers represent wisdom. (Philosopher being derived from the greek words for 'love' and 'wisdom' indicating that they are lovers of wisdom). With philosophers as kings, you will have the wise ruling over the courageous and the moderate, accomplishing three of the four major virtues in the ideal city.

At this point, Socrates says (again paraphrasing) "Justice has been under our nose the whole time! Justice is accomplished when everyone does what they are best suited to do, and nothing more than that." Or, and as I quoted before, another way of putting this is "justice is not being a busybody." When business men try and run cities, they seriously mess things up, and that's unjust. Likewise, when the military class is trying to maximize their own personal profit, they become seriously corrupt and mess things up. That too is unjust. So the definition that Plato provides, _explicitly_ in the Republic is justice is when one minds their own business and is not a busybody.

He then suggests this can shrink down to the individual soul level too. You are a just individual when your appetites are moderated (you do not want too much, or too little), when you are courageous and capable of facing adversity (without being foolhardy or cowardly), and when you govern yourself according to your reason (which involves being wise). If you have all of these virtues in your soul, and they are doing what they are supposed to be doing, then you are just.

There are plenty of good arguments to say that Plato is being metaphoric with some of this stuff. However, as I asserted before (and directly quoted from the text), Plato explicitly defines justice as not being a busybody. He does this in his most important political work that begins (and runs throughout) on the subject of justice.

Comment Re:It's about damn time. (Score 5, Informative) 576

Plato said that there is no true measure of justice, but it is important for a government to give the appearance of justice to society. This is a textbook example of that in action.

What? Plato didn't say that. That's completely wrong. Plato explicitly defined justice in the Republic. I quote:

we affirmed Justice was doing one's own business, and not being a busybody

Citation: http://books.google.com/books?id=50SqFuH-4jQC&lpg=PA126&ots=O96UUppWV1&dq=justice%20not%20being%20a%20busybody%20republic&pg=PA126#v=onepage&q=&f=false

Don't just make up quotes and attribute them to Plato. It makes philosophers really angry.

Comment Re:Too lazy to check myself. (Score 4, Insightful) 109

It's neat that Google does interesting things like this, but it blows my mind how a company that plays so much can survive.

Keep in mind that the vast majority of the Internet has some form of Google advertising on it somewhere. So, it's not an exaggeration to say "Time you spend on the Internet, in almost any form generates profit for Google." Thus, it's in their interest to encourage you, in a wide variety of ways, to spend time on the Internet.

So, Google Earth allows you to play with various maps. That may cause you to become interested in a specific location, which causes you to use Google Search (+profit) to find a website (+profit) that discusses the location that you were interested in. Interested in the moon? Again, Google Earth to the Apollo Lander, Google Search Apollo Program (+profit), find various websites about the Apollo Program. Some, if not most, of these sites will have adsense (+profit).

I suppose what may be more surprising is that this business plan is actually wildly profitable, instead of just speculative.


Submission + - Collaborative Academic Writing?

Thomas M Hughes writes: Despite its learning curve, LaTeX is pretty much the standard in academic writing. By abstracting out the substance from the content, it becomes possible to focus heavily on the writing, and then deal with formatting later. However, LaTeX is starting to show it's age, specifically when it comes to collaborative work. One solution to this is to simply pair up LaTeX with version control software (such as Subversion) to allow multiple collaborators to work on the same document at one time. But adding subversion to the mix only seems to increase the learning curve. Is there a way to combine the power of LaTeX with the power of Subversion without scaring off a non-technical writer? The closest I can approximate would be to have something like Lyx (to hide the learning curve of LaTeX) with integrated svn (to hide the learning curve of svn). However, this doesn't seem available. Google Docs is popular right now, but Docs has no support for LaTeX, citation management, or anything remotely resembling decent formatting options. Are there other choices out there?
The Internet

Submission + - Internet Not Really Dangerous for Kids Afterall (nytimes.com)

Thomas M Hughes writes: We're all familiar with the claim that it's horribly dangerous to allow our children on to the Internet. It's long been believed that the moment a child logs on to the Internet, he will experience a flood of inappropriate sexual advances, putting him at great risk. Turns out this isn't an accurate representation of reality at all. A high-profile task force representing 49 state attorney generals was organized to find a solution to the problem of online sexual solicitation, but instead it has issued a report claiming that "Social networks are very much like real-world communities that are comprised mostly of good people who are there for the right reasons." Turns out the danger to our children was all just media hype and parental anxiety.
PC Games (Games)

Submission + - Blizzard Announces Starcraft 2

Thomas M Hughes writes: At Blizzard's World Wide Invitational, it was just announced moments ago that the game studio will be developing and hopefully releasing Starcraft II. I imagine much more news will come in the next few days, as the flood gates are now open.

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