Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Drink It Up, Idiots

According to researchers (insert credibility here), alcohol advertising WORKS! Thanks, smart guys. And here I was thinking that marketing, as an industry, was futile nonsense.

Despite the fact that the study sounds poorly-designed and full of holes, based on the short description in the above Forbes article, I will give the University of Connecticut researchers the benefit of the doubt, and assume that the study's metrics are sound. Fine. Even if the study is air tight, the problem of underage drinking does not arise from a lack or shortcoming of government regulation, or from especially devious advertising strategies on the part of the alcohol companies. Advertising is a tool for maintaining and expanding market share, and for expanding markets themselves. All companies seek to advertise, to the extent possible and in the manner most effective. Let them advertise.

But don't let your kids drink alcohol. Don't let your kids think that getting drunk is cool. Don't let your kids become so weak that they give in to peer pressures running counter to the values you have tried to instill in them. Teach your kids about personal responsibility, and about leadership. Teach your kids by example, don't be an alcohol advertisement yourself. And maybe don't let your kids watch so much dang TV, which is about 1/3 advertisements anyway.

Raise your children in such a way that they won't drink up advertisements that are unhealthy for them. If you do that, who cares what ad policies are used by alcohol companies, or by any other companies for that matter? Be aware, take control.

In the larger scheme of things, if alcoholism is a problem in society generally, that is not a problem with ad regulations, it's a cultural and moral problem. The same should be said of alcoholism or alcoholic tendencies in our youth.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Pope Palpatine?

There is a very good reason why "No pope since John XXIII, who died in 1963, has worn the traditional Camauro in public..." and yet Pope Benedict XVI doesn't seem to quite get it.

I have rarely seen a public figure whose physical appearance is so stereotypically, overtly evil.

The only other time I've even imagined that such a thing is possible was in the case of Chancellor/Emperor Palpatine, from the Star Wars series.

And even while watching those wonderful movies, I couldn't help laughing to myself about how absurdly unbelievable it was that such a wicked looking man would be trusted in a position of power, by anybody. Though I suppose "trust" really had nothing to do with it.

(P.S. I don't mean this as any kind of commentary on the character, holiness, or religious devotion of Pope Benedict, and I'm sorry if it seems like I am trying to draw a meaningful and revealing parallel between the Pope and an evil wizard. Hideousness is only skin-deep. I hope!)

Liar, Liar, Beard On Fire

Saddam Hussein claims to have been beaten and tortured by American troops... but why should anyone believe anything he says?

"Yes, I've been beaten on every place of my body and the signs are all over my body,'' Hussein said, when asked by a prosecuting lawyer if he had been hurt in prison." I have been hit by the Americans and tortured,'' he said in a broadcast being aired by international networks with a 20 to 30-minute delay.

The trial resumed today after a two-week break. Hussein, 68, and seven former aides deny charges of killing 148 people in Dujail, a farming village just north of the capital, following an attempt on the former Iraqi president's life there in 1982, as well as related charges. All eight defendants face the death penalty if found guilty.

He's going to be executed. He has no reason to cooperate, no reason to tell the truth. No matter what he says or does, he is going to be put to death. From his perspective, he only has two options: make it clean, or make it dirty. Is there any doubt about which option Saddam will choose? Has already chosen? He's going to do everything he can to make his trial and judgment as dirty, hurtful, and destructive as possible. He has no reason to do otherwise. He knows that the best and worst that can happen to him is that he will live until his trial is over and then be quickly and painlessly executed. In fact, his situation presents a huge negative incentive to tell the truth or cooperate, since truthful cooperation will only bring Saddam a speedier trial and more immediate execution.

Beyond all this, Saddam is otherwise helpless. He is used to asserting absolute control of those around him through the willful distribution of misery. Now, he finds himself in a situation where he has virtually no control of those around him, and can distribute only a very limited kind of misery. He is out of his element. So what does he do? He resorts to familiar means of asserting what little control is possible, given his situation. He distributes what misery he can, mostly though lies and political rants, in the hope of controlling the trial timeline.

The only tool Saddam knows for getting what he wants is abuse. The only thing he can hope or want at this point is a delayed death, so he commits whatever abuse necessary to get it. Nothing he says of does should be given any credit whatsoever. If anyone in the world tries to make political hay out of Saddam's statements, that person should be laughed off the stage and should retire forever in shame.

Thursday, December 15, 2005


Despite the hopes of sci-fi fans everywhere, Honda's ASIMO robot was not named after acclaimed author Isaac Asimov. The word "ashi" in Japanese means "foot/leg/pace/gait", and in roman characters this is often written "asi". So, ASIMO (poor-man's phonetic spelling: "Ah-shee-moh") is really just a play on the Japanese word for "leg" and the abbreviated transliteration of the English word "motor" into the Japanese "moto". So when native Japanese speakers hear the name "Ah-shee-moh", they would get some sense of "motorized legs", though it's scrunched together and abbreviated, so it's cute and marketable.

Anyway, the main point of this post is to test out the image-posting capabilities of blogger...

There he is! ASIMO. His motorized legs can even leave the floor simultaneously when he's running at full blast, a supremely challenging mechanical task that living bipeds often take for granted...

Is it just me, or does it look like ASIMO might need a potty break?

Fantasy and imagined racism

Cries about supposed racism in the new 'King Kong' are disgusting and surreal. Where do you draw the line between racism and fantasy? It's about a GIANT GORILLA. Andy Serkis, the actor who modeled Kong's movements in the new movie, prepared for his role by studying gorillas, not black humans. The story is fantasy. It's a story about "ooooh, wouldn't it be neat if..." and "gee, do you think it would be possible for..." Fantasy is about transporting normal humans (the audience) into a context where their human strengths, weaknesses, and inclinations are tested by forces never before encountered.

In the 17-19th centuries, global exploration also tested human strengths, weaknesses, and inclinations in ways that had never before been encountered. If the challenges to human character portrayed in 'Kong' parallel those challenges to human character that were faced by European explorers three hundred years ago, that doesn't make the story of 'Kong' racist. Give me a break. If anything, it makes 'Kong' an engaging and potentially valuable exploration in itself.

Is every exploited character in every story representative of 18th and 19th century African slaves? Is every fictional character who suffers representative of 'minorities,' or 'the poor'? Are some stories very racist, and some stories just mildly racist? How do we determine which are which? By how offended we feel? By how offended some stranger feels? What are the key dimensions of a story that allow us to look into the heart of the storyteller, to determine if he is a racist? If Kong had been a giant albino ape, would that have made the movie ok? Maybe if the characters didn't have to travel to an island by ship (a la 18th century slave traders), maybe then the story wouldn't be racist. Maybe if the heroine were fat and unattractive, and if Kong were a giant American bald eagle, then it wouldn't be racist, and we could enjoy the fantasy without guilt. Where do we draw the line? Please, tell me, so I can appreciate art and entertainment without worrying about whether or not I should be offended.


Wednesday, December 14, 2005

The Best Defense

... is a good offense. Or, in some cases, a good missile defense system.

The Japanese government is slowly drifting (being pulled?) away from its Constitutionally mandated (since 1946) stance on national defense, which requires that the nation will neither develop nor sustain a standing military, but is instead limited to a Self-Defense Force (SDF) that is responsible solely for protecting the Japanese islands from direct foreign attack.

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, leveraging the relative political freedom his post is allowed in international affairs by the Japanese Constitution, has wisely chosen to tie himself to President Bush and the United States. Koizumi recognized at the beginning of the Second Gulf War in 2003 that the U.S. would likely have to invest significant resources in the Middle East for years to come. Furthermore, he also recognized that such financial, material, and human investment by the U.S. government would require a simultaneous investment of political capital by U.S. government leaders, on behalf of the United States as a whole. That is, Koizumi rightly foresaw that the United States would be investing massive amounts of political capital into its rapidly expanding (exploding?) Middle East policy, including the war in Iraq. And, since the U.S. is still the global hegemon, U.S. investments in the arena of international affairs always pay off.

For the next fifty years, at least, there is no wiser policy for a wealthy, industrialized, and ambitious country than "team up with the United States." Continental Europe is missing the point, but Koizumi sees it, and the rest of Japan is beginning to get the message.

Back to Japan. PM Koizumi knows that if Japan is to become a world super power, it will need a full blown military, not just a Self-Defense Force. To the extent that Koizumi can make the war in Iraq a good thing for Japan, politically and economically, he will also be able to undermine domestic opposition to the eventual creation of a Japanese military. Article IX of the Japanese Constitution (promulgated in 1946) prevents the creation of such a military, but Constitutions can be amended, and some in Japan think it is time to revise or repeal Article IX. Pacifism is not deep-seeded in Japanese culture, after all... In a culture characterized by more than fifteen centuries of isolation, homogeneity, and civil war, sixty years of outward-facing pacifism is not enough to establish a tradition. Article IX is going to go. And Koizumi is showing it the door.

With respect to the more immediate issue of the joint missile development project undertaken by the U.S. and Japan, well, that's just another sign that Japan is beginning to recognize the potential collateral benefits of having a well-funded military-industrial complex.

Given the concerns expressed in the article, though, it will be interesting to watch the Japanese reaction to what inevitably will become an over-budget, behind-schedule aerospace project riddled with myriad political and/or legal and/or technical complications. From the tone in the article, the author, at least, does not fully appreciate the significance of the term "spiral development".

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Now what?


Does this still work??

Saturday, July 19, 2003

Short-sighted Academics! Maybe I shoud read the rest of the paper, see if maybe I've misjudged the approach proposed by the authors...

I am going to go read in my room. I'm in the middle of a great sci-fi novel. The philosophy paper can wait.

I've been reading a paper on some of the philosophical problems of artificial intellignce, and I ran into a short paragraph that I needed to rebut:

"We must mention that there is one possible way of getting an artificial intelligence without having to understand it or solve the related philosophical problems. This is to make a computer simulation of natural selection in which intelligence evolves by mutating computer programs in a suitably demanding environment. This method has had no substantial success so far, perhaps due to inadequate models of the world and of the evolutionary process, but it might succeed. It would seem to be a dangerous procedure, for a program that was intelligent in a way its designer did not understand might get out of control. In any case, the approach of trying to make an artificial intelligence through understanding what intelligence is, is more congenial to the present authors and seems likely to succeed sooner."

I hope that, even taken out of context, you can pick up on what these guys are saying here. My main issue is with the second-to-last sentence:

"It would seem to be a dangerous procedure, for a program that was intelligent in a way its designer did not understand might get out of control."

The idea of an "intelligence" governed directly by a system that is completely bounded and understood by a human, or set of humans, is laughable to me. What kind of intelligence is this? Certainly not on par with human intelligence. By taking an approach to artificial intelligence that requires the explicit resolution of philosophical questions about minds that have befuddled minds for millenia, the authors skip over all the subtleties that distinguish Mindless Complexity from Intelligence.

Anyway, if we ever even hope to get anything really creative and valuable from artificial intelligences, then we must not limit their natures to what we assume we know about our own.

An artificial intelligence that is NOT "out of control" is not an intelligence at all, but a tool. This can be said of we natural intelligences as well. It is part of what it means to be intelligent. Duh.

Sunday, July 13, 2003

So I've been exposed to a new series of anime that is currently sweeping Japan, a show called `Naruto'. The plot, setting, and characters are pretty cool, yeah, and it can be funny at times, wickedly sweet at others, and over-all it is enjoyable to watch.

At the end of each episode, the same closing song is played. I like this song, even though I am not 100% sure that it is anything but the product of very poor English speaking abilities. Here is the thrust of it, which sings to me on two channels:

Cultivate your hunger before you idealize.
Motivate your anger to make them all realize.
Climbing the mountain, never coming down.
Break into the contents, never falling down.

My knee is still shaking, like I was twelve,
Sneaking out of the classroom, by the back door.
A man railed at me twice though, but I didn't care.
Waiting is wasting for people like me.

Don't try to live so wise.
Don't cry 'cause you're so right.
Don't dry with fakes or fears,
'Cause you will hate yourself in the end.