Bad beef

Not sure how much to be concerned about mad cow disease in the US.  The article is a little scare mongery and doesn’t seem to have an entirely accurate grasp on prions.  However, it does seem like the US isn’t investigating and regulating beef to sufficiently insure it is safe of contamination from mad cow.  This is par the course for regulation in general for food from what I gather.  However vCJD is a bit worse than most other things one has to worry about with food these days.   I think if mad cow were to become a real problem regulators would be able to control it, but it isn’t clear they’d be able to before-hand.  Regardless it seems like it is another point in favor of grass-fed, non-factory farmed beef.

Evil seat belts!

Who knew they were so dangerous!



Passing Turing

A lot of hoopla is being made about the supposed passing of the Turing test.  Supposed because it passed a particular test set up, which may or may not have been an adequate simulation of Turing’s abstract test.  Then there is the question of whether passing is actually an indicator of any real intelligence or thinking.  Regardless, this is a milestone of sorts, though we’ll have to see if it is repeatable now.

Personally, I think a properly rigorous version of the Turing Test would be a good test for intelligence, but I doubt this was rigorous enough.  From previous transcripts of when judges were fooled I could see how in some cases they might be if the actual human wasn’t cooperative.  I wasn’t able to find transcripts between the judge and the human confederate for recent tests to see how they compare.  However, to be an adequate test, the humans would have to be cooperative.  If they are trying to fool the judge too, then it is more of measure of the human than the computer.  The depth of the depth and nature of some of the interactions also seem to be too limited.  The 5 minutes does come from Turing, but I don’t think he was envisioning roughly 1 simple exchange per minute.  I certainly don’t think that is sufficient interaction.  Perhaps when the transcripts to this test are released we’ll see something different though.

The limited interactions of this set up of the tests allows programmers to write programs to fool the judges instead of programs to exhibit intelligence.  In this case it was to pose the program as someone who could not communicate intelligently.  While this is a clever tactic to “winning” it doesn’t meet the purpose of the test.  With more depth a judge would be able to dig enough to make the distinction between an entity that didn’t communicate intelligently because of cultural/language/etc barriers and an entity that wasn’t capable of intelligence.

What’s the difference?

The mass shooting(s) and open carry demonstrations have me wondering what is the difference between the people who choose one vs the other.  In the end both are trying to empower themselves.  Both seem to have irrational fears and hatreds.  Is there a difference in kind or is it just a difference in degree?  I don’t know.  I suspect it is the ameliorating and exacerbating factors.  What does the person have to live for?  What avenues can they expect will actually let them feel powerful?  How can they actually conquer those they fear and/or hate?  The murderers seem desperate, as if they think they have no other reasonable route to achieve the power they crave.  The open carriers however don’t seem to be at the point.  They are otherwise happy suburbanites, simply malcontent that they aren’t cowboys and worshiped for it.  But how far will they go if simply carrying a big gun around doesn’t get them what they want?  What if the looks of fear and disgust no longer give them their fix?  What happens when they realize that a lot of that disgust is people thinking they are pathetic losers?  I hope nothing happens and am sure the vast majority of these people wouldn’t decide to assuage their insecurities by killing a lot of people.  But if even one does, that’s one too many.

Moving on before having moved on

The CIA is no longer going to use vaccination programs as cover for operations, so they say.  However, the statement from Aziz Memon amused me for the irony of how he describes the situation and made me start thinking about how people (meaning me, but probably other people too) move on with their lives after some outrage but will respond anew when reminded.  Without satisfactory closure what else can one do though?  Obsess.  Some people do that, but I don’t think it is usual.  But why does the reminder derail us if we’ve for all practical purposes moved on?  Psychologically I don’t think it is hard to understand.  Emotions are good at building strong neural connections.  Trigger the memory, trigger the emotion.  This also works for positive memories.  But why?  I can understand why building memories more strongly around emotion could help us with danger avoidance, but what about the other situations?  Or are those other situations just a side effect of the usefulness from danger avoidance?

Playing with fire(arms)

An 11 year old was shot in the head by an uncle. This type of “accident” is inexcusable. Guns are tools of death and destruction. That’s not a bad thing. That they are treated as toys instead is a bad thing. That they are treated as magical talismans of protection and virility is a bad thing.
I’m not an advocate of complete banning of guns, though at this point I can’t muster any objection. I have a very “this is why we can’t have nice things” mentality. Reasonable regulation might drastically reduce the irresponsibility and damage from people using guns. However, with the current culture around guns I suspect that even if such laws were passed, they wouldn’t be enforceable. Of course an out right ban is even less feasible. Another problem that won’t be solved because those that could solve it have no interest in doing so because they think they are immune from it or even profit from it.

MERS in the US

According to NPR.  If I heard correctly it is a man that returned from Saudi that is infected.  I bet he’s not liking the attention he’s getting at the moment.

The Optional Death

The death penalty has been running into a lot of trouble in the US. Latest is that Oklahoma tortured a person to death. The history about why states can’t get the traditional drugs to kill people and what they are currently trying is interesting in a dark and twisted sort of way. But why do we need to be killing criminals anyways? Criminal punishment can serve multiple purposes: collective revenge, rehabilitation, restitution and deterrence (both of would-be criminals and for recidivism).
Killing a criminal certainly satisfies revenge and the deterrence of recidivism. Definitely not rehab. or restitution. Whether it effectively deters would-be criminals is up for debate, but there is no reason to think it any more a deterrent than life imprisonment. The death penalty and life imprisonment are also on equal footing for deterring recidivism, at least in theory. Which is better for satisfying revenge is also debatable and I’d guess largely depends on how much you value freedom vs life.
I personally come down against the death penalty, at least as it is generally handled. I can understand the desire for revenge for those that were effected by the criminal, but quite often those people are not the ones advocating for killing. For me, killing as a collective revenge doesn’t make much sense, especially when life imprisonment is the alternative. While prison escapes do happen, and the escapees do sometimes kill before being re-captured or killed themselves, these are not frequent events. Escapes are also a problem that can be fixed independently. Then there is the problem of executing innocent people. Finally, for me, killing someone does not allow for rehabilitation and restitution. So what do I think we should do?
I’m in favor of giving criminals receiving life sentences the option of choosing death. I’d even suggest that they could choose the method of their death within reason. OD on cocain, sure. Flying leap off a cliff into the Grand Canyon, well, probably not not? This would prevent the killing of someone who is innocent (unless they just wanted to be killed). It would be cheaper and more humane. It would allow those who do regret what they’ve done to try to do something to re-pay society and the victims. If this were combined with a reworking of our justice system to actually serve for the rehabilitation of criminals instead of profit for prison companies it would work even better.

Clearing the Air

The US Supreme Court ruled in favor of the EPA on regulating coal pollution.  Somewhat surprising was that it was a 6-2 vote w/ Alito recusing himself.  Unsurprisingly the 2 dissenting were Scalia and Thomas.  Roberts is turning out to be an interesting justice.  Definitely conservative, but not the anti-liberal type Scalia and Thomas are.  Lots of other important cases are going to be coming out.  I hope he continues to be more reasonable than I expect.  Especially since I think Kennedy might be more likely to go that route as well if he has another conservative to follow.

Updated Military

The US’s military budget is large. Very large. In terms of people it is the second largest. So where does the money go? I’m not going to pretend to understand it all. Certainly sending people to distance locations to fight is expensive. Certainly there is waste. I sometimes wonder how much it would cost to do something different. What if the military was not dedicated to fighting, but to public service?
Fighting is important of course. Gotta be able to defend our corporate interests. But the fights today aren’t enough. Stability is what’s needed, not something fighting tends to bring (except for the complete annihilation type, but that’s not looked kindly about these days). So what brings stability? Infrastructure. Services. Supplies. Work. Things much of the US could use a bit more of too. So why not have a military that can bring all those to whatever foreign local we want to control and also to domestic locals?
Yes we already have civic departments that are supposed to help with those things. And the military does help with some civic projects. But why not more? How many private contractors get payed bloated amounts to do things our military does? We have a highly organized and trained established armed force that gets asked to fight and protect people and then when they’re done, they get ignored. How many veterans could be helped by having continued service aiding in bettering the US at home? How much better would many of our troops in training be served if they go to practice some of those nation building skills at home first?  Wouldn’t that be a better investment than fancy toys that are irrelevant to most modern warfare?
I realize this isn’t very specific or necessarily coherent. This just seems like a situation where several problems could solve each other.


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