This is my attempt at blogging. I'm still learning about the blogging world, and this is my own personal study hall.

Monday, April 08, 2013

If you find it hard to imagine just how many 6 million is, well, just think of it as doing this 3,000,000 times.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

TSA and Profiling Part 1

I'm sure this can lead to a whole long series of posts, so let's call this Part 1, on the assumption that there could be a Part 2 and possibly more.

Some people are trying to make the case for racial profiling at airports based on the fact that the TSA's new screening techniques are horrible violations of individual rights, and the idea that racial profiling, as practiced by El Al* would be much better, and that we have been forced to submit to this tyranny because of "PC run amok". I'm sorry, that's false.

I am no fan of the TSA or its screening methods (something for a later post), but it is not (or ought not be) an issue of PC. I'm against straight racial profiling, but I'm not against using El Al's techniques. El Al profiles, but not racially. It's also not an invasive or obstructive process ...that causes major delays. They interview every single passenger, and when someone fits a profile - any profile - of someone that might be a threat (shifty, nervous, no checked baggage, one-way ticket, etc.) they interview them more thoroughly and check their bags by hand. This would also be a more effective method of detecting illegal contraband. And then there are several highly trained, armed and alert - and hidden - air marshals on the aircraft.

Even the head of the New Jersey ACLU has said that only once someone has been determined to be a possible threat, once there is probably cause - and only once there is probably cause (such that a full strip-search would be warranted) - should the full-body scanners be used (ie, as a convenient alternative to a physical strip search).

But you'd have to have people who are properly trained and who are educated beyond a high school level. You also have to have people who love their jobs. It can't be a standard civil-service job; it has to be a smart, highly educated and extensively trained workforce.

Watch this short clip see how ridiculous and ineffective the screening process is (it's the "Adam Savage says, 'WTF, TSA?'" video, in case you've already seen it):

*I do not know for certain that El Al is in fact the entity employing the screeners at Ben Gurion Airport. But this is the way people are addressing the issue, and I'm not about to delve into a whole lengthy research project and explanation into who is or is not responsible for the security protocol in Israel's main airport, So I'll just go with it for now.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Is this a normal election year? Part II

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a blog post criticizing the conventional wisdom as being flawed. I thought that analyzing traditional voter models would give us a false sense of who is likely to vote, and that, therefore, the polls predicting the outcomes of this year's elections were faulty.

I also criticized Nate Silver, from, whom I admired for his success in predicting past races, because, although, he has in the past been one to ignore the conventional wisdom, I felt that, this year, he is only slightly modifying the analysis of the conventional models, rather than relying on better models like he had in other elections.

Yesterday, though, Mr. Silver wrote a great piece, explaining that not only are conventional models are flawed, but how they are flawed, and how that could actually mean a BIGGER Republican landslide than the conventional models have been predicting.

Here's the piece:

He also promises a follow-up piece explaining how this could mean that the Democrats could hold on and stave off a devastating tidal wave of Republican resurgence. I hope that comes today, as I'm very curious to read the other side of this analysis (no, not because I hope the Democrats are successful; I just really am curious). I find Mr. Silver's honesty refreshing, and I wish he and others had been as honest about this faulty polling and data analysis long before this weekend.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Argh! The Tea Party, Limited Government, and States' Rights. Or: What happened to the freakin' Constitution?

Wendy Kaminer writes in the Atlantic that the Tea Party does not live up to its purported ideals of limited government. No kidding? Who knew?

Unfortunately, in making her point, she very badly falls into the trap of the Tea Partiers' (and Reagan-Bush II-Cheney Republicans') definitions of the terms she is trying to pry out of their hands.

Read the article, and (I hope) you'll understand what I mean.

Here's my take on it, as I wrote in the comments:

"Only a minority of libertarians (some of whom can be found at the CATO Institute) are consistent in their commitment to individual freedom and an unregulated marketplace."

Why does it have to be all or nothing in order to be consistent? Federal intervention in the market can be defined (and manifested) in different ways. Regulation is NOT the same thing as corporate welfare or takeovers of whole industries. Setting fair-play rules when corporations run by elites affect the lives of individuals in all 50 states is not necessarily anti-Federalist (at least not as far over the line as bailouts or corporate takeovers). And government recognition of marriage - at all - is as anti-Federalist as government restriction on some marriages. As a fundamentally religious institution, marriage ought not be dealt with by the federal government at all. If the government wants to promote higher birth-rates and finds it better for children to grow up in a family environment, then let's have tax policies that favor family units over non-family models of child-rearing, and let's have a political debate over what defines a "family". But let the government stay out of defining marriage altogether.

There needs to be a serious debate about what role the federal government has in a society that is supposed to be made up of "the several States", as our Constitution refers to them over and over. Simultaneously, and not necessarily independently, there needs to be a serious, renewed debate about States' rights, what that means, what the limitations are, and what the limitations are on the federal government's reach into states' affairs.

And, hello? Doesn't anyone ever read the 9th or 10th amendments? Or do they get confused by the 7th, gloss over the 8th ("Yeah, Cruel and Unusual Punishment is bad; I get that") and then quit?

Just as a follow-up point, it turns out that Christine O'Donnell doesn't know what the Constitution says. There's a shocker.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Is this a normal election year?

I don't know. Everyone is saying this is the year of the Republican Party. The conventional wisdom is that the Democrats aren't excited and won't turn out, and that the Tea Party is "fired up and ready to go". Over the last few election cycles, though, I've been seeing a trend: conventional wisdom is not what it used to be. We've seen exit-polling that has been at odds with election returns. We've seen wild shifts in polling results. Some have even claimed that we've even seen political pundits with an agenda determine, by sheer dint of their insistence that a close election went the way they wanted it to, the accepted version of the final election results.

Even the venerated election forecaster Nate Silver of fame is going along with the conventional wisdom this year. I know this is a swing year, and that the Democrats, especially freshmen in conservative districts, are likely lose seats. But I have not yet been convinced that this election cycle is going to follow traditional patterns. Even though 538 has an incredibly accurate track record when it comes to forecasting results, Silver is still using, fundamentally, traditional models to reach their conclusions. Yes, he is using new ways to analyze those models, which is what has led to some very different and surprisingly accurate predictions as compared to everyone else, but in the end everyone is weighing polling data that is based on interviews with registered voters.

In this election, the polling data, I feel, is incomplete. There is no way to predict - at this point - how disappointed liberals will act (or not act) on Election Day. The "enthusiasm gap" is real, but how it will manifest itself in the election is, I think, still up in the air. If the liberal base of the Democratic Party is really upset, they would be hurting their own interests by sitting at home or voting for an uber-liberal, third-party candidate. After the Newt Gingrich years, the 2000 election and the Bush years, I'm not so sure they would do that to themselves.

Of course, if people don't feel compelled to act in their own self interest, which is typical of the American electorate, the traditional models will likely be proven correct, and everyone who has been hoping for a revival of the youth vote, of sorts, will be left wondering how they could have gotten all excited in one election and then stayed home in what is essentially the follow-up.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

"Excuse me, sir, I know you might be Jewish, but can you spare 3 quarters?"

I was asked this question yesterday on the DC Metro (of which I am not a fan anymore anyway - please support a blog I find most helpful and often funny: and follow its creator on Twitter @UnsuckDCMetro).

And I posted the comment on Facebook, asking my friends if they could think of any way to not take offense to this. Just by way of giving context, I decided to add, "I just said, 'Excuse me?' and he repeated himself word for word! Then I just told him I didn't have any change." I got a whole bunch of "What?" and "OMG" type of comments, along with a lot of witty replies. I got one reply actually attempting to make me feel better about the situation, which was, "how to not be offended..he could have needed 10 bucks but was trying to be nice and only ask you for 75 cents..." [sic]

I agree that it's important to judge others favorably. It's a core principle in Pirqei Avoth (1:6). After being introduced as having received the Mesorah (tradition) from his teachers, in direct succession from Moshe Rabbeinu (Moses our teacher), Yehoshua' ben Perahiyah is quoted as having said, "Make for yourself a Rav [rabbi/master/teacher/mentor], acquire for yourself a friend (this clause, historically, has received a tremendous amount of commentary, which I won't get into in this post), and be one who judges every person in the cup (as on a scale) of merit." This has generally been understood to mean that we ought to give people the benefit of the doubt, to the point that even if we know that someone is doing something wrong, we must at least try to come up with a reason - even an implausible one - to justify the person's actions in our own minds. This, incidentally, does not apply when you are coming to a verdict in some criminal or civil case, but it applies forcefully (along with other similar principles) when you are sitting as a judge/juror hearing testimony and evidence, before you are ready to make your judgment.

In any case, I don't think it really applies here, and this is why (this is my edited response to my friends' comments on Facebook, plus a little commentary of my own at the end):

I ate Hummus and Pita with a non-Jewish co-worker in his office last week, and he was telling me about when he was younger ... his next door neighbor comes over to introduce himself and says, "Hi, I'm Lou the Jew!" This co-worker is about 40, and this was when he was probably 20+, and at the time Lou the Jew was apparently approaching 90. So there may have been a generational disconnect, but he thought it was absolutely hilarious, and I said, I understand, it probably sounded like he was saying, "Hi, I'm Ike the Kike!" He told me that Lou the Jew taught him a few words and phrases in Yiddish. I told him my personal feelings about Yiddish (not positive, in case you were wondering), and we discussed how pop culture reflects a lot of Yiddish-based Jewish culture as translated into American society, but how this is outdated because it is from a time when the entertainment industry was dominated by Jews who were just trying to make a living in the "Goldeneh Medineh", and how a lot of the remnants of that are really only seen among secular/non-practicing Jews in America, not religious/practicing Jews in America - or even in Jewish communities elsewhere in the world. We discussed the fact that Jews all over the world have different cultural norms, even while maintaining a core element that ties us together - our Jewishness (however that is manifested, either religiously or otherwise). I have no problem sharing annecdotes, even ones that skirt - or cross - the line of what would otherwise be considered appropriate conversation, with people who respect me and recognize that they and I both view me as being different from them. That's our role - to stand out and set an example of people who are put on this earth to serve G-d. But when someone blatantly throws an offensive stereotype in my face, and he doesn't blink or even seem to think it's offensive, I don't like it. I don't like it at all. My reaction 10 years ago might have been a bit more dramatic. I think if I had wanted to rumble with this guy I would have had about 20 people helping me. But I just calmly told him I didn't have any change and left it at that.

I don't think in certain circumstances that judging favorably helps. I don't think in such circumstances that it is even warranted. In this particular case, the man either didn't care or didn't know that he was saying something offensive. And that, to me, speaks volumes about his ideas of what makes for proper discourse. The best case scenario, that I can think of, to judge him favorably, is that he simply has no frame of reference for what it means to choose your words carefully so as not to offend another person by assuming you know their personality based on external appearances. But even this isn't applicable, because this man was African American, not entirely but pretty well disheveled, and was telling people that he just got out of criminal court and was trying to get somewhere (home, I assume) after having been released from prison. How does someone who is fitting (and presumably having trouble fighting) some evil stereotypes about his own race, sex and appearance, not realize that perhaps it would be to his benefit not to subsequently judge others by evil stereotypes based on theirs appearances? Eventually, I think, you can draw the line and say, no, this person just doesn't get it - or else, to use a word he probably would have expected me to use, he is a complete schmuck.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

In response to criticism of the comparison in the cartoon below that such a comparison is "cheap and unjustifiable", I ended up writing the following comment (below the link):

I am not the one who asked, "what if the governor had been German?" But I did ask (at the time of the controversy) "How about a Nazi History Month?" The comparison is neither cheap, nor unjustifiable. Nazism had philosophis about society and politics that, had they not all been rooted in a notion that the Jews were the cause of all their problems, would be ideas that could be debated with critical analysis, if not even accepted. At the start there were many Jews who supported the Nazi Party and joined the cause, because they agreed with those philosophies. The fact that we can debate States' Rights vs. Federal Power, or the idea that Lincoln may have overstepped his authority as President, does not depend on recognizing and celebrating "Confederate History". One cannot - in any reasonable way - celebrate the history of a movement/philosophy/ideology/institution whose core was rotten and evil, and believed that other human beings were less simply because of some genetic factor. ... See MoreYes, the Confederacy had noble principles. Yes, there is plenty of reason to believe that slavery would have ended even in the Confederacy after couple of more decades. Yes, we have a federal government today that seems to forget the founding principles of the United States. Yes, a lot of that can be traced back to the Civil War era. Yes, had there never been slavery the Confederacy might still have ceceded from the Union and there still might have been a bloody Civil War over the rest of their principles. But the fact that the core of the Confederacy's complaint about States' Rights was an effort to protect their "traditional way of life" (ie, owning slaves that were treated not only as property, not only as sub-human creatures, but as THINGS with which they could do whatever they wanted, including but not limited to raping, deforming and killing), makes the entire institution evil, and all its complaints and ideals and philosophies moot. To celebrate "Confederate History" - and to "forget" to include any reference to slavery! - is to insult an entire race of people that, had the Confederacy not been quashed, might still be enslaved today. Just as to celebrate Nazi History would be an insult - a grotesque insult - to millions of us who, had the Nazis not been crushed, might today not even exist.