Archive for February, 2006

Hard test

February 27th, 2006

I just had a short conversation with a friend who recently finished a university test. And two of the sentences I found just too amusing to let slip quietly into oblivion.

Just to make sure that these won’t give the totally wrong impression, the friend is quite an intelligent person, usually. I suspect this is more because the subject matter of that test was totally outside my friend’s interest. From the sample questions I heard, the test was absurdly easy, but that’s entirely not the way my friend, and the other classmates, apparently saw it.

And please notice that these were both said in an highly indigent tone.

Quote number one was in an attempt to explain to me why the test was hard, despite me thinking that the material should have made it very easy:

They didn’t ask us exactly about the things they said in class. To answer these questions we had to think about them.

Ah, a shame about this foul academic practice in which students are required to understand the material, instead of just parroting back what the lecturer said in class, isn’t it?

The second quote is from an attempt to demonstrate that not only was the test unduly difficult, but that the university made the students take it under uncommonly hard conditions:

And they didn’t even let us copy. I mean, at all!

I wonder if they have a case to appeal to the dean. That’s very cruel, and hardly fair…

And there are worse things than Holocaust denial

February 22nd, 2006

On the same article regarding the guy being jailed for denying the Holocaust there were some responses. One of which, from the Simon Wiesenthal Center, I find totally objectionable:

The verdict was welcomed by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which also highlighted the issue of freedom of speech.

“While Irving’s rants would not have led to legal action in the United States, it is important that we recognize and respect Austria’s commitment to fighting Holocaust denial, the most odious form of hatred, as part of its historic responsibility to its Nazi past,” the center’s associate dean, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, said in a statement.

First, countries don’t have responsibilities to their past. They have responsibilities to their present, and should have responsibilities for their future. Nothing Austria will do today will ever change its Nazi past (inventing a time machine and going to kill baby Hitler excluded). It will only have an effect on how the country looks today, and will look in the future. And throwing people in jail for thinking something contrary to current doctrine, even if I believe that doctrine to be absolutely correct, doesn’t seem responsible to me.

More importantly, there are much more odious forms of hatred than Holocaust denial. Killing people, for one. Saying otherwise is greatly belittling every other sort of hate crime in the world. Against Jews, or otherwise. There’s plenty of hate to go around, unfortunately.

The audacity of this Rabbi Abraham Cooper to claim that nothing worse can be done than denying the Holocaust is something I find much more objectionable than someone denying the Holocaust. The latter I can define as an idiot and be done with it. Rabbi Abraham is Worse. Listen Rabbi, when someone murders a Jew for being a filthy Jew, or burns a synagogue, do you find yourself saying “oh, well, at least they didn’t deny the Holocaust?”. Because that’s what you apparently just said.

Heck, one of the reasons for founding Israel was to prevent such events as the Holocaust from happening again. But here we hear that doing similar things is not as bad as denying they happened in the past. So maybe we should just close shop, because we already have Austria guarding that particular front?

But don’t worry, Rabbi. Even though you’re saying far worse things, I don’t think you deserve to go to jail either. You just deserve some contempt and disdain.

In this series (Holocaust denier gets three years in Jail):

  1. Being an idiotic jerk should not be a reason get thrown in jail
  2. And there are worse things than Holocaust denial

Being an idiotic jerk should not be a reason get thrown in jail

February 22nd, 2006

An Austrian court sentenced a man to three years in jail, for denying the holocaust existed. Or, as the case may be, for trying to grossly misrepresent the events that occurred as something not even close in scope to what actually happened.

The historical evidence seems pretty overwhelming, so it never ceases to surprise me how some people can choose to ignore so much of it just because of their own personal views. Of course, my own opinion isn’t without bias, me being a Jew (though a secular one) and living in Israel. But still, I do believe that the evidence clearly shows that most of what we believe happened during the holocaust really did happen.

Therefore I do most sincerely believe that this guy, David Irving, is an idiot.

What strikes me as being too much, though, is throwing him in jail for it. Yes, the guy believes in quite a load of… manure. On the personal front I’d probably hate him, and it would very probably be mutual. None of that should be something worth being jailed for, though.

Many people believe in all sorts of totally wild nonsense, much of it extremely easier to prove wrong than it is to prove the holocaust happened (hint: That’s quite easy to prove), and yet nobody throws them in jail for it. Usually they’re not even thrown in asylums.

Many other people (though a large overlap probably exist) believe in all sorts of really offensive stuff, and yet they don’t get thrown in jail for it either.

So why this particular stupid belief, and even the attempt to propagate it in public, should be considered so much worse, is beyond me. I may personally find it more offensive than a lot of other stuff but, until the day I get to rule the world with my iron fist, that shouldn’t really count for much.

That said, the reason Austria has these laws forbidding holocaust denial is understandable. Germany and Austria suffered quite a lot of backlash over the actions of Nazi Germany under Hitler. And the Austrian governments, whether out of political expediency or actual feeling that they should carry a shame over the actions of someone who happened to get born in the same country they live in, wanted to make it obvious how badly they feel about it.

Fine. We got that. You think Hitler was really bad, and what he did was really bad. That’s alright, most of the world agree. Now get over it. Seriously.

Explaining during history lessons what went wrong, and why those views are wrong, that’s fine. Quite welcome, even. But making it illegal to hold a belief, as misguided as it may be, as long as nothing is done about it (Going out killing Jews is doing something. Merely thinking that a good Jew is a dead Jew, isn’t doing something. Not that denying the holocaust is exactly wanting Jews dead, but I think that passes the semantic point well enough), that’s misguided itself.

Yes, it would be much harder for someone with such views to rise to a position of political power where mentioning those views is illegal. That’s true. But is that worth running laws requiring what’s effectively a thought police?

There are so many other bad ideas people believe in. This one got into law because they had one such person who eventually managed to act on it on a large scale. So is that really the main worry they should keep carrying?

Historical events leave scars, and effect laws and culture for many years. The bigger the event, the deeper the scars, and the longer the effect lasts. But as some point people have to separate between laws that have a positive influence on current and future events, and laws which only hurt those and their sole benefit is making people feel better about the past trauma.

Speaking of which, I think it’s quite possible we have similar laws here in Israel. And such laws are even more understandable here than in Austria, since it’s to be expected a country of Jews will be a lot more touchy on the subject. And yet I think even here holding such a law is misguided. Not to mention silly, since those views really have no chance of catching on here.

Let the idiots rave. No need to turn them into martyrs for the few other misguided people who believe them. Heck, most racist and anti-Semitic people (assuming that’s the group the Austrian legislators worried about) don’t deny the holocaust. They may think it was a very good event, and should have gone out longer, but from there to denial the way is long. Not to mention, denying the holocaust takes away from such people the biggest example they have of how things should run.

Which is why I think holocaust deniers aren’t, and shouldn’t be, anything too exciting. Nobody much cares about them and their views, on both/all sides. There’s no much difference between them and people who want to deny other historical events, except that this one is more loaded culturally and politically.

Throwing someone like that in jail is bad on two totally different front. The first is that it simply gives the issue too much attention. Why fight over whether it’s allowed to deny the holocaust? It happened, and anyone insisting the earth is flat (Though I do admit there’s a bit more evidence for that) should be of no interest.

The second is that it’s a bad precedent for arresting people due to simple beliefs and opinions. If people think that such a law is a good idea, the distance isn’t that great until other stupid thoughts and beliefs become illegal as well. And from there it’s a slippery slope. I like my freedom of speech to much for that. To be wholly inappropriate and paraphrase, I don’t want it to end in cases of… First they came for the holocaust deniers, and I did not speak up, because I wasn’t a holocaust denier

In this series (Holocaust denier gets three years in Jail):

  1. Being an idiotic jerk should not be a reason get thrown in jail
  2. And there are worse things than Holocaust denial

Another nutcase drilling for oil in Israel

February 21st, 2006

Every few years we have someone trying to drill for oil in Israel. Stories appear about how they have some new idea, new findings, new theory. Almost always they also state how unlikely it is that Israel won’t have any oil deposits while our neighbours have a lot of them (Politely ignoring that they don’t have it on every single location, and Israel isn’t that big).

And, unsurprisingly, every time they fail miserably. Or at best, just fail quietly. Often they find nothing. Sometimes they claim to actually find oil, but in depth and quantities making it not worthwhile to to drill.

The thing is, there’s no oil here. We don’t have any. Not in the ground anyway, just in tankers we use when buying it from abroad. No, really.

Yet people insist on failing to get the hint. The plethora of hints. The whole army of them. As if geological surveys and past experience are nothing to them.

And now there’s another one.

This one is on the right track, though. You see, considering that there’s no oil to be found here, it will take a miracle to find any. Literally. And this group is totally on the right track for miracles. They’re not using guesswork, and hope. Oh, no. They’re using scientific methods. Mainly, they’re basing their drilling on some cryptic and obscure verses from the Bible.

Yes, Biblical reference. How more scientific could they get?

<sigh>

So does Hurtt has nothing to worry about?

February 21st, 2006

I’m not sure whether I really like the Hurtt Prize idea, or whether I think it’s totally appalling and the guy behind it should get thrown in jail just for the principal of it…

The chief of police in Houston has shown himself to be a total idiot, pushing forward a program to have constant video surveillance all around the city. That’s not the totally idiotic part (though it’s bad enough). The totally idiotic part was that, in response to privacy concerns, the idiot has the audacity to wonder why would people who didn’t do anything wrong need to worry…

Privacy, for anyone who isn’t capable of realizing it on their own, is important. No, really. Giving the government, police officials, your fellow neighbourhood people, or anyone else, the ability to spy on you and your actions freely, is a bad idea.

It will be misused, even if nobody plans to misuse it from the get-go. And it doesn’t help safety and security. It just helps the illusion of safety.

While adding the very non-illusionary feeling of being constantly monitored and under watch.

Bad, bad, bad idea.

Unless you’re, like chief of police Hurtt (Who to his credit isn’t the first, not the most important, of the many people around the world supporting such extensive surveillance), expecting to be the one having the power to use this, and not expecting to be the target.

So this Hurtt Prize idea is quite an apt response.

Somebody is setting up a monetary prize to be given to anyone presenting videotaped proof that chief of police Hurtt performed any sort of crime. This, obviously, with the implicit but very obvious idea that people will have to go around him all the time with cameras, watching and monitoring his every move.

Anyone doing that to me would find themselves sued very quickly for stalking. And I won’t take lightly the total ignorance of my privacy and right to personal life.

Chief of police Hurtt, however, doesn’t have any reason to complain. Obviously. Because, after all, if he isn’t doing anything wrong, what does he have to worry about?

If he would do something wrong, then that would put him in a bit of a problem, yes. It’s all the more likelier to get noticed and published. But he doesn’t need to worry and complain now, because he doesn’t actually plan on doing anything wrong, does he?

I wonder how this would develop…

Too much of a really-good thing

February 17th, 2006

It makes sense that being perfect would be good, or perfect even. But is being a perfect part of a perfect group still as good?

Many women, I noticed, tend to believe they’re perfect, and wonderful. Or at least tend to claim they are. I think at one point or another a conversation with nearly any long-time women friend of mine reached a point where they jokingly mentioned that they’re perfect, and so men should be very grateful and appreciative for knowing them and being in their presence. Especially given the fact that men in general (or their particular BF at the time, if they had any) are far from perfect.

Now, whether the premise is correct or not (And that’s really open for discussion), is not what this post is about. Let’s assume the claims made by those women are true, for the sake of the argument. Let’s also assume, because this is the context under which the statements were made, that men and women desire each other’s company.

Given those premises, then, the conclusion makes perfect sense. If a specific woman is perfect, or nearly so, and most men are far below perfect, then men should indeed show that woman the utmost respect and admiration. The poor wretch who is blessed with her presence, should know he’s in the presence of extremely superior perfection.

Not so fast, ladies. Don’t rejoice yet. There’s more, you see…

The problem starts with them all continuing the argument by stating that it’s not only them who are perfect, but rather all women. Although they were all, so far, quick to agree that maybe all is too strong a term, and there are some bad women out there too. They don’t generally drop to some, however, but rather just to a very large most.

Because of that, they claim that as a general rule men should be a lot more respectful towards all women, and show them all awe and admiration.

On the very face of it, if we accept the premises, this would appear to make sense. If all (I’ll round it up a bit, since the exceptions are generally claimed to be rare. Though for a some reason they’re often a part of the small circle of women the one I’m talking to actually knows. Go figure.) women are perfect, and all men are lousy, pathetic, and dense, then any man who is with a women is in the presence of someone obliging him despite being much better than him, and he should act accordingly.

This is where these conversation threads usually end, with the poor women failing to grasp the big gaping hole existing in the theory they raised in their perfect little heads.

Because, you see, if we do accept all these premises, and apply them to the real world, the conclusions would be very different.

Here’s one fact that should make it obvious. The number of women in the world, for the sake of this argument, is equal to number of men. Now, I do make some rough generalizations here. Statistics show that there are more women than men. This actually strengthen my claim, but isn’t as relevant because it mainly results from the fact that women live longer.

The birth ratios are indeed almost equal, with average number of born men equal to the average number of born women. This is for simple evolutionary reasons. In a population tending to have more men than women, a women will have a smaller chance of not managing to find a mate, so a bigger chance of having children and passing her genes onward, making it a more viable genetic strategy to have women instead of men as kids. The reverse holds as well. So populations will tend to be stable around equal numbers from each gender. This does not take into account people beyond the child-bearing age, which is why the statistics show we have more women.

China, where the severe birth limitation, and cultural biases, caused people to get rid of daughters in order to have more sons, is not considered here. Both since the current huge ratio of men to women there is just a temporary condition, and because the women I had these conversations with were not Chinese, so as far as I am, or they are, concerned this does not apply.

The important part is that there are not more men than women in the world.

And remember, we also assume that men and women want to be together, in couples. Never mind that it’s not a universal truth, it’s most common, and more importantly it’s the assumption existing in all the conversations where the above statements and false conclusion were made.

What does it mean? Simply put, it means that the very large majority of women will end up with a men, and the very large majority of men will therefore end up with a women.

And this is where it becomes interesting. If there were just a few perfect women, they would be highly sought after. Everyone would prefer to be with a perfect and wonderful woman, instead of a plain one.

But remember, they’re all wonderful. All perfect. Even if they say so themselves.

So? So any man knows that if it doesn’t work out with a woman, there are plenty of other ones, all perfect and wonderful, he has a good chance with. The risk of losing perfection isn’t that big if you know you can easily get perfection to replace it. Men are far from perfect, remember. And since all women are perfect and wonderful, even a perfect and wonderful women doesn’t have anything to ensure she could keep one attracted better than any other women could.

And what happens from the women’s point of view? Men are really not up to par. They all have many faults, and many problems. So any man who is a little less lousy, a little less dense, a little less infested with faults, is a relatively great catch. They don’t take him, they’ll have to settle for a worse model.

Do you sense the pattern here? Counter-intuitive, isn’t it? Under these premises women are the ones who should be extra nice to men. Men don’t have much to worry about, since nearly whatever they do, they can still end up with a perfect women. But the women can only hope they’ll catch one who is a little better than the rest, and never know if when a relationship will fail they won’t have to settle for much worse afterwards.

Quite the opposite of what these women friends of mine were claiming, isn’t it? With the most ironic point being that this is not despite women being all perfect and wonderful. It is because of it.

By claiming that they’re perfect and deserve better treatment, they’re doing alright. But by extending that claim of perfection to the entire gender, they’re getting the absolute opposite effect. They want treatment as they deserve as perfect creatures. And by insisting to have men agree that all women are perfect, the treatment they deserve as perfect creatures becomes far less than what is sought after.

Now I just need to find a way to explain it to them without being physically beaten… I’m afraid I may not be able to pass the point quickly enough, about why I should be better treated and my life preserved.

P.S. Yes, this is not a serious essay. If you read this without noticing the amused and cynical undertone, you’ve been doing a bad job. Or I have been. I don’t believe all women are perfect, nor do I preach for men to treat women badly. Clear?

Contextually relevant spam ads

February 17th, 2006

Among my various email accounts I have an email account on Gmail. And the way one pays for this free email service is by seeing ads from Google’s own ad service, AdSense.

Which presents textual ads. Ads which are supposed to be based on context from the page. What they hope for, naturally, is that the ads will be relevant to the content of the emails, thereby increasing the chance of the ads actually being relevant to the people reading the emails.

How that goes for them in general, I don’t know. If it works well, there’s the obvious creep factor, of seeing ads talking about a personal email.

From my personal experience it doesn’t work so well, and the ads are often not really relevant. Just because they match a few words that the ads were purchased for, doesn’t mean these words were what the email was about.

Sometimes, though, there are exceptions. Huge ones, sometimes. And really funny, sometimes.

Like the one time I saw a prominent ad that appeared on my spam folder/label. The code behind the ads managed to notice that the word “spam” was very prominent on that page (Gee, I wonder why?), and so showed me an ad for… SPAM.

Right on the word, but oh so wrong on the context

And since many people will probably have the word “spam” appearing somewhere in their spam folders, I wonder how wide-spread this is. If anyone bothers to even look at those ads to notice it, that is?