Sunday, October 28, 2007

I love Leopard!

24 hours into a bleeding-edge upgrade to OS X Leopard I am in love. After getting past a few startup glitches (most notably a nasty interaction of Leopard with Spotless) everything is working perfectly. I'm even getting used to the look of the new dock! Some of the highlights so far:

1. Spotlight privacy settings survive volume dismounts, so Spotless is no longer needed.

2. After Time Machine does its initial backup, subsequent incremental backups are barely noticeable.

3. Safari now does spell checking in text areas. No more typos in my blog!

4. Lots and lots of little annoyances in Tiger have been fixed, too many to list them all separately. The network control panel has been streamlined. Download progress reports are more informative. The text search within a web page in Safari kicks ass.

5. Leopard is faster than Tiger. I see the SBBOD much less than I used to.

And most important from my geeky point of of view:

6. Objective C now supports garbage collection!

I am stoked! For anyone considering upgrading to Leopard, I say go for it. Just be sure to disable Spotless first.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

First impressions of Leopard

I decided to just completely rewrite this post instead of trying to keep up with updates.

After about six hours of playing around with Mac OS X Leopard, here are my current impressions:

1. It's not a disaster (which puts it head-and-shoulders above Vista), but it's not a must-have upgrade either. If not for the fact that it contains one particular technical feature that I need for geeky reasons (64-bit Cocoa libraries) I could easily live without it for quite a while.

2. A lot of preferences get lost when you update. In particular, finder view preferences are lost, which I found pretty damn annoying.

3. Spotless plays very badly with Leopard. If you are using Spotless it is important to disable it before upgrading. Spotless ran despite announcing that it was incompatible with 10.5 and would quit, and subsequently spotlight (and hence all search, including mail search) was broken after the upgrade. I don't know for certain that Spotless was to blame, but it seems like a reasonable theory. It appears that I will be able to recover using mdutil to force spotlight to rebuild its indexes, but the jury is still out.

4. I hate the look of the new dock. Even after turning off the hideous 3-D effect (yeah, like that's still going to look cool three years from now) it still looks awful. The black background makes all the application icons disappear into a sea of gloom. It makes me want to slit my wrists every time I look at it. (Maybe Apple wanted to go for the goth market?)

5. Time Machine is cool, but annoying. As far as I can tell, there is no way to turn off hourly backups, so every hour your backup disk starts to spin... If this keeps up I'm pretty sure I'm going to end up disabling Time Machine, despite the fact that it's a pretty spiffy way to do backups.

6. Spaces has a weird bug that manifests itself when you open an application that opens a lot of windows over a significant time span (like Final Cut Pro). If you switch Spaces during the startup process you end up with some of the application's windows in one space, and some in another. The only way I've been able to figure out to recover from this is to quit the application and try again. It's damned annoying.

7. I ran into one really bizarre bug that resulted in movies playing with a sort Max Headroom jerkiness that I have never seen before (and hope to never see again). Restarting Final Cut made the problem go away, but it was pretty ominous looking at the time.

8. I have the general impression that things run faster under Leopard than they did under Tiger, which is no small thing.

On a technical level I have to say I'm pretty impressed with what Apple has done. I know how hard it is to make something like Leopard (it's really, really hard) and the fact that it doesn't seem to have any major problems so far is no mean feat, notwithstanding the odd annoyance. I'll probably get used to the new dock some day too.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

David Perks misses the point

David Perks comes to defend James Watson:

James Watson, co-discoverer of DNA and a Nobel laureate, has become a scientific pariah in the space of a week. The cause of his downfall? He made comments on race and intelligence in which he implied that there are significant genetic differences in intelligence between Africans and Caucasians.

No, that is not the cause of his downfall. If all Watson had said was that there are significant genetic differences between Africans and Caucasians (and provided scientific evidence to back it up) there would not have been this outcry. But what Watson actually said is very, very different:

[Watson] said he hoped that everyone was equal, but countered that 'people who have to deal with black employees find this not true.'"


"[I am] inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa” because “all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours - whereas all the testing says not really."

First, even the one scientific claim that Watson makes isn't true. It is simply not true that "all of the testing" says that blacks are not as intelligent as whites. It is arguable in fact whether any of the testing actually shows that blacks are as intelligent as whites. It is not even clear that the term "intelligence" can be adequately defined for such a claim to even make sense, let alone be tested objectively without cultural bias, let alone be true. But then Watson goes even beyond that unwarranted statement to imply that as a result of the alleged inferiority of blacks to whites, Africa is doomed, and anyone who deals with any black employee will find it self-evident that blacks are not as intelligent as whites.

Watson's statements were nothing more than bigoted nonsense, and he abrogated his professional responsibilities as a scientist when he said them. It is entirely appropriate for a science museum to withdraw an invitation to speak under those circumstances.

Blacks are treated equally. Yeah, right.

Can you imagine this happening to a white woman in the U.S.?

Elementary school principal Yvette Hayes will never forget the night of July 13, 2007. She was pregnant at the time and believes police jeopardized the life of her unborn child.

When Hayes was pulled over in the Kansas City suburb of Independence, Mo., on Interstate 70, she thought it was a routine stop. "I'm thinking they'd ask for my driver's license," she said.

Instead, police drew guns on the five months' pregnant mother — whose two children were in the back seat of the car — and told her to lie on the ground.

"Get your hands up," one officer shouted while another ordered her to "go down on to your belly. Arms out to your side! Palms up, palms up!"

Shocked and sobbing, all Hayes could say was, "I'm pregnant."

Hayes had just left a local JCPenney, where a store security guard misidentified her green Jeep as a vehicle involved in stealing cars from the parking lot.

I'll save Denis Bider some typing and anticipate his response: it is not unreasonable to target black people this way because black people commit most of the crimes in this country, just as it is not unreasonable to target young Muslim men as suspected terrorists because most terrorists are young muslim men.

As intuitively appealing as this reasoning may seem, it is false. Just because most people who fall into category A have characteristic B, it does not folow that people with characteristic B are likely to fall into category A. Neo-nazis are overwhelmingly white. It does not follow that a randomly chosen white person is likely to be a neo-nazi. So even if car thieves are overwhelmingly black (which is debatable) it does not follow that a randomly chosen black person is likely to be a car thief. (I note in passing that Denis Bider bears a striking resemblance to Ed Norton in American History X. But I'll wager that Denis would be quite upset (and rightly so) if I opined that this physical resemblance indicated that he might be a white supremacist.)

But this case is actually much, much worse than that because Yvette Hayes is not just a black person. She is a black woman. Not only that, she is an obviously pregnant black woman who had two young children in her car. Whatever else car thieves may generally be, they are generally not pregnant women with young children in tow. But these cops obviously didn't see a pregnant woman. All they saw was a black person.

Now, if there were any justice, these cops would not only be fired, they would be charged with assault under color of authority and do hard time. But of course that won't happen because policemen get to hide their racism behind the cover of "proper procedure." They pulled over someone fitting the description of an alleged car thief, and they did what they were trained to do with alleged car thieves. Trick is, this excuse only works when that description is "a black person."

But it doesn't even end there. Hayes's two young children now have to deal with the trauma of having policemen wave guns in their faces and forcing their pregnant mother to lie down on the freeway (and most likely get off with a slap on the wrist at worst). They have to live the rest of their lives with the not-unreasonable fear that this might happen to them again (and again and again and again and again). This is a source of stress that most of their white peers don't have to deal with. I stand foursquare with anyone who says that people have to take responsibility for their own lives. But there is not, there has never been, and there is no reason to expect that there will be any time soon in this country a level playing field.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

My head is going to explode

George Bush says "If Iran had a nuclear weapon, it'd be a dangerous threat to world peace." So of course to prevent this dangerous threat to world peace we're going to nuke Iran.


Bigotry masquerading as science

Just in time for Halloween.

Nobel Prize winner and DNA-discoverer James Watson says that black people are 'less intelligent' than whites' and that the difference is due to genetics. That is, blacks are not merely less intelligent than whites, they are inherently less intelligent than whites.

Now, that may sound like bigotry, but it isn't. It is possible -- likely in fact -- that intelligence is at least partially determined by genetics, and it is possible (though very unlikely) that the genes that affect intelligence are somehow correlated with the genes that control skin color.

But Watson is in fact a bigot. He reveals it when he goes on to say:

[Watson] said he hoped that everyone was equal, but countered that 'people who have to deal with black employees find this not true.'"

Even if it were true that blacks are genetically predisposed to be less intelligent than whites, the blanket statement that "people who have to deal with black employees find that [blacks are less intelligent than whites]" is, to summon as much diplomacy as I can muster, unjustified racism. Watson's antipathy towards blacks is revealed in his choice of phraseology: "people who have to deal with black employees..." as if black employees are some kind of problem that have to be dealt with rather than valuable contributors to a team irrespective of whether or not they are intelligent. After all, not all white people are Nobel Prize winners either.

Watson's statements are despicable. That they might -- MIGHT mind you -- contain a tiny grain of truth makes them no less despicable.

Well, that didn't take long

The other day I saw an interview on NBC with Scott Redd, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, where to my great surprise he admitted that the U.S. is not safer as a result of the war in Iraq. I thought to myself at the time, "Wow, there's a brave man." I should have followed my instincts and posted one of my Ron Prognosticates posts predicting that he would not be long for this world, because indeed today it was announced that Redd is resigning.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Irony overload

The old irony-o-meter didn't just blow a fuse, it exploded in a shower of sparks when I saw these two leading stories in the news today:

Supreme Court Won’t Hear Torture Appeal

Leak Severed a Link to Al-Qaeda's Secrets

So the Supreme Court decides without comment that innocent people who have been kidnapped and tortured have no recourse because to hear their case might compromise national security. And on the same day it is revealed that the Bush administration itself leaked sensitive information that compromised national security.

Then there's this:

[A first strike on Iran by Israel] would get around the reluctance of large parts of the US establishment to support an American first strike. But helping poor little Israel would be much more popular, especially in the Democrat-dominated Congress [becaus u]nlike the Republican Party, the Democratic Party could almost not exist without Zionist lobby organized funding.

In other words, there is no realistic hope of avoiding war with Iran because the U.S. government is effectively controlled by Zionists. Why does this peg the irony-o-meter? Think about it: the Zionists current influence is to a large degree a direct result of the holocaust, and yet the result of their influence is essentially a replay of 1930's Germany, with "national security" replacing "lebensraum" as the buzzword of the day.

I wonder how bad things will have to get before people wake up. History is not reassuring in this regard.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Sam Harris finally gets it right!

Looks like Sam Harris may have saved me from having to write the followup post to "How material wealth leads to spiritual poverty." Required reading.

Monday, October 01, 2007

If the shoe fits

As I noted before, sometimes the hardest things to explain are the ones that are self-evident to you. So it seems to be with Michael Medved's apologia for slavery. Denis Bider, who usually strikes me as a clear-thinking individual, rose to Medved's defense when I obliquely accused Medved of trying to roll the clock back to 1950. It seemed obvious to me that Medved's position was thinly disguised bigotry of the basest sort, but apparently this is not evident to everyone. So herewith a detailed critique of Medved's piece:

Those who want to discredit the United States and to deny our role as history’s most powerful and pre-eminent force for freedom, goodness and human dignity invariably focus on America’s bloody past as a slave-holding nation.

Note that Medved starts out by tacitly assuming that the only possible motive someone might have for focusing on America's bloody past as a slave-holding nation is that they "want to discredit the United States and to deny our role as history’s most powerful and pre-eminent force for freedom, goodness and human dignity" as if this is the most likely reason for anyone to be paying attention to this little historical incident.

Unfortunately, the current mania for exaggerating America’s culpability for the horrors of slavery bears no more connection to reality than the old, discredited tendency to deny that the U.S. bore any blame at all.

What "mania" and what "exaggerations" exactly? He doesn't cite any examples of who he considers manic, or what he considers current. But the idea of reparations if fairly contemporary, and later context seems to indicate that that's what he's talking about, so we'll go with that as a working assumption.

No, it’s not true that the “peculiar institution” featured kind-hearted, paternalistic masters and happy, dancing field-hands, any more than it’s true that America displayed unparalleled barbarity or enjoyed disproportionate benefit from kidnapping and exploiting innocent Africans.

Ah. So just because America's barbarity was not "unparalleled" or the benefits gained were not "disproportionate" that makes it OK?


Granted, but so what? Since when did "but everyone else was doing it too" become a valid excuse according to conservative morality?

[Lengthy accounting of other slaveholding nations snipped.]

In other words, when taking the prodigious and unspeakably cruel Islamic enslavements into the equation, at least 97% of all African men, women and children who were kidnapped, sold, and taken from their homes, were sent somewhere other than the British colonies of North America. In this context there is no historical basis to claim that the United States bears primary, or even prominent guilt for the depredations of centuries of African slavery.

On this reasoning a murderer should be able to argue: "Hitler, Stalin, etc. have killed countless millions. I only killed one person. Therefore I do not bear primary or even prominent guilt for my actions." How well do you think that would fly in a Texas courtroom?


The same argument applies: "It took only a second for me to pull the trigger, your honor. So I was only a murder for a tiny fraction of my life." To say nothing of the fact that the claim isn't even true:

The Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution put a formal end to the institution of slavery 89 years after the birth of the Republic; 142 years have passed since this welcome emancipation.

Why start counting from "the birth of the Republic"? The slaves surely didn't. And to draw the analogy back to to the individual case, this is analogous to a murderer claiming that all the people he killed before he turned 18 ought not to count. Or even to accept Medved's accounting, it's analogous to a serial killer who goes on a 9-year-long murder spree followed by a 14-year retirement and saying that everything is now square.

Moreover, the importation of slaves came to an end in 1808 (as provided by the Constitution), a mere 32 years after independence

Ah, so because at that point we were only enslaving people born here that somehow makes it better? That seems like some might odd balancing of the moral scales to me.

Slavery had been outlawed in most states decades before the Civil War.

That is simply false. There were brief windows during which free states outnumber the slave states, but great pains were taken to try to keep the number of slave and free states the same. The ultimate failure of this effort is one of the things that the civil war was fought over.

Even in the South, more than 80% of the white population never owned slaves.

So because only one in five people decides to murder people that makes it OK to make murder legal?

Given the fact that the majority of today’s non-black Americans descend from immigrants who arrived in this country after the War Between the States, only a tiny percentage of today’s white citizens – perhaps as few as 5% -- bear any authentic sort of generational guilt for the exploitation of slave labor.

Perhaps as few? Is there any basis for this number, or did Medved just pull it out of his ass?

Of course, a hundred years of Jim Crow laws, economic oppression and indefensible discrimination followed the theoretical emancipation of the slaves, but those harsh realities raise different issues from those connected to the long-ago history of bondage.

They do? Why? Note that I have elided nothing here. That is Medved's sole mention of Jim Crow in the entire piece. No elaboration on why "those harsh realities raise different issues." It seems to me that those harsh realities raise exactly the same issues: an entire class of people was systematically denied basic human rights and equal treatment under the law. The difference between slavery and Jim Crow is a difference of degree, not of kind.


So just because it wasn't your intent to kill people that somehow makes it less heinous that they died as a result of your reprehensible actions? How exactly do you square that with the case of Kenneth Foster who narrowly escaped being put to death by the state of Texas not for killing someone but merely for driving someone else after they had killed someone?

[Details of slavery atrocities snipped]

Here, the popular, facile comparisons between slavery and the Holocaust quickly break down: the Nazis occasionally benefited from the slave labor of their victims, but the ultimate purpose of facilities like Auschwitz involved mass death, not profit or productivity. For slave owners and slave dealers in the New World, however, death of your human property cost you money, just as the death of your domestic animals would cause financial damage. And as with their horses and cows, slave owners took pride and care in breeding as many new slaves as possible. Rather than eliminating the slave population, profit-oriented masters wanted to produce as many new, young slaves as they could. This hardly represents a compassionate or decent way to treat your fellow human beings, but it does amount to the very opposite of genocide.

[Emphasis added.]

At this point my ability to remain calm breaks down. Anyone who cannot see the absurdity in this is beyond help. Just because you intended to treat people like animals and end up killing a lot of them only inadvertantly does not mean that your actions were "the very opposite of genocide." Whether or not it was genocide is perhaps debatable. That it was every bit as morally reprehensible and unforgivable as genocide is not.

As David Brion Davis reports, slave holders in North America developed formidable expertise in keeping their “bondsmen” alive and healthy enough to produce abundant offspring. The British colonists took pride in slaves who “developed an almost unique and rapid rate of population growth, freeing the later United States from a need for further African imports.”

Ye gods, can Medved not hear himself? This is what he cites to make the case that "Those who want to discredit the United States and to deny our role as history’s most powerful and pre-eminent force for freedom, goodness and human dignity invariably focus on America’s bloody past as a slave-holding nation"? Medved is essentially, saying, "We didn't intend to kill the slaves, we just intended to breed them like cattle. What you bleeding-hearts getting so worked up about?"


At the risk of getting tiresome (because I want to be absolutely clear that NONE of Medved's arguments are even remotely valid): because they didn't make money that makes it OK?

[Details of the negative ecnomic consequences of slavery snipped.]

WHILE AMERICA DESERVES NO UNIQUE BLAME FOR THE EXISTENCE OF SLAVERY, THE UNITED STATES MERITS SPECIAL CREDIT FOR ITS RAPID ABOLITION. In the course of scarcely more than a century following the emergence of the American Republic, men of conscience, principle and unflagging energy succeeded in abolishing slavery not just in the New World but in all nations of the West.

The United States was the last Western nation to abolish slavery, and the only one that had to fight a civil war to do it. I predict that if the United States ever switches to the metric system Medved will write an essay about how we deserve special credit for that too.


It is hard to imagine a more condescending claim. Even if it were true, so what? Isn't it supposed to be a conservative tenet that people should be free to choose their own course in life even if it results in undesirable consequences? If I kidnap a child of poor parents, should it be a defense that I was able to give that child a better life than his parents would have been able to?

The idea of reparations rests on the notion of making up to the descendants of slaves for the incalculable damage done to their family status and welfare by the enslavement of generations of their ancestors. In theory, reparationists want society to repair the wrongs of the past by putting today’s African-Americans into the sort of situation they would have enjoyed if their forebears hadn’t been kidnapped, sold and transported across the ocean. Unfortunately, to bring American blacks in line with their cousins who the slave-traders left behind in Africa would require a drastic reduction in their wealth, living standards, and economic and political opportunities.

Imagine that I kidnap a child of poor parents, an academic underachiever with no prospects, and hack off all their limbs. Imagine further that they manage to escape, sell their life story to Hollywood, and make more money than they ever would have been able to make had I not kidnapped them. Imagine further that because of my power and influence I am able to escape prosecution for my crime. (I know that kind of thing never happens, but bear with me here.) Suppose that the kid brings a civil suit against me for pain and suffering. Should I be able to use as an argument in my defense that the kid is better off because of what I did to him?

No honest observer can deny or dismiss this nation’s long record of racism and injustice

And yet that is exactly what Medved is doing. Well, if the shoe fits...

If we sought to erase the impact of slavery on specific black families, we would need to obliterate the spectacular economic progress made by those families (and by US citizens in general) over the last 100 years.

That assumes that no Africans would have emigrated to this country if it had not been for slavery, a dubious assumption at best. The rest of this argumnt thus becomes a non-sequitur, and I have elided it.

In short, politically correct assumptions about America’s entanglement with slavery lack any sense of depth, perspective or context.

No, it is Medved's straw-man that lacks any sense of depth, perspective, or context. The not-so-thinly veiled subtext of Medved's position is simply this: everything is fine, except for blacks being a little too uppity, along with the white liberals who support them, a class of people which in the 1950's were referred to as "nigger lovers."

If the shoe fits.

Conservatives show their true colors

Michael Medved says that slavery wasn't so bad after all. No, he really does. And not just in passing, the whole essay is an extensive apologia (NOT an apology) for slavery in the U.S.

I am appalled, but I am not surprised. If you really take the hard-core conservative position seriously then this is where you end up, back in the good old days, when family values were strong, when you could still pray in school, display the Commandments on public property, and lynch those uppity niggers.

There is no reason to believe today’s African-Americans would be better off if their ancestors had remained in Africa.

And to think that some blacks actually want reparations for slavery. Can you imagine? Those ungrateful bastards. Slavery might actually have been good for them and all they can do is complain, complain, complain. Really, we ought to just ship 'em all back to Africa, and those white liberal nigger-lovers along with 'em.