Monday, March 02, 2015

BLEG: Google Navigator TTS

As if I didn’t have enough aggravation . . .

My Galaxy S5 has two voice options for its text-to-speech (TTS) function:  the Samsung Voice (warm and sultry) and the Google Voice (chirpy and efficient).  When I purchased the phone, the default setting was the Samsung Voice, which I had come to prefer.  Unfortunately, about a month ago, the TTS for the Google Navigator application unexpectedly switched to the Google Voice.  This despite the phone’s TTS setting (under “Language and Input”) still set to Samsung Voice.

Google Navigator is the only application with which I ever use TTS, so it is disappointing that it has started using Google Voice irrespective of the phone’s global setting.  Does anyone have any idea how to get Navigator to change TTS voices?

Thanks in advance.

Monday, February 23, 2015

How much atonement?

Ross Douthat cites Rod Dreher’s response to Douthat’s earlier reaction to Obama’s remarks about the Crusades.  All of the articles are required reading.


The New York Times wrote today on a new research report by an organization that has been studying lynching, and has documented almost 4,000 acts of extrajudicial murder by white mobs from the years 1877-1950. Most, but not all, of the deeds took place in the South. Five of the top 10 counties for lynching are in my home state, Louisiana. Here is a summary of the Equal Justice Initiative’s report.

EJI’s contribution was to identify several hundred additional lynching cases.  The previous total from the Tuskegee Institute was 4743, of which some 3446 were of black.  Note that the EJI’s report considers only blacks, and only the South.

Dreher quotes from the summary:

Lynchings Based on Fear of Interracial Sex. Nearly 25 percent of the lynchings of African Americans in the South were based on charges of sexual assault. The mere accusation of rape, even without an identification by the alleged victim, could arouse a lynch mob. The definition of black-on-white “rape” in the South required no allegation of force because white institutions, laws, and most white people rejected the idea that a white woman would willingly consent to sex with an African American man.

Dreher concludes:

We all need to know these things, and face down what our ancestors did. These weren’t Crusaders sacking Constantinople. These were our fathers, grandfathers, and great-grandfathers, doing it to the fathers, grandfathers, and great-grandfathers of our black neighbors. Attention must be paid. That may be the only atonement available now, but it’s better than what we have had, which is nothing.

If it needs be stated, I will (again and again):  I am opposed to extrajudicial murder as an inherent violation of the Constitution’s due-process protections.  And I will add to that that I am opposed to torturing people to death in all circumstances.  (As Dreher points out, many of the murders described in the EJI’s summary would do ISIS proud.)

But the problem with Dreher’s call to atonement is that it never specifies exactly when the heirs (if heirs they actually be) of the murderers of century past can be assured that their accounts are settled.  Here Dreher is asking for “attention”.  Yet the inclusion of lynching, and the mistreatment of American blacks in general, is a staple of history curricula at all levels of education across the country.  My own daughter is finally having her first public school class in American history, yet over the last three years consideration of slavery, segregation, and the Civil Rights movement have dominated the assigned (and unassigned) readings in both her Social Studies and her English lessons.  You will fail to find any public figure anywhere who would call for as much nuance in our treatment of lynching as I do here.  How much attention does Dreher think is enough?

EJI and Dreher both want us to generalize from the numbers to characterize lynching as an especially Southern and racist phenomenon.  But I have a generalization of my own:  the majority of lynching victims were accused of heinous crimes that then merited the death penalty.  The EJI summary as quoted above does its best to obscure this – rape is only “sexual assault” is only “fear of interracial sex” – but EJI itself apparently found only a few hundred cases of lynching for mere social protocol violations.

I would also point out that the racial disparity in lynching (73% victimization borne by 13% of the population is a 5.6x overrepresentation) reflects the racial disparity in crime, yet EJI specifically condemns the contemporaneous public figures who pointed this out.

No public figure points this out today, and black violence against white victims isn’t even A Thing in elite discourse, school curricula, or polite conversation.  But that’s kind of the point:  Obama and his followers invoke the crimes of the past to obscure the crimes of the present.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

How about “Math Up”?

Congress is debating recommendations from the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission:

Congresswoman to Colleagues: 'Man Up' and Overhaul Military Benefits

Under the panel's recommendations, retirees younger than age 65 would initially pay 5 percent of the cost of a private plan, but the figure would increase 1 percent a year until reaching 20 percent of the premium -- or until they're eligible to switch into Medicare and Tricare for Life.

"It's costing about, let's just say round numbers, $500 a year," [California Democrat Rep. Jackie] Speier said. "A 1-percent increase is $5. I mean, I think we have to pitch this for what it is: You're going to have better health care, you're going to have a bigger network, and it's going to cost you one Starbucks Latte a year. Are you in?"

Commissioner Stephen Buyer responded, "Bingo. Thank you."

Buyer, a former Republican congressman from Indiana who headed the Veterans' Affairs Committee, also noted that working-age retirees paid a bigger share of their health care costs in the early 1990s. "In 1994, when it started, it was a 27-percent premium," he said. "It's eroded to 5 percent."

On the one hand, I have always conceded that expecting premiums to keep pace with costs is not inherently unreasonable.  Whether 1994 is the appropriate benchmark is another question, but retirees have had their Tricare premiums more-or-less frozen for the last 2 1/2 years while health care costs have (presumably) increased, and that generosity is unsustainable.

But Jackie Speier doesn’t understand the math (and neither apparently does commissioner Buyer).  The proposal doesn’t increase our premiums by 1% of our current cost-share per year.  The proposal increases our premiums by 1% of the total cost per year.

My current Tricare premium cost-share is (I just checked) $46.32 per month, $555.84 per year.  This, I think, is the “$500” to which Speier refers.  If this is indeed 5% of a retiree family’s health care costs, then those costs run to $11,1116.80 per year.*  It is 1% of this number that the commission is recommending that our premiums be increased every year until they reach 20%; by the end of it, I’ll be paying an extra $1667.52 per year, plus 20% of whatever increase in health care costs occur between now and then.

Now, this may, or may not, be “fair”, and in any case it probably won’t drive us to homelessness.  But it’s more than the cost of a yearly Starbucks latte**, and it would be nice if Congressional Democrats stopped pretending otherwise.

* This plan includes no dental services, and involves additional costs for any drugs or services received from a civilian provider.

** I suppose that this number is closer to a Starbucks latte per day, but I’m not sure . . . because I don’t go to Starbucks every day, and neither does anyone else I know, precisely because of these kinds of prices.

Monday, February 09, 2015

Burning the Witches, 2015

So there was a measles outbreak at Disneyland.

I should start this post by saying, in the vain hope of heading off some small amount of the hate it will provoke, that my family were vaccinated on the standard schedule.  We're conformists that way.

Jail 'anti-vax' parents: Column

Put simply, no person has the right to threaten the safety of his community. Like drunken drivers, the unvaccinated pose an imminent danger to others. They pose a lethal threat to the most vulnerable: the immunocompromised, such as HIV or cancer patients, and infants who have yet to receive their vaccines.  Anti-vaccine parents are turning their children into little walking time bombs. They ought to be charged for endangering their children and others.

This strikes me as not quite right.  People with measles endanger the safety of others, be they infants, immunocompromised, or simply unlucky.  Had Alex Berezow asserted a moral obligation on the part of the sick, or even the exposed, to quarantine themselves, he would have been on much firmer ground.  But an unvaccinated child doesn't turn into a "walking time bomb" simply by turning a-year-and-a-day without a vaccine.  Indeed, he doesn't turn into a "time bomb" at all; the metaphor fails because the disease doesn't spontaneously generate.  If you get it, you got it from somebody who also has it.

People who elect to forgo vaccinations may be misguided, and indeed, the California outbreak ought to provoke anti-vaxxers to recalculate their priors (though perhaps not).  But I don't believe they are any more evil than the year-less-a-day infants because I don't see them as any more vulnerable than those infants, any more likely to spread the disease than those infants.  The exact same public health argument in favor of keeping the year-and-a-day child isolated from the rest of us applies to the year-less-a-day child.  In fact, if everyone were vaccinated on the standard schedule, infants and immunocompromisees would still be at risk from each other.

It's odd, though, that for all the talk of jailing non-conformists, I suspect (admittedly without citation) that most of these outbreaks originate outside the U.S., especially in poor countries with much lower rates of vaccination and much higher probability of having their citizens here illegally.  Yet nobody in the media wants to talk about the threat of our derelict border control and illegal immigrant policing poses to everyone, conformists and non-conformists alike.

Funny how that works.

Monday, February 02, 2015

Choosing Chaste

Good Grief.  Does late-stage Evangelicalism do anything other than validate our worst instincts?

I am a virgin by choice and will be until my wedding night. But if my future beloved has engaged in pre-marital affairs I do not consider that in itself to be a deal breaker. Why?

Because I believe in the power of restoration.

I believe that decisions of the past can remain there.

I believe that our pasts do not necessarily define our present.

I believe that the love of today is not necessarily tainted by relations of the past.

Fine words . . . and also empirically false.  But the point is:  given that Christian women are already eager to find reasons to ignore the boring lifelong churchgoers in their midst in favor of excitingly pre-selected men who show a glimmer of tame-ability, what kind of incentives are we presenting to young Christian men?

  • Exercise extreme self-restraint (or alternatively, organize your life in such a way that self-restrain is seldom called upon) in a commitment to chastity and discover that not only will Christian girls hold your inexperience against you, but your own church’s leadership will discourage them from seeing even relative merit in your sacrifice; OR
  • Enjoy both the physical pleasure and increased self-esteem that come from sexual conquest, and in the event you go to church to “find a nice girl and settle down”, you will enjoy better success precisely because of your prior (or “prior”) life of sin.

I can’t think of a better way of alienating the loyalty of the church’s young men.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Movie Tears

FiveThirtyEight (H.T.: Ace) takes a survey to find out what movies make grown men cry:



Don’t misunderstand me.  It’s not that these movies aren’t good.  Many of them are great.  (And a few are nigh unwatchable.  Titanic?  Srsly?)  But with the exception of The Lion King, I don’t remember actually shedding tears during any of them.

And would it not be more accurate to speak of crying during movie scenes rather than whole movies?  Even mediocrities can sometimes pull off an emotion-provoking scene.

I thought about it for a while and came up with a list of movies that have successfully jerked Φ’s tears.  I have organized them by what about the scene made it compelling.  These are not endorsements, mind you; some of the movies are pretty silly.  Nor do all these scenes succeed as well on repeated viewings.  And the scenes are seldom actually sad in the way we think of sad things that ought to bring tears.

Art for its own sake.

Sometimes, I can get emotional over sheer creativity.  Disney seems especially good at this.  “The Presentation of Simba”, did things I hadn’t seen in an animation before, like adjust focus from ants to Zebras and track ZaZu’s’ flight over his shoulder.  (These elements contribute to the scene’s majesty, which is itself emotional.)  “I want much more than this provincial life” was brilliant in its virtuosity; didn’t that song win an Oscar nomination? (as we will see, music factors heavily into the emotional power of all these scenes.) Ralph’s first entry into Power Strip Central in Wreck-it Ralph was similarly striking, not for the animation, which by 2013 was pretty standard, but for the concept itself:  a power strip as a terminal for video game avatars!

For a non-animated example of the emotional power of creativity, I mention the “Carousel Presentation” from the final episode of the Mad Men, Season 1 (sorry in advance for the crappy video; it seems to be all YouTube had):

I don’t actually know the story of the marketing strategy behind Kodak’s Carousel, but I’m old enough to be overwhelmed by the flash of recognition:  I remember those!

Now I just want to cry over how far the series has fallen.

Triumph Over Adversity

A movie most of you have no doubt forgotten is Renaissance Man, in which Danny DeVito undertakes to teach literature to a group of underperforming Army basic trainees.  One of them had a father killed in action many years prior; DeVito looks into the case and convinces the army that the man’s heroism hadn’t been properly recognized.  At graduation, the trainee accepts on his father’s behalf the Silver Star.  Now, as this list demonstrates, my eyes moisten a lot during movies, but this scene was the closest I ever came to actually breaking down.

An honorable mention goes to St. Crispin's Day:

“The Speech” from The Kings Speech was the moment to which the entire movie built and invested with both personal and historic significance.

Wreck-it Ralph again, for “Shut Up and Drive”:

Forest Gump, for “Run Forest Run” (as a boy, when he breaks free from his leg braces.  Yeah, I know it didn’t make any sense, but who cares?)

Independence Day, for President Bill Pullman’s Independence Day speech.

Temple Grandin, for Claire Danes’ standing up at the National Autism Society and riveting the audience with her personal story.

That moment when she says, “I am autistic.”  And every head in the room turns in her direction.


Two scenes from Apollo 13 come to mind:

When Marilyn Lovell tells her son that “something went wrong on your daddy’s spaceship”, he replies, “Was it the door?” – A reference to the 1967 fire that killed the entire crew of Apollo 1;

When Jim Lovell’s elderly mother greeting the news by calmly replying, “If NASA could send a washing machine to the moon, my Jimmy could fly it.”

And . . .


I’m not sure how to categorize the scenes below.  You be the judge.

Forrest Gump’s concern about this son:

“Is he smart?”  The fear and longing that went into that question.  (and one of the few scenes that didn’t require music for its impact.)

Touched by an Angel, “For Such a Time as This”:

That moment at 6:52 when the congresswoman trades her gold locket for the freedom of one more Sudanese Christian slave.  The backstory is that the locket contained a picture of her son Sam, whose death at an early age was the source of considerable bitterness.

Return of the King, “Arwen’s Vision”:

The backstory (for those of you living in a cave on Mars) is that Arwen is departing Middle Earth with her fellow elves when she has the vision of what she is abandoning:  a family with Aragon.

Moneyball:  “It’s a Metaphor”

Backstory:  the Jeremy Brown metaphor is to Billy Beane himself, whose disappointment that the Oakland A’s lost the postseason made him miss that his use of statistics had revolutionized baseball.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Quality vs. Quantity

Scott Alexander:

– I had a patient, let’s call him ‘Henry’ for reasons that are to become clear, who came to hospital after being picked up for police for beating up his fifth wife.

So I asked the obvious question: “What happened to your first four wives?”

“Oh,” said the patient, “Domestic violence issues. Two of them left me. One of them I got put in jail, and she’d moved on once I got out. One I just grew tired of.”

“You’ve beaten up all five of your wives?” I asked in disbelief.

“Yeah,” he said, without sounding very apologetic.

“And why, exactly, were you beating your wife this time?” I asked.

“She was yelling at me, because I was cheating on her with one of my exes.”

“With your ex-wife? One of the ones you beat up?”


“So you beat up your wife, she left you, you married someone else, and then she came back and had an affair on the side with you?” I asked him.

“Yeah,” said Henry.

. . . .

When I was younger – and I mean from teeanger hood all the way until about three years ago – I was a nice guy. In fact, I’m still a nice guy at heart, I just happen to mysteriously have picked up girlfriends. And I said the same thing as every other nice guy, which is “I am a nice guy, how come girls don’t like me?”

There seems to be some confusion about this, so let me explain what it means, to everyone, for all time.

It does not mean “I am nice in some important cosmic sense, therefore I am entitled to sex with whomever I want.”

It means: “I am a nicer guy than Henry.”

After hearing the above excerpt, Mrs. Phi speculated that the women "Henry" was getting were of "low quality", by which she primarily meant low social class. This would be consistent with Scott's psychiatric practice, which appears to be in Detroit. Mrs. Phi pointed out that that, in contrast, I, and likely Scott as well, had restricted my search for a wife to venues where I was likely to meet mostly girls from middle and upper-middle class backgrounds. And mostly, that's what I did meet.

Mrs. Phi was making two points: (1) that I would not actually envy Henry his particular conquests; and (2) that the women to whom I was marketing myself were not actually making quite the colossally bad decisions as Henry's were. (1) might be true, but perhaps only in hindsight. (2) is true as far as I know: among my own contemporaries, I only know of a couple of failed marriage, and those didn't involve domestic violence. Rather than dating Henrys, many of the girls I knew from church spent their twenties sitting around grousing about how we nerds weren't actually good enough for them.