Monday, June 29, 2009

Parsing Ricci

Steve Sailer has the lowdown on the Ricci decision. Here is the money quote from Kennedy's majority opinion:

The problem for respondents is that a prima facie case of disparate-impact liability—essentially, a threshold showing of a significant statistical disparity, ... and nothing more—is far from a strong basis in evidence that the City would have been liable under Title VII had it certified the results. That is because the City could be liable for disparate-impact discrimination only if the examinations were not job related and consistent with business necessity, or if there existed an equally valid, less-discriminatory alternative that served the City’s needs but that the City refused to adopt. ... We conclude there is no strong basis in evidence to establish that the test was deficient in either of these respects.

Let's do some boolean algebra:

A = job related.

~A = not job related.

B = consistent with business necessity.

~B = not consistent with business necessity.

(A & B) = job related and consistent with business necessity.

~(A & B) = "not job related and consistent with business necessity"

~A | ~B = not job related or not consistent with business necessity.

C = equally valid, less-discriminatory alternative

Those of you with training in logic know that, per De Morgan's Law, ~(A & B) = ~A | ~B. Thus, the formula for a disparate impact judgement appears to be ~A | ~B | C: one or more of not being job related, not being consistent with business necessity, and the existance of an alternative.

Question: why "job related"? This was always considered an easier standard to meet than "business necessity", which is why the 1991 Civil Rights Act enshrined "business necessity" as the standard that defendants must meet to justify disparate impact.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Father's Day at the White House

I made the White House mailing list. I don't remember signing up for this mailing list, although I'm not objecting. Evidently, my email address must have been extracted from one of the many emails I have sent to lawmakers complaining about the direction of our current policy. I sent these emails to the Bush White House, too, but I was never made the mailing list. Indeed, I can't even remember having received a response to my specific comments. (Congresscritters are much better about this.)

This email represented itself as being a Happy Father's Day message from Michelle Obama and said, inter alia:

We all know the remarkable impact fathers can have in our children's lives. So today, on this 100th anniversary of Father's Day, take a moment to celebrate responsible fatherhood and the men who've had the courage to step up, be there for our families, and provide our children with the guidance, love and support they need to fulfill their dreams.

"our children . . . our families." Ours as in, we women possess the families? As opposed to their children and families which would have implied that the fathers possess the children and families?

This overuse of "our" may be out of the political stylebook, but it strikes me as unnatural and inappropriate. Husbands and father don't pick a random family to support. They very specifically support their own families and children: i.e., the families to whom they hold lawful title and to whom they exercise lawful responsibilities.

But maybe this is the point being contested?

Saturday, June 20, 2009

When Does Faith Matter?

I guess I'm the last living heterosexual to learn who Taylor Swift is. In my defense, I almost exclusively listen to classical music on public radio. But as it happened, they were piping in "Love Story" at the pool where I swim laps, and, well, I guess my musical taste isn't as hi-falutin' as I like to pretend.

Once I figured out that young Swift had a Christian background, I wanted to get a sense of how her faith influences her work and life. That search led me to her erstwhile connection with one of the Jonas Brothers, about whom Beliefnet writer Joanne Brokaw had this to say:

Yes, the guys are Christians, but I'm not talking about the "you have to use your fame to sing songs about Jesus" argument. I'm talking about maintaining a healthy personal spiritual life. Being a solid Christian on a daily basis amidst the music industry fracas is much harder than just warbling Jesus songs from the stage, and I don't have a problem with their chaste puppy love music as long as they live offstage what they say they believe. But the schedule that these guys are on is ridiculous. There are only so many hours in a day, and if most of them are focused on commerce (how many more products can we plaster their faces on?) there's little time left for spiritual growth. And without a strong spiritual foundation, it's just a matter of time before those worldly accolades can lead even the most stable star down a Britney-like path.

Wise counsel. I was also impressed by this trenchant observation:

Admittedly, the guys don't have much (or any) control over what the media writes about them. While most of the articles I've read touch on their faith, I haven't seen anything go into detail. And I haven't seen an article about them recently in any Christian media. They may be more than willing to talk about purity and Jesus, but the media might not be interested in reporting that right now. But if they slip up? Well, then their faith will be fodder for the tabloids.

Or not even slip up. I made a passing reference a while back to a Southpark episode involving the Jonas Brothers about which I intended to say more, and now is as good a time as any. The point of the episode was to call out Disney for using the Jonas Brothers purity rings to evade parental radar while marketing sex to pre-teen girls.

Now I suppose that, fifty years ago, the on-stage presence of such as the Jonas Brothers would indeed have elicited much harrumphing from arch-conservatives like yours truly. (I don't actually know this, having neither been around then nor ever seen a Jonas performance.) But we're stuck with the culture we've got, and if the Jonas Brothers performances themselves don't raise any flags with an intelligent observer like Joannne Brokaw, then it becomes hard to take the Southpark critique in good faith. I can't help thinking that the only reason the show's writers thought the Jonas aura might be age-inappropriate is because of the brothers' outspoken Christianity.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Roissy on Φ

I always wondered what was going through her head. Now I know:

I noticed an older man, late 40s and clearly marked with the curse of the herb, standing with his young daughter by his side. He was talking with a curvaceous, big bosomed woman in her early 20s who looked like pre-meltdown Britney Spears. She was quite stimulating to the eyes and crotch. The man and Britney were having an energetic and friendly conversation which, when my ears were tuned to the words coming out of her mouth, was about the man’s daughter’s soccer team. Britney’s wide, C-shaped smile indicated she was enjoying this harmless herb’s company, while the herb’s studiously affected flat facial expression and stiff nodding movements suggested a swell of discomfort with his arousal that was threatening to lumber awkwardly through the polite veneer of their phony interaction.

I observed them for a few minutes, until the train reached my stop. A wave of bilious disgust curled my lips. I thought to myself that I never want to be that man who is so inoffensive — that man who has relinquished the last faint hope of his masculinity — that hot co-eds feel perfectly at ease shoving their bountiful breasts and plump, juicy flesh in my face to prattle on about the daily trifles of their lives or to chatter cloyingly about my kid’s soccer practice, taunting by their estrogenic proximity the ape-shaped contours of my cockcentric desire as the beast rattles the bars of its ganglial imprisonment, begging for release.


I am of two minds about this. On the one hand, as I have written many times before, women have a moral and social baseline obligation of civility, even to bald middle-aged men; even, in fact, to young, skinny engineering geeks with ill-fitting pants. That some non-zero number of such people will clumsily attempt a pickup is part and parcel of a non-cloistered life. Thus, that the young woman in Roissy's story did not recoil at a man and his daughter was entirely appropriate; in return, the man behaved with the required restraint. I myself have been that man on plenty of occasions, and while Roissy isn't far off in his description of the discomfort these interactions can cause, I'll take them over hostility any day. Plus, they give me a chance to practice being interesting.

Yet Roissy's larger point has some merit. I remember, years ago, reading a biography of the black communist-leaning singer Paul Robeson. The review recounted an episode in which Robeson found himself in the back of a limousine with a wealthy white socialite. The socialite initiated amorous advances on Robeson in full view of the black chauffeur in the front seat. Robeson was acutely aware that this behavior posed a grave insult to the chauffeur's masculinity: it communicated that attitude that his sexuality was of no consequence.

For another example of this attitude, consider an episode from the HBO miniseries Rome. The series has been praised by critics for accurately and dispassionately depicting the culture of its time and place, so I assume this scene reflects the attitudes of the Roman upper classes toward their domestic slaves. The scene showed two characters, Marc Antony and Atia, having sex while a slave hovered nearby waving a fan to cool them. The slave was female, so it isn't quite the same thing, but it reflects the same attitude: Antony and Atia felt no more need for sexual privacy from this slave than they would from a household pet. As such, the attitude, even or even especially when affected without malice, is fundamentally dehumanizing.

I believe many women (and men too, for that matter) take this attitude toward betas. They feel free to display their sexuality before us in a way that shows indifference toward our own sexuality. We have assumed, in their mental universe, the status of slaves or household pets. And Roissy, I think, captures the essence of the insult.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Two Things I Learned This Weekend

I recently started working with a "new" computer at work. I'm not sure how old it is -- we may have had it for a while -- but it has a 64-bit quad-core processor running at 3.2 GHz.

Those of you as old as I am may remember that the desktop computers of the early 1980s had 16-bit microprocessors. The "16-bits" means that the computers could only access 216 ~ 64K of memory -- a paltry sum even then. Intel got around this problem for a while by using two 16-bit registers, offset by 4 bits, to enable access to 220 ~ 1M of memory. But everyone was grateful when Intel introduced the 80386 32-bit microprocessor, which offered addressing for 232 memory locations. How much memory is that? I remember asking this question myself at the time, and being assured that we would never, never have computers with that much memory.

Um . . . yeah.

Recently, I started working with data cubes that would exhaust the memory available to Matlab on a 32-bit machine. The data cubes are 1024x1024x224 memory locations large, each location consuming (I assume) about 4 byes. If my math is correct here, then the data cubes take up about 1 Gigabyte of memory. But for a variety of reasons, Matlab can't access that much memory on a computer running Windows XP, even if the computer has that much memory available. I've heard that Matlab running over Linux doesn't have this problem, but I don't know why.

The new 64-bit computer contains 8G of memory, which makes working with these data cubes possible. And with four execution cores, the processor allows me to run my time-consuming algorithms and still check my email while I wait.

But I noticed something last Friday about the performance meter on the computer. It looked like this:

Notice how it has four different graphs under "CPU usage history". Those show the CPU usage for each of the four processor cores. But it occurred to me that I hadn't noticed this on my own personal laptop, even though it had a "Core 2 Duo" processor. The performance meter on my laptop had only one graph. So Saturday, I tried to discover why.

In the process of googling around, I observed that people referred to the processor entry in the device manager:

Notice how there are four entries under processor, one for each core. But my device manager had only one processor listed.

I tried to see if there were any driver updates that I needed, but there were not. So finally I started a chat session with Dell tech support. (I love Dell. I can still get live tech support on a computer that is 2 1/2 years old.)

The Dell guy had me force driver updates, but these ultimately had no effect. Then he had me check my BIOS, and lo and behold, it turns out that "multiprocessor support" had never been enabled in the BIOS! I had never had occasion to mess with the BIOS since I bought the computer second hand two years ago. Who knew that the BIOS wouldn't be set to allow me to use both halves of my processor!

After enabling multiprocessor support, I now had two processors showing up in Device Manager, but still only one CPU graph in the performance meter. To fix that, I then had to do a "repair install" of Windows. (A "repair install" lets you keep your file system and applications, while a "clean install" erases them.) Since my installation media was Windows XP Service Pack 2, while the present version of XP is Service Pack 3, I spent the better part of the evening downloading and installing the updates. (And I'm still not done.)

Bleg: has anyone else had problems with Internet Explorer 8? Internet Explorer supports 3rd party "add-ons" for various applications, but these add ons generate a warning message at the top of the browser window telling me that add-ons have been disabled for one reason or another. I'm not sure why this is, and I couldn't fix it, so I eventually reverted to IE7.

I was talking to Mrs. Φ about all this when she asked me some questions about the history of Intel processors. It seems like Intel processors used to be so simple (386, 486, Pentium), but there are now so many variants out there that it's impossible for a casual observer like myself to keep them straight.

For instance, in oourse of solving the issue of the core count, I observed that my laptop has a "T7200" processor. What does this mean? When I looked it up, I discovered that it was a 64-bit processor. I checked my wife's desktop: it had a E4400 processor, also 64-bits. Who knew! I had always assumed that they were both 32-bit processors; after all, they came on computers running the 32-bit versions of XP and Vista, respectively.

But my computer has only ("only" - ha!) 2GB of memory, so I don't really need the extra addressing a 64-bit computer would provide. Would there be any other reason to upgrade Windows to 64 bits? What would that do to all my (presumably) 32 bit applications I have installed? I'm pretty sure that going from a 32-bit operating system to a 64-bit operating system would require re-installing all my apps; a look at my "programs" directory tells me this would be a significant headache. But I don't know any performance-related reason why I should worry about it. Anybody?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Coda on Prejean

This story is disappointing, obviously. While the erstwhile Miss California should not have been persecuted for her honest answer to a question about gay marriage, she had every obligation to make the public appearances on behalf of the Miss America organization that her contract required and for which there is no conceivable conscience exemption.

But this bit of "reporting" was ridiculous:

Last month, Trump decided that Prejean would be allowed to keep her crown despite racy photos of the 22-year-old surfacing on the Internet.


In addition to the semi-nude photo scandal, Prejean's reign as Miss California also created headlines at the Miss USA pageant in April after she answered a question from Perez Hilton regarding her stance on gay marriage. She said she believed marriage "should be between a man and a woman."

Gotta love the way photos "surface on the internet." It's not like there was any agency involved, like for instance by a photographer who took pictures in which the nudity was entirely inadvertent.

But what's this "in addition" business? Nobody was interested in the photos until the "gay marriage" question. That's what the controversy was about. Only after the press decided to punish her did they seize at the pictures.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Rocky Balboa Misquotation


Many of you probably think I expect to much from popular culture with respect to religion. But there are some errors that are so egregiously obvious that not only am I surprised to see them made, but I'm surprised that anyone would expect an audience to believe them.

The FX network ran Rocky Balboa this evening. Right before Rocky's big fight, his friend "Spider" is shown reading scripture to him:

"Zechariah 4:6 says, 'It is not by strength, not by might, but by His Spirt, that we have already claimed the victory in our Lord Jesus Christ.'"

In and of itself, this "Bible passage" is entirely believable, seeing how it strings together two well-known verses:

So he said to me, "This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: 'Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,' says the LORD Almighty." -- Zecharaiah 4:6

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. -- I Corinthians 15:56-58

The problem is that, unlike other deftly edited movie Bible quotes, this one placed a reference to Jesus in the Old Testament! I mean, obviously we Christians believe that the person of Christ is referred to throughout Old Testament prophecy. But not by that name. Any movie goer literate enough to recognize "Zecharaiah" as a book in the Bible would know that instantly, and I'm a little offended that Stallone thought we wouldn't notice.

Monday, June 08, 2009

College for Φ-landers

Megan commented on a study that shows that high performing schools are coasting on their demographics. A bunch of bloggers are commenting on this and other studies, one of which argues that many schools are engaging in winner-take-all education: focusing teaching resources on the top-performing colleges, grooming them for the Ivy League at the expense of students that perform well but aren't at the top.

It just so happens that our community paper (you know, those free, slender papers that accumulate unread on your front porch or driveway) published the college plans of this year's graduates from the high school in Φ's lily-white little burg.

It was interesting reading. First, nearly everyone will be attending college. Of our ~150 graduating seniors, we had one "undecided", and one student listed "U. S. Army" as his destination. We had maybe 10 students list the local community college (a well-regarded one by all accounts). Everyone else listed a four-year college.

But the high-end of the distribution . . . wasn't especially. Nobody listed a school in the Ivy League or a service academy. This year's valedictorian will be going to Northwestern. (Last year's valedictorian went to Harvard, I think.) Among the schools I recognized for their national reputations I saw Case Western, Clemson, Virginia Tech, and RPI. The vast majority, however, will be attending school in-state at either the U, the State-U, or one of the numerous private Catholic affiliated colleges. (Φ-ville is really, really RC that way.) These are good schools, but not in the U.S. News top-fifty, and not especially competitive. (For instance, they accept a majority of applicants.)

I expect that this reflects our family ambitions. Our median household income is $79k (against a median home value of $230k). A look at the distribution shows that we don't have an extraordinary number of super-wealthy parents likely to push their children toward Ivy-League schools. The families that choose to live here expect their children to attend college somewhere, but are content with what the in-state colleges offer. Our high school largely delivers on that expectation.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

When to Compromise?

Megan has two thoughtful posts on the politics and morality of abortion in the context of the Tiller murder. The posts make an interesting comparison between liberals' attitude towards the Pro-life movement and America's struggle against Islamic terrorism:

I am shocked to see so many liberals today saying that the correct response is, essentially, doubling down. Make the law more friendly to abortion! Show the fundies who's boss! You know what fixes terrorism? Bitch slap those bastards until they understand that we'll never compromise!

Well, it sure worked in Iraq. I think Afghanistan's going pretty well, too, right?

Using the political system to stomp on radicalized fringes does not seem to be very effective in getting them to eschew violence. In fact, it seems to be a very good way of getting more violence. Possibly because those fringes have often turned to violence precisely because they feel that the political process has been closed off to them.

. . . .

But like many contributors to Obsidian Wings, I can understand the structural forces that contribute to Palestinian terrorism without believing the terrorism is legitimate. Unlike them, apparently, I don't find it all that hard to transfer that understanding to the fringes of our own democratic system.

Unsurprisingly, I don't believe -- and neither does Megan, I think -- in the moral equivilance between abortion opponents, or even Tiller's killer, and the efforts by Muslims to create a global Islamic Caliphate (or whatever). But Megan is speaking pragmatically about how to reduce violent impulses, and at what cost.

Megan elsewhere implies that compromise with violence-prone adversaries does not mean compromising with the violence itself; this, she says, should be punished, and I quite agree. But this gets tricky when faced with nationalist movements. Take the Israeli-Palestinian problem, as an example. If Israelis believe that the activites of Hamas are motivated primariy by, say, a desire to secure water rights for the people they represent, then Israelis can make a reasonable cost-benefit analysis of compromise on this issue: reducing violence at the cost of granting improved access to water On the other hand, if in fact Hamas is motivated by the aspiration of exerciseing political sovereignty for its own sake -- i.e., to create a government or control an existing one -- then it necessarily becomes important for Israelis to look very carefully at what that government's territorial ambitions would look like. Political sovereignty -- political power in general -- necessarily includes the ability to exercise violence, so buying peace at the cost of granting sovereignty to your enemies only makes sense if you believe that your enemies don't have totalizing claims against you.

Liberal hyperventiliating to the contrary, Tiller's murder is almost certainly a one-off. Violence against abortionists is vanishingly rare and is in no danger of becoming a political force. Liberals know this, which is why they can afford the macho swagger Megan describes.

But let's have a thought experiment: let's suppose abortionists, and their allies in media and goverment. started dropping at the rate of American soliers in Afghanistan. Liberals would reasonably evaluate whether our abortion regime was worth the price they were paying, and whether support for the violence would drop if, say, state-level variability in abortion law were permitted.

But let's suppose that instead of asking for this, the anti-abortion guerillas asked for a territorial concession: the right to form their own government, one in which they exercise complete control. Let's further pretend that these guerillas pretty much sell this to their own supporters as a way of securing a base of operations for turther attacks against abortionists nationwide. You can see the problem that such a "compromise" poses for liberals: it is exceedingly unlikely to actually buy the social peace Liberals want.

So I do think that, absent Roe, a peaceful detente on abortion is possible. But I don't think Megan's analogy is entirely appropriate.