Saturday, 30 July 2011

GO train

 I took the GO train, Government of Ontario commuter train, to get to the Caribana parade today. It's a very fast and comfortable means of transportation to get from the exurbs and suburbs of Toronto to downtown. You can see from the map above that the rails go quite a distance from Toronto. The coaches have two stories as well as washrooms for long commutes. It's also very inexpensive and cost me $8 for a day pass with unlimited trips. Lots of free parking near the stations as well. I took some pictures.

Indian festival 2011

  Here’s another festival to which I didn’t have time to go this month. Same weekend as the Mexican festival about which I did post. Today, I did get to the Caribana festival, the largest West Indian festival in North America and the big Mama of Toronto festivals. It’s been going on for the last three weeks but I’ve been going to the other festivals that I have posted with the exception of the Tirgan, Iranian festival, about which I must finish posting. The Caribana main parade started at ten o’clock this morning and finished at six o’clock in the evening so there were eight hours of enumerable over –the-top displays and marchers that I photographed and will post when I get the time. I better get these posted before the Greek festival in the first week of next month as well as the African dance festival and the Canadian National Exhibition. Busy summer!  
Indian festival parade source JonnyL

  At least I better show a video of Indian dancing at the festival. Don’t ask me about the particular form or style.

Friday, 29 July 2011

Ribfest 2011

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I went to Ribfest in Scarborough, an eastern suburb of Toronto, today to taste the best of BBQ pork and chicken. I've gone for a couple of years and it seems to get bigger every time. A lot of the vendors come from the southern states and I noticed the regulars from Alabama, Florida, Kansas, South Carolina and Texas. When I first went to ribfest, all of the vendors from the south had at least one Confederate flag but I didn't see any this year. Is this indicative of some kind of social change in the States? They also had organic beer for the first time which wasn't bad. For entertainment, they had groups such as Judy Kanyo & the Redneck Soul Band.

Pulled Pork sandwich

BBQ competition judges


I need a break from  all of this heavy duty posting so I'll share the latest viral internet behavioral meme, owling, which I gather is replacing the planking meme. I didn't even know about planking which shows how out of date my knowledge is about dumb internet stunts. Interestingly this is solely a North American meme so I wonder what sociologists would glean from this item. Is this a reaction to the current economic/political woes?

Thursday, 28 July 2011


  In my “how mass media reframes issues” post, I discussed at the end how the DOD is developing computational methods to detect individual bloggers whose ability to contribute to political persuasion rises above a predetermined threshold. These folks could then be excised from further dialogue using a variety of methods including the new extensions to the “criminal uses” of the Internet as well as old fashioned wiretaps (see my endgame post).  In this post I would like to give a specific example using TopicLens, a software system development by the Army cyber warfare department. From the Army website:

  Visually communicating credibility and trust information is a challenging problem. This demonstration will focus on TopicLens, an interactive system supporting analysis of probabilistic associations in topic-modeled data in conjunction with the structure in the underlying social network from which the modeled documents were sourced. The design consists of a hybrid view, containing a river-like representation to communicate credibility or trust that a user (or group of users) have with respect to a given topic. These factors can be assessed though an examination of a users probabilistic association with that topic, and also through examination of that user’s social network and their respective credibility within the selected topic. The design leverages interactive input mechanisms such as hovering, selection and rotation to generate informative and intuitive outputs, which can take the form of label and item highlighting, opacity variance, or connection lines, all contributing to a better understanding of topic-based trust and expertise across the network.

   If you find this hard to understand then watch the video below which gives a fairly clear visual explanation of the software’s utility. The important thing is that this software tool gives authorities the ability to quickly identify the most influential actors (bloggers) in an internet discussion on any topic and target them for excision by a variety of methods.

TopicLens: A Novel Tool for Analyzing Credibility through Topic Modeling from John O'Donovan on Vimeo.

Devil in the Details

  Everyone is talking about the apocalyptic crisis that the competing Reid Senate and Boehner House bills are suppose to forestall but have you actually read the proposed bills? If you do then you’ll become aware of the Kabuki theatre which this is all about. I’m not going to deal with the House bill because as far as I can see it’s dead in the water already. Here is the content page of the Reid Senate bill.

This Act is as follows:

Sec.1.Short title and table of contents.


Sec.101.Discretionary spending limits. Sec.102.Senate budget enforcement.TITLE II—OTHER SPENDING CUTSSubtitle A—Spectrum Auction Proposals and Public Safety BroadbandNetwork



Sec.221.Clarification of authorities to repurpose Federal spectrum for com-mercial purposes.Sec.222.Incentive auction authority.Sec.223.Incentive auctions to repurpose certain mobile satellite services spec-trum for terrestrial broadband use.Sec.224.Permanent extension of auction authority.Sec.225.Authority to auction licenses for domestic satellite services.Sec.226.Auction of spectrum.Sec.227.Report to Congress on improving spectrum management. PART II—PUBLIC SAFETY BROADBAND NETWORK

Sec.241.Reallocation of D Block for public safety.Sec.242.Flexible use of narrowband spectrum.Sec.243.Public Safety Trust Fund.Sec.244.Public safety research and development.Sec.245.Incentive auction relocation fund.Sec.246.Federal infrastructure sharing.Sec.247.FCC report on efficient use of public safety spectrum. Subtitle B—Federal Pell Grant and Student Loan Program ChangesSec.251.Federal Pell Grant and student loan program changes. Subtitle C—Farm ProgramsSec.261.Definition of payment acres. TITLE III—JOINT SELECT COMMITTEE ON DEFICIT REDUCTIONSec.301.Establishment of Joint Select Committee.Sec.302.Expedited consideration of joint committee recommendations.Sec.303.Funding.Sec.304.Rulemaking.TITLE IV—PUBLIC DEBTSec.401.Public debt.

  As you can see most of the bill content page is not about the “doom that waits” but about the sale of public wireless spectrum, Pell grants and farm programs. Don’t you think that this is strange given the hourly dire warnings in the various media?  Actually the Title II pertaining to the public wireless spectrum and other issues extraneous to debt reduction starts on page 42 of a 104 page document. Thus do these items suggest to you that the Washington priorities are really different from all of the publically stated ones and that the fix is in?  Of course, the really interesting stuff is in the last couple of pages of the document under Title III – joint select committee on deficit reduction (JSCODR) which is a good place to hide stuff that you don’t want people to notice.

  Let’s talk about this extra-constitutional body based on the bill. It might give us some insights into the thinking of Washington insiders on democratic rule. The members are picked by the Senate majority leader (3), Senate minority leader (3), House majority leader (3) and House minority leader (3) giving a total of 12 members whose presence on the committee is in perpetuity (let’s keep the masses out of this forever!) baring some major ethics violation.  From this group one co-chair is chosen by the Senate majority leader and one by the House majority leader.

  Once the committee has produced a document, “the joint committee bill shall be considered as read. All points of order against the joint committee bill and against its consideration are waived.” In essence this means that all of the elected representatives of the people have no input. Also “consideration of the joint committee bill and of all debatable motions and appeals in connection there within shall not exceed a total of 30 hours which shall be divided equally between the Majority and Minority Leaders or their designees.” Interpretation – let’s get this over fast!  You don’t like what you see? Too bad! “An amendment to the joint committee bill, or a motion to postpone, or a motion to proceed to the consideration of other business, or a motion to recommit the joint committee bill, is not in order.” Finally the Senate does not debate the bill presented from the house as its previously constitutional right allows. Major change here!

  This bill is basically an enabling act. What’s important about that?  Well how about the German enabling act of 1933 which allowed Hitler to gain power. (Ok. Godwin’s law moment but give me some latitude here folks.) From Wikipedia:

It received its name from its legal status as an enabling act granting the Cabinet the authority to enact laws without the participation of the Reichstag. The act stated that it was to last for four years unless renewed by the Reichstag, which occurred twice.

The formal name of the Enabling Act was Gesetz zur Behebung der Not von Volk und Reich (English: "Law to Remedy the Distress of People and Reich").

  Do you think that the current Supreme Court will disallow this bill as unconstitutional which it clearly is? Do pigs fly?

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Urbane Cyclist

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  On my way to the Ontario Art Gallery today, I stopped at my favourite bike shop, the Urbane Cyclist. It has about any type of bike that you can imagine from a basic roadster to the most expensive Italian bikes. From their website:

Urbane Cyclist is a worker cooperative. Each worker member is part owner, and all major decisions are made in a collective, non-hierarchical process. Worker cooperatives support workers' livelihoods: a very different approach from the corporate focus on the bottom line. Co-ops aim to serve the needs of a community with integrity and a vision towards social justice and genuine alternatives to corporate culture and values. If you are already a part of a worker co-op, or are interested in the idea, feel free to contact us. Co-operatives working together, supporting each other in our work is a natural extension of the co-op spirit.

  Toronto is promoting the use of bikes as a substitute for cars. From the city website:

“The City is developing a 1,000 km Bikeway Network that will ultimately link cyclists with neighbourhoods and destinations across the city. The network will serve both commuter and recreational cycling. It will be comprised of connected bicycle lanes, shared roadway routes and multi-use pathways in parklands and hydro and rail corridors. When completed, all Toronto residents will be within a five-minute bicycle ride to the Bikeway Network.”

Abstract Expressionist New York

  I went to the Art Gallery of Ontario today where I saw the New York abstractionist's exhibition. I couldn't take pictures inside of course but the video and the link will give you a good idea of the installment. From the AGO website:

For the first time ever, an unrivaled collection of Abstract Expressionist masterpieces is leaving New York City. This monumental show features the legendary artists who dripped, splattered, and painted in fields of incredible colour. As the political traumas of their time reverberated around them, they placed their massive canvasses on floors and walls, creating artwork that exploded into life with spectacular vision and changed the course of art history forever.
Drawn entirely from the Museum of Modern Art’s definitive collection, Abstract Expressionist New York features more than 100 key works from Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning, Joan Mitchell, Robert Motherwell, Lee Krasner and others. The exhibition celebrates the monumental achievements of a generation of artists who catapulted New York to the centre of the international art world in the 1950s and left as their legacy some of the 20th century’s greatest masterpieces.
  There were about 120 works and I liked most of them since I have an appreciation for modern art. Here is a photo which I took of the back of the art gallery (blue building) with the original gallery, the grange, in the foreground. The AGO building was designed by Frank Gehry who also designed the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. I also did an earlier post on the Frank restaurant which is in the building.

  If you turn 90 degrees to the right then you can see a strange white and black building hanging above another building. This is the top two floors of the Ontario College of Art and Design on which I commented in an earlier post.

Around the 'hood

Just some pictures I took around the 'hood.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

The Overton window

 The clock at the top of this post is a widget from the Bipartisan policy center, a group that is closely watching the debt reduction debates. When the clock hits zero, the economy of America will implode, true believers will be raptured up to Jesus and Obama will reveal his true identity as Satan. Before you Tim Lahaye readers and Glen Beck followers get too excited, I would also like to point out that August 2nd is also the feast day of Saint Alphonsus Maria de Liguori (Sept. 27, 1696 – Aug. 1, 1787), a moral theologian and proponent of Æquiprobabilism which is a moral stance of the Catholic church. One of his propositions is that it is not lawful to follow the less safe opinion when the safe opinion is certainly more probable. Republicans should reflect on this.

  Overton window? From Wikipedia:
The Overton window, in political theory, describes a "window" in the range of public reactions to ideas in public discourse, in a spectrum of all possible options on a particular issue. It is named after its originator, Joseph P. Overton, former vice president of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.
At any given moment, the “window” includes a range of policies considered to be politically acceptable in the current climate of public opinion, which a politician can recommend without being considered too “extreme” or outside the mainstream to gain or keep public office. Overton arranged the spectrum on a vertical axis of “more free” and “less free” in regards to government intervention. When the window moves or expands, ideas can accordingly become more or less politically acceptable. The degrees of acceptance of public ideas can be described roughly as:
         Unthinkable > Radical > Acceptable > Sensible > Popular  > Policy
The Overton Window is a means of visualizing which ideas define that range of acceptance by where they fall in it. Proponents of policies outside the window seek to persuade or educate the public so that the window either “moves” or expands to encompass them. Opponents of current policies, or similar ones currently within the window, likewise seek to convince people that these should be considered unacceptable.
Other formulations of the process created after Overton's death add the concept of moving the window, such as deliberately promoting ideas even less acceptable than the previous "outer fringe" ideas, with the intention of making the current fringe ideas acceptable by comparison.

  The last sentence about the concept of moving the window is what has happened in the last couple of months with respect to an implied apocalyptic scenario following a failure of negotiations and the Tea party’s contribution to crazy land polity which makes the previously unacceptable position of massive cuts to the social safety network seem sane in comparison. The greatest loss in all of this is the concept of the loyal opposition in parliamentary tradition which was absorbed into republican ideals. Republicans do not accept the right of the Democrats to govern or the legitimacy of a Democratic President. The one thing that causes them to bounce off the walls is the appropriation by Obama of the unitary presidency concept as espoused by Dick Chaney.  It’s alright for Republicans to say that all powers not specifically defined by the constitution devolve to the president except when the president happens to be a Democrat. This is one more step in the evolution of a mindset that accepts the legitimacy of a true one party state.  

Monday, 25 July 2011

Other Festivals in Toronto

  While I’m waiting for the videos on the Tirgan 2011 festival (the world’s largest Iranian festival!) to be uploaded to you tube, I thought that I would show two of the Toronto festivals that previously took place this summer. I didn’t have time to attend them but I can show some videos. The video at the top is the Toronto Jazz festival 2011. From the blog TO under the creative commons non-commercial share licence:
The Toronto Jazz Festival enters its 25th season this year, an occasion that will be marked by something of a return to its roots in the Entertainment District. Although there are venues throughout the city affiliated with the festival (including an alcohol-friendly Distillery District), the main stage has been moved from Nathan Phillips Square to David Pecaut Square at King and Wellington streets close to where it all began as the Du Maurier Downtown Jazz Festival.
As has been the case in previous years, the festival is actually fairly open from a generic standpoint, with lots of blues, hip hop, and soul on offer in addition to jazz. Over the course of its 10-day run, 1,500 musicians will play in over 350 performances. And, given that it doesn't have the misfortune of coinciding with the G20 this year, attendance numbers are expected to hit a half-million people.
Branford Marsalis and Joey Calderazzo, Wednesday, June 29th. Kroerner Hall, 8pm, $45-$55
Although they already play together regularly in the Branford Marsalis Quartet, the sax leader and his pianist will once in a while strip it down as a duo and let loose with more improvised work. "The idea is to capture a spirit, a vibe, to improvise completely instead of just playing things that you know you can play," says Calderazzo.
Molly Johnson with the Count Basie Orchestra, Wednesday June 29th. David Pecaut Square, 8:30pm, $45
Local singer Molly Johnson does the swing thing up with one of the best big bands of all time, the Count Basie Orchestra. The combination of Johnson's voice and an almost 40-members ensemble is sure to make for one of the richest sounding performances of the fest.
Darcy James Argue's Secret Society, Thursday, June 30th. David Pecaut Square, 5:30pm, FREE
One of the biggest buzz bands in the jazz world right now, the 18-piece Darcy James Argue's Secret Society has met with critical accolades galore over the last the last couple years. The festival website boasts that the band's "London Jazz Festival debut was declared 'a contender for gig of the year' by John L. Waters in The Guardian," which is, you know, pretty impressive. And it's somehow free.
The Roots, Friday July 1st. David Pecaut Square, 8:30pm, $50
Perhaps a nostalgic choice for me, but hip hop's relationship with jazz has eroded over the last 10 years and the Roots remind me of a time when it was common to hear Charles Mingus-influenced bass lines throughout (particularly east coast) hip hop. And that's not to mention that band is one of the better live hip hop acts out there (what with playing their own instruments and all).
Bootsy Collins, July 2nd. David Pecaut Square, 8:30pm, $40
Although he's doesn't tour as much as he used to, the former bassist for Parliament/Funkadelic, Bootsy Collins can still bring the funk, as they say. Expect a rousing show with lots of 1970s funk classics.
Aretha Franklin, David Pecaut Square, June 24th, 8:30 p.m. FREE!
Average White Band and Stax, with Steve Cropper, Duck Dunn & Eddie Floyd, David Pecaut Square, June 25th, 8:30 p.m.
Atomic, The Music Gallery, June 26th, 8 p.m.
Paco de Lucia, the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts, June 27th, 8 p.m.
Koptor, The Music Gallery, June 27th, 8 p.m.
Los Lonely Boys/Los Lobos, David Pecaut Square, June 28th, 8:30 p.m.
Eliane Elias, Enwave Theatre, June 29th, 7 p.m.
Kenny Barron, Glenn Gould Studio, June 29th, 6 p.m.
Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, David Pecaut Sqare, June 30th, 8:30 p.m.
Tony Quarrington, Beverly Taft & San Murata, Dominion on Queen, July 1st 8pm
Marianne Trudel Septet, the Music Gallery, July 2nd, 8 p.m.
Francois Bourassa Quartet, David Pecaut Square, July 3rd, 5:30 p.m.

   Another festival was the Columbian Diaspora festival which was July 15th to 17th this year and the picture above is from the 2010 festival poster. The video below is an overview of this year’s festival. Here are two videos (one and two) of some of the dancing.

How Mass Media reframes issues

  Yesterday, I read in the New York Times an opinion column entitled “Generations Clash amid Debt Crisis” that was written by Tom Friedman in which this oft quoted author reframed the current issue of class warfare as an intergenerational conflict where the importune boomer generation spend the future earnings of their children.
Indeed, if there is one sentiment that unites the crises in Europe and America it is a powerful sense of “baby boomers behaving badly” — a powerful sense that the generation that came of age in the last 50 years, my generation, will be remembered most for the incredible bounty and freedom it received from its parents and the incredible debt burden and constraints it left on its kids.
It is no wonder that young Greeks reacted so harshly when their deputy prime minister, Theodoros Pangalos, referring to all the European Union loans and subsidies that propelled the Greek credit binge after 1981, said, “We ate it together” — meaning the people and the politicians. That was true of the baby boomer generation of Greeks, now in their 50s and 60s, and the baby boomer politicians. But those just coming of age today will never get a bite. They will just get a bill. And they know it.

  Little was said about how the vast majority of the wealth created in the last thirty years was transported upwards to the top 1% while the majority of these boomers’ salaries stagnate and the prices of necessities such as health, education and housing rocked skyward. He also seems to never have heard of Elizabeth Warren’s book, The Two Income Family Trap or any of the other books published on this topic. The obscene increase in wealth of the plutocracy gets conflated with the impoverishment of the middle class to become a generation of irresponsible consumers. So what’s the solution?
What happens is that both the American and European dreams hang in the balance. Either we both put our nations on more sustainable growth paths — which requires cutting, taxing and investing for the future — or we’re looking at a world in which democracies are going to turn on themselves and fight over shrinking pies, with China having a growing say over how big the slices will be.

  No redistribution of wealth or a more equitable society. Just the middle class sacrificing for the future while the true recipients of this golden age go unmentioned by design. The implication of this opinion piece is that Mr. Friedman along with the rest of the chattering classes has long sold out for his share of the good life. The only uncorrupted voices left are those on the Internet who wish to discuss the big issues without being the indentured servants of the masters of the universe. But they have a plan to silence us. I discussed on a previous post how the American government is plotting the criminalization of current activities on the Internet and the FBI will be given the tools to spy on us via wiretaps without the necessity of warrants. What I haven’t discussed is the proposal which was published on July 14, 2011 by DARPA, Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency - the Department of Defence, and entitled Social Media in Strategic Communication.

  Code Named SMISC (funding number DARPA‐BAA‐11‐64), the plan overview is as follows:
The conditions under which our Armed Forces conduct operations are rapidly changing with the spread of blogs, social networking sites, and media‐sharing technology (such as YouTube), and further accelerated by the proliferation of mobile technology. Changes to the nature of conflict resulting from the use of social media are likely to be as profound as those resulting from previous communications revolutions. The effective use of social media has the potential to help the Armed Forces better understand the environment in which it operates and to allow more agile use of information in support of operations.
The general goal of the Social Media in Strategic Communication (SMISC) program is to develop a new science of social networks built on an emerging technology base. In particular, SMISC will develop automated and semi‐automated operator support tools and techniques for the systematic and methodical use of social media at data scale and in a timely fashion to accomplish four specific program goals:
1. Detect, classify, measure and track the (a) formation, development and spread of ideas and concepts (memes), and (b) purposeful or deceptive messaging and misinformation.
2. Recognize persuasion campaign structures and influence operations across social media sites and communities.
3. Identify participants and intent, and measure effects of persuasion campaigns.
4. Counter messaging of detected adversary influence operations

  For those of you who are naïve enough to think that the Posse Comitatus Act will protect you from domestic use of this DOD activity, I would suggest that this act has already been abrogated under the Patriot Act which specifically and with the knowledge of the current administration with respect to support operations has been extended by President Obama.

The Posse Comitatus Act is a United States federal law (18 U.S.C. § 1385) passed on June 18, 1878, after the end of Reconstruction, with the intention (in concert with the Insurrection Act of 1807) of substantially limiting the powers of the federal government to use the military for law enforcement. The Act prohibits members of the Army from exercising nominally state law enforcement, police, or peace officer powers that maintain "law and order" on non-federal property (states and their counties and municipal divisions) within the United States. (Wikipedia)

  How does this activity work? From the proposal outline:

The development of a new science of social networks and the solutions to the problems posed by SMISC will require the confluence of several technologies including, but not limited to, information theory, massive‐scale graph analytics and natural language processing. While SMISC will not directly support natural language processing development efforts, it will certainly use the results of previous programs as well as contribute new challenges to further stimulate ongoing efforts. Technology areas particularly relevant to SMISC are shown here grouped to correspond to the four basic goals of the program as described above:

1. Linguistic cues, patterns of information flow, topic trend analysis, narrative structure analysis, sentiment detection and opinion mining;
2. Meme tracking across communities, graph analytics/probabilistic reasoning, pattern detection, cultural narratives;
3. Inducing identities, modeling emergent communities, trust analytics, network dynamics modeling;
4. Automated content generation, bots in social media, crowd sourcing.

   Basically this is a cross agency integrated plan to detect individual bloggers whose ability to contribute to political persuasion rises above a predetermined threshold. These folks could then be excised from further dialogue using a variety of methods including the new extensions to the “criminal uses” of the Internet as well as old fashioned wiretaps.   

Friday, 22 July 2011

Tirgan Festival (1)

   I’m going to the Tirgan or Iranian festival this weekend. It’s on from Thursday to Sunday and the video gives you a sampling of the event. I think that Toronto has something for any nationality or ethnic group which you can imagine. There’s even part of Toronto that is referred to as Little Nepal.  From the festival website:
Tirgan 2011 – with the theme of 'Visions of Eternity’ – takes many years of invaluable experience to new heights as it commemorates Tirgan, an ancient Iranian celebration observed in the month of July (the month of Tir in the Persian calendar).
There are many legends on the origins of Tirgan. One legend describes that Iran and Turan, two long standing enemies, decided to declare peace by demarcating the boundaries between the two empires. Arash, the best archer in the Iranian army, was chosen to ascend Mount Damavand to shoot an arrow whose landing location would determine the boundary. The arrow flew from dawn to noon and fell on the banks of Jihun, and the boundaries of Iran expanded beyond all expectations.
This led to Tirgan festivities and contributed to enhancing the richness of the Iranian culture over the course of three millennia. Today, Iran’s population is composed of over fifteen different ethnic groups with their own dialect or language, outfit, music, dance, and cuisine.

  I’ll try to get as many pictures as I can as well as sample the variety of food.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Debate on Tenure

   I came across this video debate on tenure between Daniel Hamermesh, Professor in the Department of Economics at the University of Texas, and a WSJ journalist, Naomi Schaefer Riley who has just recently published a book about tenure in universities entitled, The Faculty Lounges. The reviews in Amazon seem to be fairly positive about the book. Perhaps C. could do one of her famous reviews in rebuttal. Here is a Wall Street Journal opinion piece which Ms. Riley wrote not long ago. Tenure is under attack from many direction including government and business in America and a fellow blogger, has just posted on forming a TT union in her mid-western university. Another blogger from Louisiana, has posted about TT professors being fired in her state, “This year, the AAUP has learned that the University of Louisiana at Monroe is planning to do the same, or slightly worse, to its four tenured professors of Chemistry: dismiss them with six months’ notice, then offer to re-hire them at the rank of instructor without tenure.” It must be noted that this state is planning to reduce personal and corporate taxes to zero in order to compete with Florida and Texas which have already done so. I’d like to quote from the WSJ opinion piece by Ms. Riley:
It doesn't take a lot of digging to see that much academic research is trivial. But academics will defend it to the hilt. When I wondered, in a blog post on the Chronicle of Higher Education website, why J. Michael Bailey of Northwestern was hosting demonstrations of sex toys in his class, and questioned the value of his subject generally, I was told by a commenter on the website that, "psychiatrists, police officers, and others who deal with rapists and other sex offenders probably could use a course on human sexuality."
When I wrote about a University of Texas professor's book, "Indian-Made: Navajo Culture in the Marketplace," an academic emailed to say that "[the project on] the commercialization of Indian crafts, actually has some profound things to say about the role of indigenous peoples in modern capitalism."
  Ms. Riley, the daughter of two academics and who recalled from her childhood memory “unstable personalities who seemed to populate various departments my parents had contact with over the years” has a suggestion for the replacement of tenure as mentioned in an Inside Higher Ed. article.

I argue for replacing tenure with multi-year renewable contracts. I think quite a number of things would change. … I think they could get rid of some senior faculty who are bringing higher education into the gutter -- the Holocaust deniers, the sex-demonstrators. Then I think they could put on notice some of the remaining professors -- say, the lazy, the incompetent, and the distracted -- explaining that they will have to start doing a little more to demonstrate that they are actually teaching the students in their classes. It would probably result in a few senior professors simply leaving and deciding they don't want to do the work that would be required to keep their jobs.
   Since this video debate was done by the Texas tribune, a progressive rag by Lone Star standards, I’ll mention a few educational facts about the great state.  Texas has America’s second-largest elementary and secondary school enrolment, accounting for 9 percent of the U.S. total.  The state’s 1,031 public school districts, including 7,729 campuses, and 191 charter operator, including 332 campuses, provide early education through twelfth grade for about 4.6 million students, 20 percent more than ten years ago. In an IHE article a dean at the University of Texas:
…described as short-sighted and ineffective a set of policy proposals advanced by a conservative think tank that have been embraced by many in government and some on the university system's Board of Regents. The ideas put forth by the Texas Public Policy Foundation exemplify "the dangers of applying a business-style, market-based approach inside the classroom,” …
" Some of the proposals in the foundation's seven "Breakthrough Solutions" were untested or found to be ineffective in states where they have been attempted, wrote Diehl, and enacting them threatened the university’s status as a top-tier university "in which research and teaching are inextricably linked in ways that are crucial to both missions."
  In a future post I will go into detail about an issue on which I will touch on briefly. With the reduction in public funding, universities will receive more money from private foundations and donors. Although most of these monies are donated within the academic freedom strictures, some of the latest funding comes with strings attached. The Florida State University economics department received $ 1.5 million from a Koch brother’s controlled educational foundation where the foundation had direct input into the screening and hiring of instructors as well as into the choice of textbooks and content of the course (ECO 3131). This was an introductory or gateway course in economics and, in my opinion, the texts chosen were right wing, libertarian wacko books far outside the economic mainstream. It’s like having an introductory biology course where the texts were the Holy Bible and Intelligent Design. The Instructor would be a graduate of Liberty University who did his post doc at the Tim Lahaye School of Prophesy. Extra credits for attending bible study in the evening.

   I couldn’t end this post without a swipe at a possible replacement for tenure. We could do a study using the same methodology as " Male Organ and Economic Growth: Does Size Matter?" by Tatu Westling of the University of Helsinki which was in my pseudoscience 2 post but using organ size versus academic performance. To quote from a post in the Freakonomics blog:
The fact is that reliable penis-size data is notoriously hard difficult to come by get.
  But with a substantial financial reward, I’m sure that male academics would step up to the plate. If a linear regression analysis shows a strong negative correlation as was demonstrated in the previous study then a special account could be set up as a monetary reward.  This could give a whole new meaning to the term “university endowment fund.” (This a joke. Don't call me a sexist pig.)

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Recipe: Pavlova

Happy birthday!

   I went to a birthday dinner for my youngest daughter today and we had Pavlova for desert which is the only birthday desert that she wants. Pav as most Aussies call it was named after the Russian ballerina, Ann Pavlova who toured Australia in 1926. It is a light meringue cake covered in whipped cream and berries of various types. Below is a video which tells you how to make it.

You can find a variety of recipes on the internet. Below is a close up of one of the slices before I put the berries on.

Pseudoscience 2

Hung out to dry
  One of the things that I do is save interesting items in my miscellaneous boxs for future reference if something along  the same topic happens to appear. The map above is a comparison of penis size (PS) for various countries from a Chinese newspaper which was only distributed locally and I happened to notice a couple of months ago. The writer of the article whose name I forgot tried to make the argument that PS is negatively correlate with economic growth. I dismissed the analysis at the time because the median length of a penis is genetically determined so you could have used the same map forty years ago when the Chinese cultural revolution was in flower as well as India mired in poverty and reached the opposite conclusion that PS had a positive correlation with GDP growth; however, you can't keep a good supposition down so I kept the map for future reference.

  Imagine my amazement today when I discovered a paper from of all places Finland that had the title," Male Organ and Economic Growth: Does Size Matter?" by Tatu Westling of the University of Helsinki.


This paper explores the link between economic development and penile length between
1960 and 1985. It estimates an augmented Solow model utilizing the Mankiw-Romer-Weil
121 country dataset. The size of male organ is found to have an inverse U-shaped
relationship with the level of GDP in 1985. It can alone explain over 15% of the variation in
GDP. The GDP maximizing size is around 13.5 centimetres, and a collapse in economic
development is identified as the size of male organ exceeds 16 centimetres. Economic
growth between 1960 and 1985 is negatively associated with the size of male organ, and it
alone explains 20% of the variation in GDP growth. With due reservations it is also found
to be more important determinant of GDP growth than country's political regime type.
Controlling for male organ slows convergence and mitigates the negative effect of
population growth on economic development slightly. Although all evidence is suggestive
at this stage, the `male organ hypothesis' put forward here is robust to exhaustive set of
controls and rests on surprisingly strong correlations.

 I have to mention that there is no connection between the Chinese article and the Finnish paper of which I'm aware so two analysts working on opposite sides of  the world have independently arrived at the same conclusion with the addition that the paper also includes temporal data. First I was having some amusing thoughts about how the author of the paper controlled for the male organ - a procrustean bed perhaps?  Secondly both writers eliminated half of the population i.e female as having any effect on GDP. This is pretty sexist. Thirdly as I pointed out in my initial pseudo science post a correlation is not causality.

Getting down to particulars, the paper specifies that the PS was specifically the erect length and I wonder how this was achieved since the paper doesn't go into details and says "taken at face value, the findings suggest that the 'male organ hypothesis' put forward here is quite pentrating an argument. Yet for the best of the author's knowledge, the male organ has not been touched before in the growth literature before." Ok. I know what you're thinking. I'm just quoting verbatim here.

Then we get lots of fancy math, equations and graphs. Regression analysis, augmented Solow model using the Mankiw-Romer-Weil dataset etc. I can do this stuff on any data set and it doesn't add any validity to the fundamental set of assumptions and conclusions. My final conclusion - Pseudo science with a capital P.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Dancing with PIGS

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A little song from the Guardian Newspaper for all you doomsday watchers.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Restaurant review: New Orleans

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   I usually stay away from Cajun food. My gut gets sideswiped by the holy trinity - bell pepper, onion and celery, and I get heartburn but my second oldest daughter (by 11 minutes) wanted to have some real down south food for her birthday yesterday so I agreed to go to a Cajun restaurant.  The owner/operator is the real deal. He emigrated from New Orleans where he grew up by “Da Lake.” He makes all his seasoning from scratch. No Tony Chachere's. It’s a small family owned restaurant where the service is attentive and the food is authentically cooked.

   The interior is intimate but gives you the feel of being in New Orleans with the decor and the jazz music playing in the background.

Monticello Salad
  The Monticello salad has mixed baby greens with a classic Monticello dressing made from Tobasco, mustard, lemon juice, ground pepper and red pepper.

New Orleans Gumbo Yaya
   This little gut wrenching gumbo is made from spicy dark roux soup with chicken, rice and the "trinity".

Crab Cakes
Main Courses:

Blackened Chicken breast
    Blackened Chicken breast (Cajun style) with rice and seasonal vegetables. 

Fisherman's Plate

  The New Orleans Fisherman's Plate consists of blackened fish (bass), Cajun calamari and coconut beer shrimp served with rice and seasonal vegetables.

Shrimps Creole
   Shrimps sauteed in white wine garlic and creole sauce. Served with rice and seasonal vegetables.


Ice Cream

Bananas Foster
  Bananas Foster is a dessert made from bananas and vanilla ice cream, with the sauce made from butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, dark rum, and banana liqueur. Often flambéed in front of the customer but not in this establishment.
  The total cost for four including a bottle of Argentean Shiraz was $170 plus tax and gratuities. A moderately priced and very authentic Cajun experience. Not a Uglesich's or a Tujague's but well worth a return visit.

Thursday, 14 July 2011


  Ok. Now I feel better after that musical interlude so let’s get back to Politics. As Sherlock Holmes would say “the game's afoot” and I’m in my element. The first question is why does the White House want Erick Canton to be at the negotiations so badly when they know that he wants to torpedo the whole affair?  I mentioned in my last political  post that Canton has both financial and supporter reasons to trash the negotiations but there is also another reason. Both internal polls and a recent external poll have indicated that the American population would blame the Republicans if the dire effects of an impasse came to pass. Cantor has been lusting after House Speaker John Boehner’s position for awhile and if the economy tanked with the Republicans blamed by the public, Big John is toast. This would put Cantor in a great place for a 2016 presidential run if Obama by some miracle wins in 2012 or later if a Republican becomes president. He certainly has the ambition and cojones to try.

  What’s in it for the Democrats? Basically they’re playing a double game. In public they want to succeed even to the extent of trashing every social advance since the New Deal. Privately they know that the economy is going to tank before the elections in November of 2012 so it’s better to have the economy fall off the cliff now and blame the Republicans than have it collapse next year and really be toast. Obama knows (he’s a constitutional lawyer for Christ’s sake) that he can use the 14th amendment to tell congress to take a hike and ignore the debt ceiling and as Bill Mitchell pointed out:

“[T]he whole edifice surrounding government spending and bond-issuance is also ‘just an accounting gimmick’. The mainstream make much of what they call the government budget constraint as if it is an a priori financial constraint when in fact it is just an accounting statement of the monetary operations surrounding government spending and taxation and debt-issuance.

There are political gimmicks too that lead to the US government issuing debt to match their net public spending. These just hide the fact that in terms of the intrinsic characteristics of the monetary system the US government is never revenue constrained because it is the monopoly issuer of the currency which makes the whole debt ceiling debate a political and accounting gimmick.”

  The public is being scared shitless by all this Kabuki theatre in Washington especially comparing America to Greece. Anyone who knows anything about monetary policy realizes that this is comparing apples and oranges. The States have a sovereign currency and can print all the money it wants while Greece uses an external currency over which it has no control so without the monetary levers which America has it is seriously screwed and has to practice severe austerity. It’s a bit like being on the gold standard back in the 1920’s.

  The advantage to the real rulers of the universe, corporations, is that they can now eliminate such fundamental rights such as minimum wage laws and overtime which are foundation of the protection of the working class. Discussions on these matters have already started but the public seems to be unaware. The only fly in the ointment to a new post democratic American society is the progressive movement. This is the reason for bills such as S978 which I mentioned in a previous post. It’s alright to believe what you want but if you try to communicate with others then we’re coming after you. If you read the White house paper as approved by Obama you’ll notice that if you have a previous conviction for even a misdemeanour such as using a copy written photo on your blog instead of  5 years in jail you’ll probably get 10 years. To wit:

To appropriately increase the punishment for recidivist intellectual property offenders, we recommend that Congress direct the U.S. Sentencing Commission to consider imposing a two-level enhancement when a defendant has a previous intellectual property conviction (either under Federal or state law, whether the conviction was a misdemeanor or a felony, and regardless of the type of the previous intellectual property offense).

Recommendation: The Administration recommends that Congress direct the U.S. Sentencing Commission to consider providing a two-level enhancement for defendants with a previous conviction for an intellectual property offense.

   And the FBI will be allowed to tap your internet and phone connections. To wit:

Give Wiretap Authority for Criminal Copyright and Trademark Offenses: The Joint Strategic Plan committed Federal agencies to identify gaps in current intellectual property laws and ways that the U.S. Government could enhance enforcement. One such gap involves wiretapping authority (that is, authority to intercept wire, electronic, and/or oral communications). Title 18, United States Code, Section 2516 contains an extensive list of offenses for which the U.S. Government is authorized to seek wiretap authority from a court to obtain evidence of those offenses, including for economic espionage (18 U.S.C. § 1831) and theft of trade secrets (18 U.S.C. § 1832). See 18 U.S.C. § 2516(1)(a) (listing offenses under chapter 90). Omitted from this list are criminal copyright (17 U.S.C. § 506(a)(1), 18 U.S.C. § 2319) and criminal trademark offenses (18 U.S.C. § 2320). Wiretap authority for these intellectual property crimes, subject to the existing legal protections that apply to wiretaps for other types of crimes, would assist U.S. law enforcement agencies to effectively investigate those offenses, including targeting organized