Mar 07, 2008
In one example that might be considered Political Correctness Gone Mad, the name of the county in which Seattle, WA sits in was changed in 2005 from King county (named after William King, vice president of the US at the time of the county's inception), to King county (named after Martin Luther King Jr., who visited Seattle in 1961.) - Please Select New City Name (tvtropes)

Mar 01, 2008

It's going to be an interesting Presidential campaign, no matter what. All plausible candidates have glaring flaws in them.

Read the rest...

Feb 26, 2008

The idea of the Lincoln-Douglas debates are deeply ingrained in the American psyche, but I think it's time to face up to the fact that that era of the debate has passed.

Instead, I wish the candidates would do a written debate. I don't just mean "Send them each a bunch of questions and publish both responses", I mean an interactive series of answers and rebuttals. Randomly choose half the questions to send to the one candidate first, half to the other. Set some word limit. (And if were up to me, I'd tell the candidates that it's a hard word limit; send me 600 words instead of 500 if you like, but I'll just cut you off mid-sentence...) Stop at two or three iterations. In the internet era, I'd give them as many hyperlinks as they wanted and not count them against their word count, and invite the candidates to continue after the official debate on their own websites, if they like, giving both of them the last word.

We'd probably learn a lot more. The problem with debates is that they provide abundant opportunities to fail with little chance to succeed, so candidates play it so safe that you or I could probably write the responses actually given in debates. The name of the game becomes saying as little as possible; not nothing of course, but as little as possible. Making it a written debate would tend to turn that around; you have all the time in the world to vet a response, so you could actually say something conclusive, and back it up with links and references.

Of course, this is all predicated on the false assumption that politicians want to educate us about them, rather than adopting emotional sales techniques that involve feeding as little information as possible while pushing as many emotional buttons as possible.

Learning to Lie
Feb 13, 2008

And here's a fascinating article on children and lying; why they lie, where it comes from, and all based on real science, not pop science. Most interestingly, it compares the reactions of parents to the lies and how that can affect the child.

Although we think of truthfulness as a young child’s paramount virtue, it turns out that lying is the more advanced skill. A child who is going to lie must recognize the truth, intellectually conceive of an alternate reality, and be able to convincingly sell that new reality to someone else. Therefore, lying demands both advanced cognitive development and social skills that honesty simply doesn’t require. “It’s a developmental milestone,” Talwar has concluded.

This puts parents in the position of being either damned or blessed, depending on how they choose to look at it. If your 4-year-old is a good liar, it’s a strong sign she’s got brains. And it’s the smart, savvy kid who’s most at risk of becoming a habitual liar.

By their 4th birthday, almost all kids will start experimenting with lying in order to avoid punishment. Because of that, they lie indiscriminately—whenever punishment seems to be a possibility. A 3-year-old will say, “I didn’t hit my sister,” even if a parent witnessed the child’s hitting her sibling.

Most parents hear their child lie and assume he’s too young to understand what lies are or that lying’s wrong. They presume their child will stop when he gets older and learns those distinctions. Talwar has found the opposite to be true—kids who grasp early the nuances between lies and truth use this knowledge to their advantage, making them more prone to lie when given the chance.

Many parenting Websites and books advise parents to just let lies go—they’ll grow out of it. The truth, according to Talwar, is that kids grow into it. In studies where children are observed in their natural environment, a 4-year-old will lie once every two hours, while a 6-year-old will lie about once every hour and a half. Few kids are exceptions.

(And that's just a sample.)

Seeing Around Corners
Feb 13, 2008

A truly awesome article about computer science meeting social science via cellular automata-based simulations in The Atlantic.


OK, this defies pull-quoting. Just read it.

(Also: If you're a programmer, it's really easy to set these simulations up and play away; the claim that this requires "sophisticated modern programming languages" is basically false, it's just modern languages make this really, really easy. I'm sure there are tools for these things, but I'm not sure they're really necessary...)

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