Monday, May 30, 2011

Betraying the Reader - New York Times' Incredibly Annoying Floater Ads

I am annoyed and disappointed that the New York Times is using floating overlay ads, also called floaters. They are as bad as pop-ups, or maybe even more annoying, because they float over the text you are trying to read. You can't stop them by clicking "Close" or "X" and the Internet Explorer pop-up blocker doesn't block them, but Firefox with Adblock does, so from now on I will read the Times through Firefox.

New York Times is of course not alone in doing this, but being the New York Times you would think that it knew better than hurting the relationship with its most loyal readers.

Hans Sandberg

Here is a screen shot of a floater ad for Delta Airlines.

Friday, May 20, 2011

V.S. Ramachandran Talks About Qualia and the Self

This is a brilliant discussion of consciousness, qualia, and self by Dr. V.S. Ramachandran, director of the Center for Brain and Cognition at University of California in San Diego. You could connect this to the old debate about computers and the human mind (John R. Searl's critique of Strong AI). It's comforting to think that HAL will never be one of us...

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Friedrich Hayek Revisited In the Age of the Tea Party

Francis Fukyama writes a brilliant review of Friedrich Hayek's "The Constitution of Liberty" (1960) in New York Times Book Review. Hayek's insights about the limits of aggregated knowledge reveals the impossibility of perfect central planning, but - contrary to himself and his followers - not the impossibility of pragmatic and limited central planning.

Fukuyama writes:

Hayek’s skepticism about the effects of “big government” are rooted in an epistemological observation summarized in a 1945 article called “The Uses of Knowledge in Society.” There he argued that most of the knowledge in a modern economy was local in nature, and hence unavailable to central planners.
“The Constitution of Liberty” builds on this view of the limits of human cognition to make the case that no government can know enough about a society to plan effectively. The government’s true role is more modest: to create laws that are general and equally applied; these laws constitute the matrix in which the spontaneous interactions of individuals can occur. (It may, however, surprise some of Hayek’s new followers to learn that “The Constitution of Liberty” argues that the government may need to provide health insurance and even make it ­compulsory.)
Hayek was certainly right about the local nature of much of the knowledge humans need to make economic decisions, a fact that drove central planners crazy in Soviet Union and China and ultimately led to the economic and political reforms. But this does not mean that all planning is impossible or must lead to tyranny. Modern society would not be possible without local, regional and central planning. The modern large corporations are bureaucratic giants excelling in central planning, and governments use it to protect its citizens from food-borne illness, nature's whims and corporate abuse of market power. Power corrupts for sure, and human beings tend to think they know more than they actually do know, but that is an argument for protecting competition, a basic equality and democracy - not an argument against government, taxation and planning.

Hans Sandberg

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Hollow Arguments For Immoral Acts

From the New York Times' editorial today:

The Torture Apologists
The killing of Osama bin Laden provoked a host of reactions from Americans: celebration, triumph, relief, closure and renewed grief. One reaction, however, was both cynical and disturbing: crowing by the apologists and practitioners of torture that Bin Laden’s death vindicated their immoral and illegal behavior after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Even if it were true that some tidbit was blurted out by a prisoner while being tormented by C.I.A. interrogators, that does not remotely justify Mr. Bush’s decision to violate the law and any acceptable moral standard.
This was not the “ticking time bomb” scenario that Bush-era officials often invoked to rationalize abusive interrogations. If, as Representative Peter King, the Long Island Republican, said, information from abused prisoners “directly led” to the redoubt, why didn’t the Bush administration follow that trail years ago?
The battered intelligence community should now be basking in the glory of a successful operation. It should not be dragged back into the muck and murk by political figures whose sole agenda seems to be to rationalize actions that cost this country dearly — in our inability to hold credible trials for very bad men and in the continued damage to our reputation.       
I couldn't agree more.

Hans Sandberg

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Even If It Turned Out That Torture Worked - Does That Make It Right?

The right-wing was stunned by the fact that the guy who they don't even believe is a legitimate President succeded where his bumbling, fumbling predecessor failed. It didn't take long though before they found a way back in the debate:

Among them was John Yoo, a former Justice Department official who wrote secret legal memorandums justifying brutal interrogations. “President Obama can take credit, rightfully, for the success today,” Mr. Yoo wrote Monday in National Review, “but he owes it to the tough decisions taken by the Bush administration.”
Yeah, right... Bush and Cheney were really good at making tough decisions...

But even if it was water-boarding or some other form of torture that led to bin Laden, does that make torture right? How come conservative "moralists" who usually purport to be good pro-life Christians are so eager to embrace torture?

Besides, the euphoria over the killing of bin Laden reflects a simplistic Hollywood-perspective of world politics. If only Rambo is unleashed on the bad guys, we will get our revenge, which equals a happy ending.

The truth is that bin-Laden had already been "buried" politically by the popular and secular uprisings in Egypt, Libya, Syria, Yemen and other countries.

No Rambo was needed for that victory.

Hans Sandberg