apologize or else

ranting - talk radio for the dea[fd]

Thursday, August 14, 2014

gaza

In a fairly thoughtful article by danny finkelstein, the argument is made that the recent Gaza Offensive was the only option open to Israel in the face of continued missile attacks from Hamas. The points are made
1) what government would survive its own electorate's anger if not responding this way?
2) would any international response to Hamas have occurred in any case, had the Israeli's held off?

Well the answers to these questions are in the nature of the problem - it isn't amenable to  "point solution" - sorting out such problems (e.g. Ireland, South Africa etc) requires a process - the process involves steps, which sometimes go backward. Since 2000, Israel has repeatedly only taken steps backwards. Before then it had taken a few tentative steps forwards.

Two answer the questions 1&2, the reality is that Israel has put up with more deaths in the past without such a vicious response, and now as it improves Iron Dome, it can minimise these without disproportionate retaliation, largely against civilians in punishment for having the temerity to vote for Hamas (which was largrey a response to Israel's earlier intransigence in any case). And the international community would respond - not necessarily to support Israel directly, but you could easily imagine the forces for reason in the Arab world pressuring Hamas or even replacing it with more moderation in the presence of some visible positive steps from Israel.

Not any more (for a while at least). In fact, sadly, quite the reverse. As the shared religious text has it "ye reap what ye sew".

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Big Bad Food

latest debate about Big Food making Big People - article about this in press recently says "government regulation of food industry would be interference in the free market" as an excuse for not intervening in the advertising of causes of obesity to children (amount of sugar hidden in some goods) - the market for food is not free, and even if it was its already regulated for safety for short term problems (e.g. food poisoning / sell by dates) so why isn't this just part of the exact same regulation? Misrepresenting things too is normally not regarded as something that happens in a "free" market....

usual disclaimers apply - if you aren't a free thinker, when you read this, you may find it difficult to digest:)

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

3rd world war

the rise of the right across europe in the recent elections is a bit scary - when you look at their sophistication, but also their historically rooted, and yet mutated motives, the psychic resonance with the past is worrying:

1. we were all ripped off by the international bankers - we (e.g. Precariat and Middle Class) bore the brunt of the (nonsense) austerity measures, when productivity and risk in the real world were good, and only the casino banks were really in trouble - instead of solidarity against the old school evils of untrammelled capitalism, we now have the spectre of the far right who are anti-intellectual (sorry, but I doubt they've read Daniel Kahneman or Thomas Pikkety)...couple with

2. the enemy is no longer the banker who is a jew, but the muslim who has become a fanatic. Who made him that fanatic? We did, but not objecting to the demonisation that the Blair/Bush new liberal nutters unleashed on our behalf

Reading The Muslims are coming and The French Intifada, for example, one can see that this was by no means inevitable. Even now, some peace and reconciliation process is conceivable. But not by the new righter-than-right by any means. These guys are much more dangerous than they realize.

Who has really failed us? both the small "c" conservatives and the liberal left. Both have been obsessed either with the axis of evil, or running scared of the IMF. Both are spineless, gutless, and (in the words of Marx) we should combat their liberalism as it has led to this appalling state of affairs and affairs of state, and it is not funny.

I predict more than a riot.

Friday, April 25, 2014

creeping precariousness

reading the precariat charter and its increasingly obvious why the usual tension between conservative and socialist parties is failing everyone. to translate this into UK University "employee" terms, the increasing casualisation (e.g. uncertain contracts of research assistants, unspecified hours/duties of faculty, not to mention anciliary staff - e.g. in our canteen on zero hour contracts) isn't being fought by any political incumbent group...

pathetic lip service by the tories and even more pathetic by labour, just doesn't cut it-

here's a simple example why even (what Guy Standing calls the "Salariat") the senior academics aren't immune from this creeping evil:-

each year, I fill in a Time Allocation Survey, where I  am given a random week to choose, and I write down the hours I spend on a variety of tasks, loosely grouped into teaching, research, administration, including preparation etc

so then this is collated and normalized to some standard euro-week (e.g. 37.5 hours) to avoid revealing the fact that we're working more than legal hours (under working time directive etc)  - for me, I can't find a week in the last 10 years of filling in these forms where I see less than 65 hours.

I don't mind "working" 65 hours  - actually, (as per Standing's book) a lot of this time is "ludic" or something some people wouldn't regard as work, but do pay me ok for - on the other hand, a bunch of stuff people do regard as work (pointless timesheets for euro projects) is not accounted for in my list of duties

lets not even get started on billing my time on research contracts

then there's the erosion not just of our salaries, but of the terms&conditions (e.g. pension scheme - our pathetic union bargained away parity with civil service and medics 25+ years ago in exchange for retaining a final salary pension - well, good luck with that thin end of the wedge, and that's going too slowly).

The conservatives who welcome this flexibility do so under some false notion that the ability to move jobs at a moments notice, or be moved, more like, means people are motivated to work harder - no evidence whatsoever of that - the uncertainty just means people spend more time worried/stressed, which is the opposite of conducive to effective thinking/working.

The socialists think that everyone should be doing labour, and have no respect for the fact that most people spend most their time doing things that matter, but aren't 19th century industrial revolution style factory-make-work any more, so the majority of our effort (e.g. caring for relatives, counciling stressed colleagues, helping plan stuff, clearing up after a staff party) is not accounted its social value.

The charter (linked above) calls for a new Voice for this (i.e. a renewal of collectives that can speak (and presumably bargain) for us - this is interesting - the various movements (indignados, occupy etc) are namechecked as emergent pieces that might lead to such a thing, which would be good - one thing (seeing the many people going through UK University right now, exiting with debts higher than I ever had in my life, with, in some cases, several years of unemployed or unpaid employment to look forward to), the constituency for such a movement is not  the proletariat anymore (if there's much left of such a thing anyhow), but contains a large fraction of pretty well educated people (even more so in, say, Spain and Greece).

Interesting times....

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Global Eyes-ation & Stuff

Latest readings from the University of Fenland include:
1. How to rebuild the world from "scratch" if not everyone and everything is destructed:- The "knowledge", but not for london cabbies:)

2. Arguably more useful, and certainly more, how to cook&eat your way around the cuisines of the world - a bit quirky, in the best possible way, and v. funny
The Edible Woman^H^H^H Atlas

3. Do you know the origins of the terms Bear and Bull, as in markets? It seems no-one is sure, but it seems also that they correlate with Anabolic and Catabolic
processes in the human body, in a Bad Way, (as in the oscilliation between dog and wolf (Quebecois for Crepuscule too - entre chien et loup)) - read
the dog ate my home loan:)

4. Any book that accuses the labour party of a century of stupidity, but is somewhere to the left of karl marx must be worth a read - this is better than that - its radical in the best possible way:
feeling precarious?

5. Barely fictionalised accounts from the front line returnees - this is the effect:
redployed

6. while this is most of the cause - a cause not worth fighting for at all - the muslims aint....coming, that is

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Bibliometrics and Science - Failure to Understand the Basics of the Discovery Process

SO I've read yet another well meaning article on bibliometrics (like the H-Index) and why they might be ok for evaluating groups or sub-disciplines (disagree) but they are definitely not ok to evaluate individuals (agree, but for different reason).

This time, this paper on Bibliometric Indicators of Young Authors in Astrophysics: Can Later Stars be Predicted? hit the twittersphere, hence caught my attention.

Look, all these papers treat the research publications world like some high school statistics project. Ok, why not raise the game a bit.

Let's suppose that scientific discovery is a complex natural phenomenon. Let's suppose there is such a thing as progress :-)

OK so what would the time series of discovery look like? My simple minded hypothesis is that it is (like many other natural processes in a complex world) a self-similar arrival process.
So how do we characterise such a time series? well, it isn't captured in a single statistic like "mean", or even two (mean + variance) - the point of such, essentially fractal structures in time, is that they are characterised by very complex descriptors, and, crucially, prediction is hard - exactly why the weather, and associated phenonomena like flooding, and volcanic eruptions, are hard to predict on an individual basis, although, collectively, we can model broad trends. Surprise surprise (literally and figuratively:)

So science doesn't depend on a random walk in a well structured but sparse or even poisson point random space, where walking faster gets you more results. Nor does success depend on hard work (more sweat, more kudos). While a slightly more random walk might get you an inherently more surprising result, it isn't necessarily going to yield more results. And more work only pays off after the discovery, when you want to present it properly (I am sure history is littered with holes made out of discoveries that were cool, but so badly reported they were ignored and lost).

So predicting the next big discovery by a specific scientist is a bit like saying that a raindrop is going to fall on a particular rain gauge at a particular minute of a specific hour on a special day. OK if you are the bookie setting the odds, but I wouldn't bet on it.

Monday, April 07, 2014

writing like its in the bag

there's this type of informal writing that just missing the goal, the target, like it wants to enagge with you visciously, but the speaker hasn't quite got the peg to hag the metaphor upon, and some words are just de trop, perhaps naive manque.

normally, as if there is such an as if, the problem comes around to framing, err, the problem - sometimes, the audience is abused, left holding their misapprehensions in their handbags, but usually, its just that the writer can't. that is. write. for sh. it stand's to reason, isn;t it, that some people just don't have the gift of the grab-all, the momentricious blue steel glare made of pure glyphtitude, that indietinguished suits you SIR epidemic enthusiasm for exapansionist gestures. oh dear, there i gove again.