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Saturday, October 29, 2011

We are the cake-eaters

Links - 29th October 2011

Driver thought cyclist she hit was tree branch - "HER car rammed into a cyclist from the rear so hard that he flew and hit the front windscreen, cracking part of it, before rolling onto the road. But Cleopatra Wong Yuin Ping, 30, thought the body that smashed into the windscreen was a rotten tree branch that had fallen... Wong was also unaware that her victim's bicycle was stuck in the undercarriage of the Lexus ES300 belonging to her father, despite the noise of the bicycle scraping against the road. The bicycle was dragged for about 2km before it was dislodged. When Wong, who was a teacher then, reached home, she went to bed. She realised something was wrong only when she woke up in the morning and found out that the police had towed away the five-year-old Lexus. Taken to court over the accident, Wong claimed that the soundproofing of the Lexus was so good that she thought the "sounds" she heard were caused by the tree branch. Last month, she was fined a total of $2,400 - $800 on each of three charges - and disqualified from driving for a year"

Justice is served, but more so after lunch: how food-breaks sway the decisions of judges - "There are several other ways of explaining this striking pattern but Danziger ruled all of them out. It wasn’t the case that a few individuals skewed the data, for the pattern was consistent across all the judges. The results weren’t due to discrimination, for the judges treated the prisoners equally regardless of their gender, ethnicity or the severity of their crime. Danziger considered that the judges might have an unconscious “quota” of favourable decisions. After they’ve doled out some positive verdicts, they are compelled to dish out some negative ones for balance. But that wasn’t the case – the likelihood that the judges would grant parole didn’t depend on the proportion of favourable rulings beforehand. It’s not possible that someone ordered the cases in a special way. The judges know nothing about upcoming cases ahead of time, so they can’t decide to take a break in the knowledge that an easy positive case is coming up. They also have control over when they set their breaks, so prison staff cannot predictably schedule the hearings in order of ease. And Danziger showed that the judges weren’t any more likely to take a break after particularly difficult cases or severe crimes. The only remaining explanation is one that legal realists have been pushing for years – that judges, even experienced ones, are vulnerable to the same psychological biases as everyone else... the judges aren’t automatically denying parole because they’re hungry!"
Besides the headline result, I also found "the judges treated the prisoners equally regardless of their gender, ethnicity or the severity of their crime" interesting, which goes against claims of unconscious prejudice and psychological studies where time lags (the Implicit Association Test/IAT) are taken as evidence of prejudice

Malaysian medium conducts ritual to help Steve Jobs reincarnate - "About 40 people participated in the event, dubbed "Take a bite of Apple to mourn the death of Steve Jobs", held in Pulau Jerejak, Penang. The ceremony, organised by a medium from Rwang, Selangor, received flak from the Federation of Taoist Associations Malaysia and from several Buddhist associations, which had called it "ridiculous and superstitious", added the report. Sin Chew Daily said the caretaker of the organising temple, Mr Wong Sao Tian, claimed the Chinese deity Mazu had told him to grieve the loss of Jobs in a dream. The ceremony included taking a bite of an apple followed by a three-minute silence in mourning. The apples are then thrown into the sea so Jobs can be reincarnated in a shorter time... most of the medium's followers did not know who Jobs was and many took part in the ceremony - which had a RM$50 (S$20.50) registration fee - to enjoy a day trip to Penang and to pray for good fortune"
Malaysia Boleh!

More than 400 claims of physical abuse on children attending British madrassas - "only 10 of these cases ever made it to court, with just two leading to convictions, a report into abuse at madrassas warns. Muslim campaigners have warned that insufficient regulation is leading to some madrassas "destroying the lives of young people" and urged the Government to take action against offending institutions"

Rod Dreher » Meritocracy and the guilty lie - "He is the quintessential self-made man. And yet this is why he doesn’t have sympathy for failed strivers. He busted his ass and pulled himself out of poverty, so why can’t others? (is his thought). What David can’t see is how unusual is his intelligence and his work ethic... I suspect that if David had been of average intelligence, he would have a very different story to tell today. Or if he had been raised by parents who didn’t teach him as well as he says his parents did, same deal. I say this not to belittle or to downplay David’s admirable accomplishments, but to say how they have created within him a faith in meritocracy that encourages him to blame others for their own failure to thrive... what frustrates me about his worldview is that it seems so unrealistic about human character, and the way that life unfolds for most people... You never really know what invisible burdens they carry that they did not choose for themselves. This is why it’s so hard to know where the line is between laziness and self-indulgent excuse making, and a sense of mercy and realism on the other. The ideology of meritocracy, though, depends on the fiction that there are no meaningful differences, in terms of nature or nurture, among us, and that we’re all starting from the same place, and have the capacities to excel equally, no matter what. It’s this ideology that can lead people to think that if you’ve failed, it must be your own fault. Sometimes it really is your own fault. It’s the must be that’s problematic"

In California, Going All Out to Bid Adieu to Foie Gras - - "In eight months, the sale of foie gras will be banned in California. But for seven hours on Friday night, at a restaurant appropriately known as Animal, three chefs presented an eight-course meal that was nothing short of a glorification of this soon-to-be outlawed delicacy... “I want people to have the freedom to eat what they want,” said Ludo Lefebvre, one of the chefs behind the stove here on Friday. “Animal rights people would turn everyone into a vegan if they could. I don’t want animal rights people to tell me what to eat. Today it’s foie gras. Tomorrow it’s going to be chicken, or beef”... California is ahead of the curve in its appetite for both eating and regulating exotic food. This month Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation banning the sale of shark fin soup, and a sushi restaurant in Santa Monica shut down last year after being charged with illegally serving whale... "They don’t believe the process of fattening up the ducks or geese is painful to the ducks or geese. I’ve seen the videos, and everyone says the same thing: they all seem to run up to be fed""
First they came for the foie gras. Then they came for the shark's fin. Then they came for the lobster. Then they came for the chicken...

Summer of change in Southeast Asia, but no Arab Spring - "Della-Giacoma ascribed the interplay between the events in Southeast Asia to what he called "the Air Asia effect", or how travel was allowing people to increasingly put different political systems under the spotlight. "There is an increasing amount of travel throughout the region," he said. "With budget travel, people are moving around, seeing how different countries work. There are different contexts but there is some kind of interaction in the neighbourhood.""

Aging attitudes: Attitudes about aging significantly impact health and happiness - "Thirty-year-olds forget lots of things, but they don't blame dementia. Older people jump to the conclusion that memory failures are part of their inevitable decline, when in fact it could be that their values change about what's meaningful enough to remember... Men and women over 50 with more positive self-perceptions of aging lived 7.6 years longer than those with negative perceptions"

The Science of Success, Bryan Caplan - "Upbringing is much less crucial for success than most of us believe... Your kids would have been about as successful in school and work if they'd been raised by a very different family. This doesn't mean that severe child neglect or abject poverty is harmless. Twin and adoption studies focus on normal families that meet their children's basic needs. Researchers' don't ask, "Would this child have turned out differently if he were raised by wolves?" They ask, "Would this child have turned our differently if he were raised by one of the other families we studied?" When researchers report "no effect of family income on education," this doesn't mean that hungry kids learn as well as kids with full bellies. It means that even the poorest families under observation were good enough to allow their children to reach their potential. The right lesson to take away from twin and adoption research is that parents can relax without hurting their kids' future.Once you provide the basics, your children's success is largely in their hands, not yours"
One complicating factor for twin studies pointed out to me - adopted parents want the kids and are screened for psychological conditions. So nurture is more important at the lower end of the scale
Addendum: This objection is empty since the heritability of the said traits in biological children is a lot larger than in adopted children.

Food Delivery in Singapore - "Whether you are feeling lazy or simply too busy to step out for a proper meal, the following list of F&B establishments that offer food delivery in Singapore, may just become your new best friend when the hunger pangs strike."

Is Philosophy the Most Practical Major? - "Philosophers honor each other by disagreeing with each other. The number of objections could be a sign of the importance of the arguments. From such experiences I learned the difference between the merely wrong, and the valuable wrong... Philosophy majors also score highest among disciplines in verbal reasoning and analytical writing on the GRE aptitude test... In one survey, working conditions for philosophers outranked some other prestigious fields like aerospace engineering and astronomy"

The genetics of happiness: Transporter of delight | The Economist - "About a third of the variation in people’s happiness is heritable... those with one long allele were 8% more likely than those with none to describe themselves as very satisfied; those with two long alleles were 17% more likely... the Asian Americans in the sample had 0.69 long genes, the black Americans had 1.47 and the white Americans had 1.12. That result sits comfortably with other studies showing that, on average, Asian countries report lower levels of happiness than their GDP per head would suggest... [others] found a positive correlation between higher levels of the short version of the gene and mood disorders (China and Japan have lots of both) and with collectivist political systems. Their hypothesis is that cultures prone to anxiety tend towards systems that emphasise social harmony and away from ones that emphasise individuals’ independence of each other"

Friday, October 28, 2011

Kenny the Sales-Weasel

Pointy-Haired Boss: Dilbert, you'll work with "Kenny the Sales-Weasel" on our biggest prospect

Kenny: Tell me all of our product's technical specs on the way. I like to be prepared

Dilbert: Our product is beige. It uses electricity

Kenny: Whoa! Brain overload!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

France/Spain 2011 - Day 7, Part 1 - Zaragoza

France/Spain 2011
Day 7 - 23rd March - Zaragoza
(Part 1)

I had a lot to squeeze into less than half a day, so I set out early. Not too early, though, as while the Basilica opened at 6:45am, the earliest the other stuff opened was at 9am (most places only opened at 10am - ahh, these lax Spanish! [don't get me on siestas and no afternoon openings]) so there was no point starting so early (I wasn't crazy enough to go to the Basilica then go back to bed). So I left at 7:45am.

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Cesar Augusto (Caesar Augustus) statue in square.

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Google Maps calls this place Cesar Augusto Plaza S.l.

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Iglesia de San Juan de los Panetes‎ and pigeons

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About Ruta de los Sitios and the church. As with other Third World countries history is heavily politicised - notice how the group opposing the French in the first Siege of Zaragoza are called "patriots", which de-legitimises Spanish patriots who were onthe French side

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Church tower reflected in glass

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Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar and overhead pigeons

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Catedral-Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar without pigeons

Given the large, tempting crowd, I indulged in a favourite hobby of mine

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Photography was disallowed inside the Basilica, along with "Bla Bla Bla"

The interior was like a less-decorated version of that more-famous basilica, St Peter's. It was vast, with a lot of sculpture, gold gilt and side chapels.

Here is the story of the Pillar:

"According to tradition, On January 2, 40 AD, in the early days of the Church, James the Greater, one of the original Twelve Apostles of Jesus Christ, was evangelizing the Gospel in what was then the pagan land of Caesaraugusta, now Zaragoza. He was disheartened with his mission, making little progress having only few converts who had been traveling with him. In his despair, while praying by the banks of Ebro River, Mother Mary miraculously appeared before him and his group, comforting him and promised to help. Mary gave him a column or pillar as a symbol, being carried by angels with an image of the Mother on top. James was instructed to build a chapel on the spot where Mary left the pillar, a place where she and the pillar would dwell forever; so that by the grace of God, will marvel those who believed and asked in their hour of need. James returned to Jerusalem after establishing the church in Zaragoza and was ordered beheaded in 44 AD by King Herod Agrippa I. The land he left eventually became believers of Christ through the works of his disciples"

Not all the domes inside were decorated. In fact they were mostly plain. Given the importance of this church, I was deeply unimpressed.

What did impress me, though, was a very very impressive relief behind the altar (I was not sure if it was the main or a secondary altar - Mass was being held at a smaller venue):

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If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?
If I take a photo and no one sees it...

There was something on the Miracle of Calanda, where an amputee's leg was allegedly restored to him. So God may hate amputees, but he did not always.

The basilica had LED candles, which seemed cheapskate. But then it probably helped with preserving the interior too, especially when it got hot in summer.

Mass was mostly attended by old people. But then the younger people were probably working on Wednesday morning.

There was a sign about not walking about the cathedral during Mass, but it was only in Spanish. So I didn't realise what it meant until I saw that Mass was going on. Too bad.

There were 2 Goyas displayed: Regina Martyrum and sketches for the dome. They were alright, but I didn't really like his style as it was the thumbprint style of painting, resulting in an image that was quite muddy and indistinct.

Amusingly, the basilica put up 2 bombs which fell in 1936 (during the Civil War) but didn't explode. Naturally this was held to be a miracle. I hope they disarmed them before putting them on display. To get to see the bombs I had to mime falling bombs to someone, but it worked!

Ironically one cannot see the original pillar which descended fromthe sky, as it is entombed in a chapel. There's a hole through which one can kiss it, but I didn't wish to catch the Spanish Disease, so I only touched it. It was a really weird column, with streaks (perhaps a chemical reaction with spit and bacteria).

In one confessional booth a priest was reading a newspapr. One must kill the time *somehow*.

Below the organ there was a huge medieval manuscript. Or one that looked medieval anyway.

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Plaza of the Pillar

I found a spot relatively free of pigeon shit and ate my Feuilleté Framboise (Raspberry) from the previous day. It was still crispy!

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Basilica tower

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Basilica side

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This sign was a fraud. I couldn't find any open network.

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Basilica 180 degree auto-stitch from camera

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Manual stitch

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Plaza of the Pillar from the other side

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I then witnessed an eerie spectacle:

Disturbing music played over loudspeaker, with machinery noise
Played at 9am, this was like the Muslim call to prayer

I then went to see some Roman ruins. The first was the port.

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The wall was built by legionnaires. You can see their marks.

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Model of loading/unloading facility
In the distance you can see Spanish schoolkids streaming to watch a 30 minute movie. In Spanish. With no subtitles. Needless to say I didn't stay for it but moved on. Luckily I managed to look around before the lights went off for the movie.

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The port was quite disappointing, but then it was just a small river port and not Ostia. I heard the theatre was the most impressive of the ruins, but I'd seen it the previous night and it'd be a detour from my tightly-planned route since I had last than half a day to do everything. There was a deal to do all 4 of the sites but I passed because I had no time (the last site was the Thermal Baths ["Termas"]).

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Google Street View isn't that powerful so I couldn't identify this intricate church with clearly Muslim-influenced designs (Mudéjar Architecture) in the Plaza de San Bruno
However I'm quite sure it is The Cathedral of the Savior ("La Seo"), part of Mudéjar Architecture of Aragon.

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Plaque on the Plaza de San Bruno

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Art in the Plaza

My next step was the Forum (Foro) Museum.

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Museum exterior. It was a lot more elegantly designed than the exterior of the Port museum.

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Tower, almost certainly of a church

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More foundations

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Representation of the Porticos

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Roman Social Hierarchy

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More ruins

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More description that I couldn't understand

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Casa del Mercado de Epoca de Augusto

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"The Romans and Water". Finally, something I understood!

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Water Pipes

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On Roman religious life. I was amused that the French was better than the English

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Decorative tiles

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On Roman Women: "They preferred to wear their hair long" (but then this describes most women)

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Inside the Cloaca (Sewer)

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Cloaca from outside
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