Abuse less shocking in light of history

This article from USA Today tries to describe how the soldiers in Abu Ghraib, people that lived normal, caring lives in the US, could have gotten caught up in the torture of prisoners: USATODAY.com – Abuse less shocking in light of history. The article refers to several psychology experiements that I remember from Psych 101. In one the researcher has students “teach through punishment” and administer electric shocks. Suprisingly, most subjects followed orders and increased voltages even when their “students” were screaming in pain. In another study, the researcher sets up a mock prison environment. In that mock environment, some of the subjects did things similar to the Abu Ghraib situation. The experiment had to be called off before it was finished.

I don’t think this excuses anybody, heinous crimes were committed and everybody involved is responsible, however I think this means that those in command should be even more responsible because they did not create a structure that would have prevented these crimes. Based on scientific studies, we knew something like this could happen and we didn’t put adequate controls in place.

iPod Mini

I finally got an iPod mini!
And I didn’t pay $400-$1000 for it on eBay. I took the advice of a friend of mine who is also an Apple employee. He told me to call the Apple Store because they occasionally get them in stock. (The wait is 6 weeks from Apple online.) So I called the Apple store every morning, and sure enough, yesterday they got some in.
I now have several audio books and about 3 days worth of music on it. (Meaning if I played my music continuously, it would be three days before I had to listen to a song a second time.)
The controls took some getting used to, but once I figured it out, I couldn’t imagine why I hadn’t been able to figure it out right away!
I’m very happy with my new toy.

Futures Market

The orange juice futures market predicts Florida weather better than the Weather channel.

Markets, “information markets”, are very good predictors of the future, probably because they are able to incorporate the knowledge of a lot of people. And those people are betting real money, so they are making the best, most educated guess they can. If you want to see how it works, and try it out for yourself, The Iowa Electronic Markets run by the University of Iowa has a number of futures markets where you can buy options on different outcomes. For example you can buy a contract on who you think will win the Presidential Election in 2004. You can either try the trial version or you can open an account with real money.

I read about this in United’s inflight magazine, Hemispheres Magazine.

Perfectly Legal

If you own stock in an American company, you should read this book. If you pay taxes in America, you should read this book. Obviously, I think everyone should read the book.

Here’s my quick review. I’ll call out more detailed examples later:

David Johnston, a Pulitzer prize-winning reporter for the New York Times, describes what is wrong with our tax system. It taxes the poor and rewards the rich. It allows the rich and their decendents to continue getting richer while leaving middle class and upper middle class salary workers less and less to save.
Johnston covers a multitude of topics from:
– how the richest Americans are getting richer,
– to how the richest Americans pay the least percentage of their income in taxes (not the least because most of their income is not a salary),
– how executives abuse corporations, gaining huge incentives using such things as the corporate jet to defering income which allows them to pay less tax and gives the company less right offs,
– to how corporations aren’t honest with their stockholders on where the money is going,
– to how corporations report one set of profits to their shareholders and another to the IRS,
– to how corporations are paying less and less tax at the cost of the middle and upper middle class,
– to how Bush’s tax cuts won’t really benefit anyone making less than $500,000/yr because of the Alternative Minimum Tax, and he knew that,
– how the repeal of the “death tax” is really a “how to make the really rich richer” but doesn’t affect most of the US, including farmers, not a one of who has lost a farm to the estate tax,
– how Congress continues to pass tax laws and funding that meet the needs of the people that contribute to their campaigns, the rich,
– how the IRS polices the working poor and middle class to meet quotas instead of the really big scams that they know of that would bring in billions of dollars,
– and so on.

In conclusion, he says we all need to be well informed, talk to everyone we know, pay attention to the tax bills being passed, and push for more transparent tax law changes as well as a cleaning up of the tax bill and more funding to pursue the big time tax frauds.

Pattern Recognition

Pattern Recognition is a science fiction book by William Gibson that’s not science fiction. Everything in the story is current, deployed technology, but Gibson describes it a way that we see how different our culture is becoming because of technology. The main character, Cayce Pollard, is a brand specialist; she’s a contractor that helps corporations determine if their brands will work or not. She also has a very different way of observing the world, and although it took me a while to appreciate it, Gibson’s style of describing everyday occurences through Cayce’s eyes really grew on me. Cayce starts the book out working on a contract in London and is soon traveling around the world to solve the mystery of the “footage”. The “footage” is a series of film clips being released on the web that has gathered a following, almost a cult, that is obsessed with figuring out if the footage is from one film, if the film is finished or not, and who is the producer. It’s a good mystery as well. I enjoyed this book immensely both as a mystery and as a not-so-science-fiction book.


When I first went looking for a blogging tool, the lack of good information about the different sites that host blogs was very frustrating. I did find a few tables that compared prices and features but they hadn’t been kept up to date and they didn’t include all of the sites I was looking at. I decided not to post anything about the tools because I wouldn’t have created a complete comparison and I wouldn’t have kept it up to date.

That said, I think there’s a cool technology called RSS that would be interesting and useful to most people who read blogs. RSS, very simply, is a news aggregator technology. It provides a way of “subscribing” to blogs and news sites – you can pull all the information to one place instead of visiting each site independently. However, it’s the technology, not an end user tool.

For a detailed technical description of what RSS is read this article.

I am looking for a good, simple, cheap RSS reader, i.e. the end user tool. A tool that will go to all my favorite websites (that use RSS) and show me the latest news and posts in one place. I’m looking for one right now. If and when I find one I like, I will share it here. If you have any input, please let me know via comments!

Bionic Ears

I’m beginning to really like Wired. I bought the paper copy before a nine hour plane ride the other day and I read it cover to cover. I remember when it first came out and my mom bought me the first couple of editions. I really enjoyed the magazine then as well but somehow lost track of it in the meantime until friends started sending me pointers to articles on Wired.com.

In the May edition of Wired there’s an article about bionic ears. Two women who are deaf (due to tumors in their auditory nerves) had external microphones wired directly to nerve tissue in their brain stem. The article says it worked for one of them (no details given) and they are going to continue with the next group of 25 patients. The work was done by the House Ear Institute in Los Angeles.

Off with Their Heads by Dick Morris

Ordinarily, I would never comment or rank a book that I didn’t finish, but this one bugged me enough to make an exception. “Off with Their Heads” is well ranked on Amazon.com, but a closer look shows that people either love it or hate it. I hated it – or at least I hated the first chapter. Dick Morris’ book is supposedly what happened to our sense of unity and determination after 9/11. He blames a number of organizations and people for “sidetracking” us and devotes a section to each of them. The first section was about the New York Times. Morris claims that the NYT’s is now extremely liberal and that they slant their poll numbers (that was interesting) and pick their stories to align with their beliefs. While I personally believe every newspaper picks stories that align with their beliefs, and I have no problem with it, I just like to know about it, so I was looking forward to hearing his NYT story. However, other than the issue of the poll numbers, all I heard was rants. Morris was very upset that any front page space was given to the civil rights of prisoners, the number of dead in Iraq, etc.
If the New York Times slanted their polls or weighted them inappropriately, then that’s wrong. If they gave titles to news stories that weighted the news towards one side or another of the story, then I agree they are biased but not necessarily wrong.
If the New York Times decides that the civil liberties issue as manifested by the lack of prisoner rights granted to prisoners in Guantanomo Bay is a front page issue, then I think they have the right to put the story on the front page. I think it is front page news. I don’t think it should be withheld because it might detract from our support of the Iraq War. I think it’s atrocious that we don’t give our prisoners captured during time of war (not those captured on the battlefield, but those captured in civilian places, like the Chicago airport) the same democratic process and “innocent until proven guilty” as every other citizen. We need to practice what we believe in. That is a separate, although not unrelated, issue than whether or not we should support a war in Iraq.

Hotspot Finder – Wireless Hotspots – Worldwide Hotspot Directory

Wired News has a cool website, a hotspot finder.  Go to http://wired.jiwire.com/index.htm and type in your address or zip code and it will list all of the nearest wireless spots and information about them including costs.

Demonizing Fat in the War on Weight

So while I believe that the ideal woman’s body portrayed in magazines and television is way too thin, unhealthy and unrealistic, I also believe the large number of studies that have found a correlation between obesity and disease. I also believe that anybody who’s not healthy and able to participate in a minimum amount of activity, like walking, misses out on a lot of opportunities in life. All that said, I think it’s only fair to also point out that there is another side. This New York Times article,

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