Monday, October 12, 2009

Want Peace? Give a Nuke the Nobel

Want Peace? Give a Nuke the Nobel

Now this is clearly insane, right? First of all, you can't give the Nobel prize to a thing, not to mention to an idea. Just like with patents, you have to give it to a live inventor or an active organization.

You can't patent things themselves anyhow, only their design or manufacturing process. I think the Nobel prizes are meant to be the same kind of stimulus for doing things out of the ordinary. If you give them for someone's working toward something, you're sort of destroying the stimulus factor, right? Well, not with patents, but you know what I mean. It's not like Obama has a patent on making peace.

We want to recognize the pioneers who might have sacrificed so much along their way. The ones we owe so much to. Or wait, isn't that pretty much like closing the barn door after the horse got out? Wasn't the reward in the very discovery, or are we just congratulating ourselves for having noticed these people who actually did change our lives. Still, most of the people striving for the big prize have the grace actually to covet it. What's wrong with our diffident pres?

Well, if you read the article, referenced above at Time Magazine, you'll see they make a good point. Warfare had been industrialized right along with everything else, and upwards of 100 million human souls were being obliterated assembly-line fashion before the bomb. The actual count of the dead betrays a margin of error approaching twenty percent. Nobody really knows.

There wasn't a whole lot of quality control in that industrial process, and not a lot of standardization with the counting methods. So the bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima killed well over an order of magnitude fewer than the margin of error on the more deadly stuff!?

Aweful, but about like what a vaccine does compared to the disease it's meant to curb. And we have so much smarter bombs now, and so much more accurate counts. Unless you're talking about collateral damage, which we really don't and musn't talk about. Ever. It's done in error, and shouldn't count. Please, we're very sorry for your loss, now how much would you like for it?

Smart bombs inoculate against the big bomb, you could almost say. I'm just saying. Or the big bomb keeps the little bombs smart. So smart that they sometimes have people attached right to them, when they're not coming in by remote control right to their GPS perfect bullseye target.

You could award the prize to the Nobel committee itself, since awards to organizations are permitted. That would have a kind of PoMo self-referential flare, not just because it would be the committee awarding the prize to itself, but because it would put a kind of capper on the whole idea of using proceeds from bombings to fund a prize which, indirectly at least, by looking backward, should promote the whole idea of peace and progress on the planet. Or so you'd think. Maybe it's all just guilt money.

I guess there's a taboo on self-congratulation, which our President honored very much in the breach, allowing himself to accept the undeserved award on behalf of the world's aspirations for him. That's OK with me. I'm OK with that. I'm feeling plenty guilty about what I'm not doing to help out our man.

Everybody knows that giving Obama the peace prize was really about giving the people of America the peace prize for initiating a turn away from rapacious empire-building. He's our torch bearer is all, and it didn't hurt that this prize came on the heels of the one he failed to earn campaigning for Olympic torch bearing glory. I think the world is plenty tired of our winning all the contests, and not exercising leadership on the really important issues of the day. Like containing nuclear proliferation, just for a good example.

Everything kind of depends on your frame of reference, doesn't it?

Looking at the bomb all by itself, it's clearly an horrific device. Looking at it in the context of what came before it, it almost looks as though it put a stop to a whole lot of insanity, just by making it that much more insane. By taking things to their logical conclusion. That's something I for one, would like to see a lot more of. Except when it's not even funny.

People who are made ill by vaccines feel pretty angry about it you know, just like people who win the lottery start having magical thoughts about what it means according to what they were thinking or doing, and how it relates to some kind of karmic dessert.

Lots of conspiracy theories get their start by people noticing inconvenient coincidence. As if there were motivation for omission. Motivation for error.

There's an approach to statistics which I've always been intrigued with, and now thanks to a supersecret search engine my friend and I are cooking up, I have been able to find some good intel on the subject. It's called Bayesian statistics, after the really strange fellow who came up with it, the Reverend Thomas Bayes. I'm pretty sure he was a cleric of some sort, like all good scientists used to be, but he was a Nonconformist cleric, so he must have been really really good.

(check out this discussion if you have about an hour to spare, and are bored with reality TV. These two guys are really really smart)

I've always wanted to know if it meant that let's say you were going to flip a hundred coin tosses, and you hit a run of ten straight heads. Dogmatically, the probability of the 11th coin coming up heads is still 50/50, since there aren't any known forces of nature which could have it any other way.

On the other hand, if you were only aware of those 10 heads, without the context of the overall run of flips, you'd be an idiot not to consider the coin rigged somehow, and not a "fair coin." That way, you'd be nuts not to bet on its coming up heads again and again.

But if somehow you had some reason to believe or trust that it was a fair coin - let's say you enlarged your context, and you could say with some certainty, that on average it hit the 50/50 split mark - then you'd be an idiot not to bet against the heads, since the probability of continuing this anomalous run of heads is also about nil.

Normal, classical, non-Bayesian, forward-looking statistics allows that depending on the size of the series, there will inevitably be anomalous runs - clusters of all heads or all tails. It would be really really weird if a coin toss were to come up a perfect series of heads, tails, heads, tails, heads, tails. You'd have to figure some kind of fix was in on that strange coin or in that strange tosser too!

In really large runs, there will be longer anomalous runs. For many purposes, "forward looking" calculation is just fine. And before computers, it was really hard to keep enlarging the scope of contextual measurements to hone in on the accurate state for properly determining probability.

But you get some pretty huge misunderstandings when you suppose, for instance, that an eighty percent accuracy rate on a medical test means that if you test positive you have an eighty percent chance of having the disease.

Lots of fear gets mongered that way. You're much more likely to be one of the much larger number of false positives given that the number in the general population who have the disease is a pretty slight percentage. Bayesian statistics can be pretty critical.

But there is no force of nature which might change the actual odds for each flip, which must still be 50/50, assuming that the coin tossed can be proven "fair".

Which reminds me for all the world of the implication of mind in quantum field theory, Schroedinger's cat, and all the other weirdness of quantum physics. The wave function takes a different form depending on point of view, which is to say whether you're in the box with the cat or out. And if you're in, you'd be rather literally dying just to find out.

Say you see a scantily clad woman walking in a dangerous part of town. Some people would blame that woman for exposing herself to danger. But some criminal on the prowl might just assume that it has to be a vice-squad cop, making this the most protective coloring a woman in the wild could have. Assuming that humans are ever rational actors, as, say, classical economic theory would have it.

Stephen Covey has a whole training protocol partially premised on teaching people how to put aside their preconceptions in order to be open to reality as it really is. Maybe the scantily clad woman is just nuts. Maybe she is a foreigner who doesn't understand the streets of the good ol' USA. Maybe she's lost.

The assumption that it could be her fault if she were to be attacked kind of turns right back on the person with that judgment. Now that person seems a little bit like the theoretical rapist, assuming some kind of power shift toward the person who was just asking for it. Hey, don't blame the rapist [it might have been me???]!

Now a scantily clad woman with a gun is probably the safest creature on the planet. She would seem to be inviting some kind of showdown, don't you think?

And what about the guy who just can't help himself now that he's met his soulmate; whose wife just doesn't understand him anymore? Isn't he committing something a little bit analogous to rape by omission of his poor wife? Or is he just that full of himself that if she doesn't want him then, well, he's a free man. Can we talk?

Here's the place where I'm about to go off the wall. It's what I do, and you should be used to it by now.

Computer searches can only ever consider the structure of the objects your heart desires. They can't know anything at all about the context for the search, which is entirely in the mind of the searcher. They can't know where you're coming from, in common parlance. Most search engines have very little room in them for any give and take. It's just me gaming the machine gaming me gaming what I think everyone else calls something gaming the machine doing some kind of mass polling.

Oh sure, they can become evil, just like Google, and kind of sneakily gather up information about your search habits. Just like all that spyware which we've come to detest. You know, the kind which throws up ads for you to click based on your browsing habits. The payers for the clicks are pretty undiscriminating about where the clicks come from, establishing whole chains of outsourced deniability.

Hmmm, you kind of have to wonder why Google gets a pass, don't you. Well, except that in America if you give something away for free, I guess you can get anybody to believe anything at all.

You've seen those polls which claim that 70% of college boys would rape a girl if they thought they could get away with it. (never can find stuff on the 'net when you really need to check your memory) Same pollsters who say over half of us believe the Bible is literally written. You know, the ones with some kind of helpless vested interest in making sure you're scared all the time.

I might be alarmed except that I'm pretty sure that there's a part of me that would commit rape if I thought I could get away with it. It's a very small and silent part, and it doesn't get let out very often at all, mostly sitting on my left shoulder along with the part of me that grins if, say, the checkout girl forgets to ring up the Frosted Flakes.

Maybe it makes up for all those times they rang up the beer twice. And anyhow, the reason she forgot to ring it up is that the barcode wasn't updated to reflect the discount touted on the shelf, so just imagine all those other people who didn't challenge the mistake and who paid the full price. I'm just saying, I'm a really honest guy, and I wouldn't cheat a flea.

That's the part of me that would, you know, have sex with a woman after seducing her. I mean after all she knew the game, the rules, the code, right? I guess it really does depend on how you ask the question.

If you think you're going to hell depending on how the question gets asked, then you can be sure you're saying that the Bible needs to be taken literally. It would kind of hedge your bets. I mean who would answer "no" to the question "are you saved?" Um, no, well, I'll just go to hell then. It takes a kind of nerve.

So maybe 70% of boys admit that much of the time they feel like they'd do just about anything to get laid. Makes sense to me. My memory stretches almost that far back.

Trust me, Google says, we won't use your information against you. Well, unless you've done something wrong, and we get a bona-fide subpoena. And then we'll fight like hell before giving up the goods. Trust us.

But here's the real deal. Most of my searching really is random, and reveals absolutely nothing about the context for my search. I need to be able to specify both the figure and the ground surrounding what I'm looking for. In order to do that, machine intelligence is almost exactly useless.

I mean unless the thing I'm looking for is that obvious, like, say, a scantily clad woman. Come to think of it, most things I'm looking for get crowded out by scantily clad women just because that's what everyone else seems to be looking for.

What I need is a search engine which blocks all the scantily clad women, so that I can actually have a chance of finding what I want.

Well, OK, scantily clad women have become a kind of taboo, and there are all sorts of ways to block them. They use the same reasoning over in China when they power up their Google filters. Protect the people from themselves. You know, lay in the filters, stop the revolution, give them only what they need to know.

But what I want is to be able to define the context for my search, and not in broad-brush categories. News, Video, Blogs, blech! These don't define contexts. These define media types, or recency, or editorial staffing.

I want something which does a proper Bayesian search, and to do that I need to define my context as well as what I'm looking for. The super secret search engine I used to learn about Bayesian statistical reasoning is what I need. But I'd have to kill you if I let that cat out of the bag.

Still, think about it. Google, just for instance, is really really catty about letting you grok their secret sauce. They know better than you do about what you're looking for, since they can measure other lookers' satisfaction. Maybe they do it by how much money they make on the way other people look???

Their original secret sauce wasn't very secret at all - they used link ranking so that the Internet destinations most linked to by others would be the ones to rise to the top, and not the ones who gamed the system by loading up their webpages with hidden keyterms.

Of course, now the gamers of the system are all finding ways to simulate links to their pages. Or did I mean stimulate? In any case, there is a decided tendancy for the train wreck stuff to make it to the top. Just take a look at CNN's video titles, randomly, and you'll get the idea. It's all stuff you have a hard time not looking at, but it's probably not what you were looking for.

So to help my searching, they have to let me tell them what I'm not looking for. They have to give me some contextual clues about what I am looking for. And they have to let me find my own way in, making my own decisions about what to trust and what to stay away from.

Come to think of it, that right there is probably why all of our newspapers are dying. We used to buy them for the ads as much as for the editorial copy. We had a pretty reliable sense that everything worth knowing about was going to be told about in there somewhere. That all the businesses which wanted my trade would have to show up among the ads.

Sure the newspapers made too much money, but did we have to throw them out of business?

Now all we have is big box stores and some kind of mad race to the bottommost bottom, where if we get charged a few pennies more than the other guy would charge, we're getting fully ripped off.

I just came back from a family funeral, and you know what the buzz was from the rest of the folks I was so happy to be with? They were trading complaints about the service at the hotel that was recommended. They were getting their money back. And this was the cheapest hotel on the big box block!?

I remember running back in to tell a tearful waitress who'd been scolded in a pile-on one time a bunch of us went out to celebrate something at work. The boss had gotten lousy service, and then everyone piled on and pretty soon the waitress was in tears and everyone was getting their money back. Who's really getting screwed here anyhow?

So yeah, give the Peace Prize to the bomb. Or just like Time Magazine making it's person of the year a mirror a couple of years ago, let's all just reward ourselves for electing a color blind symbol, just like the Nobel committee just did, and leave him with the onerous task of getting rid of all the nukes. Getting rid of all the poisonous shouting which is capturing everyone's attention right now.

Then we can complain about him when he fails!

You know, whatever you think about Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck, these assholes are not offering any constructive thoughts about what should be done in some positive direction. They offer heroin hits to your emotions (I never touch the stuff) about the stuff which makes you mad. They give you feel-goodisms about what makes you feel good.

In that they aren't much different from the logo food you eat at the big box restaurants which advertize their food on TV in ways you can almost taste. None of it is good for you, and eating it puts the local joint right out of business, but it's what you want with your self-indulgent hit. Bottom dollar for the biggest bang in appetite satisfaction and in taste bud paradise.

But it's the lowest common denominator, folks. Sure we'd all rather own the cute house in the city, but given limited resources, we'll take the cardboard no-maintenance plastic covered one out in sprawlsville.

Sure, we'd all rather eat at the fancy restaurant, or enjoy actual Mom's actual home cooking, but given the chance that the local joint will feed you something unpalatable and not have the resources to pay up when you sue them, let's do Applebee's. Well, OK, Applebee's isn't doing so well, but one of those other places with lines around the corner, and vibrating flashing buzzers to tell you when your table's ready. (Don't piss off the waitresses though, they aren't making enough to care)

So, I'd say don't stop with giving the Peace Prize to Obama. Give it to the Wall Street financial machine which just got the bulk of the stimulus money. Then give it to the loudmouths who are stimulating all of our shouting anger and frustration over what we've brought on for ourselves by buying the nutty idea that our homes were also our nest eggs.

Pretty soon, it will be way too late to try out the nutty idea that we could destroy the earth with our bombs. We'll have already destroyed it with our vision of the future.

I'm picturing Wile-y Coyote blowing himself with his own TNT here folks. The Roadrunner always gets away. But you're not off the hook, peeps. The Nobel prize was actually for you.

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