The statistician Stephen Stigler once wrote an elegant essay about the futility of the practice of eponymy in science—that is, the practice of naming a scientific discovery after its inventor. That's another idea inappropriately borrowed from the cultural realm. As Stigler pointed out, "It can be found that Laplace employed Fourier Transforms in print before Fourier published on the topic, that Lagrange presented Laplace Transforms before Laplace began his scientific career, that Poisson published the Cauchy distribution in 1824, twenty-nine years before Cauchy touched on it in an incidental manner, and that Bienaymé stated and proved the Chebychev Inequality a decade before and in greater generality than Chebychev's first work on the topic." For that matter, the Pythagorean theorem was known before Pythagoras; Gaussian distributions were not discovered by Gauss. The examples were so legion that Stigler declared the existence of Stigler's Law: "No scientific discovery is named after its original discoverer." There are just too many people with an equal shot at those ideas floating out there in the ether. We think we're pinning medals on heroes. In fact, we're pinning tails on donkeys.
Thursday, October 29, 2009
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Thursday, October 22, 2009
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
Monday, October 19, 2009
That Rupert Murdoch may skew the news rightward more for commercial than ideological reasons is somewhat beside the point. What matters is the way that Fox's successful model has invaded the bloodstream of the American media. By showing that ideologically distorted news can drive ratings, Ailes has provoked his rivals at CNN and MSNBC to experiment with a variety of populist and ideological takes on the news. It's Fox that led CNN's Lou Dobbs to remodel himself into a nativist cartoon. It's Fox that led MSNBC to amp up Keith Olbermann. Fox hasn't just corrupted its own coverage. Through its influence, it has made all of cable news unpleasant and unreliable.
Sunday, October 18, 2009
You can download the podcast here.
This one's in English. Here's the timeline:
0 - 5 mins: Introduction, Why Podcast?
5 - 21 mins: FTC's new regulation for bloggers.
22 - 25 mins: Marge Simpson's Playboy Centerfold
26 - 42 mins: Is our society compromising ethics by liberalizing?
43 - 44 mins: Goodbye
We'll be doing one in Tamil quite soon and I'm hoping we'll be our relaxed selves joking around. We greatly appreciate your feedback.
Update: The audio quality is poorer than I expected. I used Skype to call, Powergramo to record the call and Audacity to clean up the background noise. I realize that I should have subjected the audio file to some volume-even process because for a good part my voice level is low. If you have any alternative technologies to suggest, please do. I want my second podcast to be very very clear.
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
I'm not a fan of models. They look anemic and there's no life in their eyes. Though I find some of them beautiful their expressionless ramp walk makes them all look like cold-hearted robots. But that's just me. The market's requirements are different. Cultural conditioning goes a long way in defining beauty. And it is such culture codes embedded unconsciously that dictates RL to hire or fire models. Men in west dream of slim, smooth skinned and sharp featured women which makes women want to have those attributes. Jared Diamond once wrote in an essay that men in Papua New Guinea thought western women were sexually unattractive, "look at their pale skin, small breasts and weak arms, they're not fit for raising a family" they would say. (Had it been Papau New Guinea she would have been fired for not being plump enough).
Hamilton's second statement can be interpreted as opportunistic if only it weren't so moronic. She has had a contract with RL since 2002 and all the while she must have passed their metric test. Now that she's put on some flesh she's suddenly proud of her looks and demands an apology - not to her - but American women. Her implication is ludicrous. Any advertisement for a personal adornment feeds to a dream. Somehow their product makes you feel good, improves your productivity, adds class. Even a silly deodorizer transforms you from a office geek to a babe magnet. Women's clothing being such a big market and RL being such a premier they have high standards of the dream they want their customers to experience.
PS: I was very reluctant on writing this post because what I have to say seems so obvious. But I had to persuade myself into posting this because it must not be obvious to a few who think it's news worthy (NY Daily, Slate).
Monday, October 12, 2009
"[My biology teacher] came into class and asked: 'What animal feeds on hydra?' We didn't know. He went right around the whole class asking. Everybody was guessing, and then, finally, we said, 'Sir, Sir, what animal does?' And he waited and waited, and then he said, 'I don't know. And I don't think Mr Coulson does either.' He burst into the next room, got Mr Coulson and dragged him out by the arm, and he didn't know either! It was a wonderful lesson, I never forgot it and neither did anyone else: it's OK to not know the answer."
Sunday, October 11, 2009
Friday, October 09, 2009
I'm a huge fan of Obama as a personality. He embodies personal responsibility and effuses charm. His speech-making skills are supreme. And I don't doubt his intentions - he wants the world to reduce their nuclear arsenal, he's encouraging greater co-operation between nations to fight climate change and he's taking human rights seriously in countries like China & Myanmar. I think the prize for all of his qualities and vision was given by the American electorate when they elected him the president. Now it's time for him to restore the confidence of American public and project diplomacy & pragmatism, which his predecessor lacked, in the world arena.
Many say that this could be interpreted as a work-in-progress and could be validated for the actions the man will take in the years to come, but that's such a weak argument. The MacArthur genius grant does that - they choose accomplished personalities and give $100000/year for five years with no strings attached, providing artistes and scientists a much needed financial freedom so that they can continue their great work and contribute to the society. But to be shortlisted for the genius grant one should have a solid record, not just noble visions.
Nobel prizes are usually awarded to personalities who have made ground-breaking changes in their field of work. The peace prize has been quite wobbly - you don't see a Ph.D student starting research on a promising technology nominated in the physics category. In this light it is surprising to even think about Obama's nomination, let alone his victory. If the committee were hell bent on giving some prize, they should have given him the literature prize. As an author of 2 best selling books, his literary resume is a bit heavier than his political one from an award perspective.
Update: And now to why I like Obama. He said the following today morning:
Let me be clear, I do not view it as a recognition of my own accomplishments, but rather as an affirmation of American leadership on behalf of aspirations held by people in all nations.
To be honest, I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who've been honored by this prize, men and women who've inspired me and inspired the entire world through their courageous pursuit of peace.
Wednesday, October 07, 2009
What? Yeah, yeah I'm still a young man.
Why didn’t/doesn’t Author X get it?
A lot of people claim to know exactly why certain authors get or don’t get the prize. Which is funny, considering the aforementioned confidentiality. Truth is, until 50 years have gone by, we usually have no way of knowing if they were even nominated.
Pick a reason:
- There’s one award to give out each year, and on average, more than one deserving author. New books are published each year. Do the math.
- The people who decide on it are a bunch of literary snobs. They’re not necessarily politically conservative (by US standards) or raging communist revolutionaries (by European standards). They’re just snobs, elected by other snobs for the specific task of being anal about language and literature.
- Not everyone is a prophet in their own lifetime. See: Kafka, Franz; Proust, Marcel; and others.
- People, on a whole, read an awful lot of crap and keep expecting the Academy to validate their reading habits. Not gonna happen (see above under snobs, literary).
- The Academy has really boring taste sometimes. Fortunately, the older members are dying off.
- People like to speculate, and they seem to think that the longer they speculate about an author, the better his/her chances of getting it. Whether the Academy gives a damn about how often a certain author has been mentioned by people who are not them is unknown.
- Authors die. The Nobel can’t be given out posthumously. Good thing, or they’d have to start with Homer and Gilgamesh.
- Authors live. Not getting it one year doesn’t disqualify you from getting it next year or 20 years from now. See: Lessing, Doris.
Friday, October 02, 2009
But to my surprise, it was not just that author who seems to be enamored with Polanski as an artiste, most of today's France is. It is one thing for a group of cinema directors (Scorsese being one of them) to stand united behind him and ask for the charges be dropped (as repugnant as it may be). But for politicians to call the arrest "Absolutely horrifying" and "Judicial lynching" is plainly preposterous. They have an obligation to say at least the politically right thing, not just reflect popular sentiment.
History is replete with abusive, unstable, socially graceless artistes who have gone on to produce masterpieces that have stood the test of time. I try to see Polanski and his works as separate entities. If we had to judge a song or a movie or a painting based on the moral highness of the artiste producing it, we'd have a lot of empty galleries, silent airwaves and crappy movies. Polanksi, as a director, has been handed the lifetime award by cinema fans long before. I don't think his notoriety will surpass his artistry. Picasso was never faithful to his 3 wives, but we don't remember him for that. With that in mind, Polanski should surrender himself without posing legal challenges and in the process make himself a real man.