Wednesday, January 30, 2008


Proofreaders and Editors (even the AI ones) unite!

From Barack Obama wins by a landslide - Times Online

Exit polls suggested he had received four in five black votes - and a quarter of those cast by white voters.

I can't believe that 20% of the black votes were cast by white voters, can you?

P.S. Is the only reason it is still called "English" rather than "American" to save a syllable?

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"America is back"?

"I am convinced that with this resounding vote, with the millions of Americans who will vote next Tuesday, we will send a clear message that America is back and we will take charge of our destiny once again," she said to a boisterous crowd. "This has been a record turnout because Floridians wanted their voices to be heard." Hillary Clinton, in Florida, 29 January 2008 (cited in Hillary Clinton hails victory as Barack Obama cries spin, emphasis added by this blogger)
Hopefully she meant that the strong turnout for the primary -- albeit, in the case of Florida, one which ought to be ignored -- shows that interest in presidential elections is no longer in decline, and not that supporting other candidates might be un-American. Senator, would you please rephrase that?

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Bush May Refuse to Leave Office, Suggests Major US Newspaper

UPDATE/CANCELLATION: When I posted the note below, I didn't realize that a President may deliver a final State of the Union address just before leaving office and swearing in his successor. But now I know: Eisenhower did so in 1961. Thanks to James Fallows's interesting "State of the Union: Post Mortem".

WASHINGTON -- Relaxed, confident and unapologetic, President Bush delivered his seventh and likely final State of the Union address Monday,...

What kind of journal would slip such an allusion to the "martial law" speculation that arises from time to time -- usually, I think, when a Republican president not everyone trusts (like Richard Nixon or the current incumbent) is due to be replaced following an election ? The answer is here.

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Friday, January 11, 2008


USA Presidential Election: self-test fun!


This morning I indulged in a binge of USA Presidential Elections quizes. I took all six listed at the University of Michigan's Document Center; I had taken two several weeks ago: the ABC News Match-O-Matic (not on the list but the USAToday one seems almost identical) and the WQAD quiz. They vary in length from eleven to twenty-eight questions. Most quizes are composed of questions of the "choose one position from the options we provide" type, but there were also "how strongly do you oppose or support this position" ones (glassbooth, votehelp), and a few instances on some tests where multiple answers could be selected (age ranges, or profession experiences, for instance). All, I think, allow one to indicate how important one considers a question or issue and adjust the weighting accordingly.

A rationalisation

The triggering event: someone asked me how strongly I supported or agreed with one of the candidates, so I spent some time and energy finding out. But honestly, I enjoy the narcissism and vanity of these tests! To check that they all give the same result or, if not, I have some idea why not, gives added relish to taking a bunch of tests instead of just one.

I will not be voting in the California primary on February 5th, so it is somewhat of a waste of time to be considering all the candidates, over and over, instead of waiting to see who the parties nominate. I could pretend to have "evaluated" the various matching tools, but that wasn't what I was doing -- I didn't answer all of them in a way sure to be consistent, I didn't take them several times each with various value profiles simulating different voters in the multi-dimensional opinion space.

What did I find out?

  • The winner ranked first four times, second once, third once. No other candidate came near: top three on every one of the six tests (no other did better than four tests), first in the majority of cases (two others were in the top rank once each). But this was not the candidate about whom I was asked.
  • Place (second best) on the combined results, I reckon, was the candidate that took one first, one second, and two third places. This was not the candidate about whom I was asked, either.
  • "Show" (third best) is a bit arbitrary. One candidate ranked second three times and third once, so was in the top three, four times. This beats the one with three third-places but no firsts or seconds. However another ranked first once and third once: a "first", but only in the top three on two of the six tests -- apparently not a very robust match -- and this is the candidate about whom I was asked! Depending on how much more weight I give to a "first" versus a "second" or a "third", this candidate might get third place on the combined results, but might only deserve fourth or fifth!


The candidate about whom I was asked matches some of my opinions, more than any candidate from the opposing party. However, that candidate is not as close a match as two other candidates, and only about as close as yet two more, so my enthousiasm is not overwhelming.


As if I had been evaluating some aspects of these tools:

  • VA Joe : good test, but my over-all number two was not among the top four in this result.
  • : good test, but my over-all number two was not among the top four in this result.
  • USA : slightly odd result, but I didn't use the weighting adjustment possibilities. Candidates one and two (in my synthesis) were there in my top three, as was one of the contenders for third, but the order was different. Macromedia Flash user interface is "fun", but the final result is only a ranking, without coefficients of matching or similarity.
  • : short, simple; results consistent with the overall combined results.
  • : the result that surprised me. I don't really understand why it happened.
  • : I don't like the formulations of several of the questions (too vague, too general): "more money for education"? It should depend on how it would be used, shouldn't it? And I only answered 20 of 28 questions.

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Thursday, January 10, 2008


Sarkozy's Controversial Vatican Speech

On the evening of December 20, 2007, French President Sarkozy made a speech which was largely ignored by the English-language press (judgement based on some simple searches of major organs on the web--see appendix at bottom) other than Catholic or Christian specialist media
  • Catholic News -- Global Sarkozy: Laicism Shouldn't Cut Christian Roots
    The president of France said laicism should not try to separate a nation from its Christian roots.
  • Christianity Today -- Sarkozy breaks French taboo on church and politics
    His trip to Rome, which included being inducted as honorary canon of the Basilica of Saint John Lateran, provoked charges that he was trying to blur the separation of church and state and make religion a political issue as in the United States.
  • (A personal blog of Fr. John Wauck, a priest of the Opus Dei Prelature.) -- The Honorary Canon of St. John Lateran: Nicolas Sarkozy
    Some speeches are important not because they offer original ideas, but simply because they expand the realm of what can be said in public. Whether or not Sarkozy spoke sincerely yesterday in the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome, his words definitely expanded the realm of what can be said publicly in Europe.
One other I know little about (wingnuts? paranoids? Scientologists? Raelians?), but which claims to be "The Voice of Conservatism in Europe": Sarkozy on Religion. Whose Cause Does He Want to Advance?, which concludes:
My best guess is that Nicolas Sarkozy wants to reopen the debate on religion and "laïcité", not to help the Catholics of France, but only to smooth the way for the further Islamization. If such a debate really materializes it will be interesting to see if the Catholics can turn it somehow to their advantage

This speech may well have deserved much more main-stream attention, because it signals a very different attitude to French secularism and the relations between the state and religions.

The usually very sharp British journalist John Lichfield noted "The French left was incandescent and the President knew that it would be.", but it was not just the French left. Or is Bayrou less "extreme centre" than he claims: "François Bayrou dénonce le "retour, qu'on croyait impossible en France, du mélange des genres entre l'Etat et la religion.""(translation: François Bayrou denounces the "comeback", that everyone thought impossible in France, of the mixture of genres between the State and religions). Why, even Le Figaro [main right-of-center national daily] wrote that "Sarkozy's version of secularism turns its back on the traditional conception of secularism "à la française".

Last Thursday, Le Figaro published a "commentary" by Henri Pena-Ruiz, "philosopher, professor, writer, former member of the Stasi commission on the application of secularism in the Republic" : Laïcité : les cinq fautes du président de la République -- the President of the Republic's five errors concerning secularism (or should I write laïcism?). Two other commentaries have since added to the debate: Frédéric Lazorthes, historian et essayist, who asks whether Sarkozy wants to establish a new "partnership" between church and state, and
Jean-Miguel Garrigues, theologist and author, who calls the Lateran speech "a lesson in political magnanimity" and offers rebutal to Pena-Ruiz's critique.

It is not possible for this blog to provide a translation of the full essays, both for copyright and for other reasons. However, it seems fair to explain briefly what the five errors would be, so as to establish why this speech (and the attititude and intentions it reveals) should have received more attention.

  • A moral error: Passing judgement on atheists, implicitly denying atheist humanists can, and do, hope: by what right, for what reason? "Those who believe, hope. And it is in the interest of the Republic that there be many men and women who hope." Ergo, atheists are of less value as citizens. What about Positivists, and their descendents?
  • A political error: by not distinguishing between his personal convictions and what it is appropriate so say in the exercise of his elected functions, he commits a professional foul. If a bureaucrat or teacher, for instance, made a similar confusion, she would be reprimanded or suspended. Garrigues argues that the President, by virtue of his popular election, has an "exceptional" ability to speak for the nation; I agree that the president is not a civil servant like the others, and can negotiate treaties, even including promises to change the constitution (EU is a good and contemporary example) with other states -- but with a religion?
  • A legal error: in a state of law, those holding political power haven't the authority to rank spiritual options, and to award a privilege to a particular concept of spirituality. After centuries of conflict, education was finally wrested from the power of the church, and little minds could learn reading, writing and arithmetic. Now Sarkozy claims that "In the transmission of values and in learning the difference between right and wrong, the schoolteacher will never be able to replace the priest or the pastor." Is the difference between right and wrong so arbitrary that it is not universal, but depends on the doctrines of the faith of your choice? I certainly hope not.
  • An historical error : Pena-Ruiz gets a little nasty on this one, emphasizing the regrettable historical events in which the Church a major responsability. I'd prefer to note that there was a Gaul before Caesar wrote "De bello gallico", and archeologists continue to find evidence of its accomplishments (roads, towns, etc.), Christianity arrived centuries later. He points out that the Universal Rights of Man, in the constitution (and widely exported, if not to the Anglo-Saxon countries), were not copied from the Bible, but inspired by ancient philosophy, stoïcism in particular. We have lots of roots: cite them all, or at least modulate the statement to "we have Christian roots" instead of "our roots are Christian"...sportscasters do better than that: Henri didn't win, the team won and Henri scored.
  • A cultural error: more a risk than a true error? Taking sides or naming a favorite is likely to offend others, and to spawn conflictual situations. If Christendom says "my daddy can beat up your daddy" to some other religion, must France join in the fight? And how does this special consideration for our "religious roots" facilitate the realisation of "fraternité"?
Sarkozy has since moved on to his "politics of civilization", so we haven't seen the end of this.

This is a horizontal rule, but ScribeFire removes the space-slash so blogspot refuses it unless I do this


Search query : Sarkozy Lateran
  • LA Times -- no matches
  • NY Times -- Your search for Sarkozy Lateran in all fields returned 0 results.
  • CS Monitor -- Your search - Sarkozy Lateran - did not match any documents.
  • Independent UK -- Displaying 1 - 0 of 0
  • Guardian -- People (Thursday June 28, 2007)
    ... presidents in secular France are entitled to become honorary canons of the Basilica of St John Lateran in Rome as well as of cathedrals at Embrun and St Jean de Maurienne nearer to home.
  • Wall Street Journal -- No content matches your search criteria. Please try again.
Search query : Sarkozy Vatican
  • LA Times -- World outraged, fearful over Bhutto assassination
  • NY Times -- Sarkozy in Rome: Affairs of State and the Heart
    In the evening, Mr. Sarkozy was named canon of the Basilica of St. John, the cathedral of Rome, an honor bestowed on French leaders since the 15th century. At the cathedral, Mr. Sarkozy, who has praised the role of spirituality in public life, spoke of the importance of the church as well as “other great religious and spiritual movements to enlighten our choices and build our future.”

    On a continent where public officials speak of religion far less openly than in America, he also said he agreed with Benedict that Europe could not ignore its Christian roots. To do so, he said, “commits a crime against its culture.” But he also underscored the importance of a secular state, which he described as “the freedom to believe or not, to practice a religion and change your faith.”
  • CS Monitor -- In a secular ocean, waves of spirituality | from the February 23, 2005 edition
  • Independent UK -- Sarkozy reinvents France for bling era, by John Lichfield:
    In a speech after accepting an honorary canonship, M. Sarkozy, who hardly ever attends mass, said: "In this world, obsessed with material comforts, France needs devout Catholics who are not afraid to say what they are and what they believe."

    He also insisted that France's roots were "essentially Christian".

    At one level, it was a thoughtful and brave speech, which argued that Christian and secular values need not conflict.

    On another level, M. Sarkozy shattered the convention that French presidents, as high representatives of a secular French republic, should not defend or promote one religion above others. The French left was incandescent and the President knew that it would be.
  • Guardian -- nothing more recent than Sunday August 19 2007.
  • Wall Street Journal -- No content matches your search criteria. Please try again.

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Monday, January 07, 2008


VOXEU: Language, if not economics

How much more does one read after:
High quality empirical evidence from the shows that mass media influences voters but it is not clear that the media imparts a bias.

Too bad. "Does the mass-media have political influence?" sounds interesting.

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Sunday, January 06, 2008


How Much Handwashing Is Enough?

In the Guardian co. UK article Vomiting bug to get worse, Jo Revill informs us (my underlining):
Infections from the debilitating norovirus stomach bug will peak this week as millions return to work after the holidays and spread the germs, the government has warned. People are advised to protect themselves by washing their hands thoroughly at all times.

The virus does seem to be pretty contagious:
Doctors estimate that more than 100,000 people a week are catching the infection - and the rate may peak this week as the virus takes the opportunity to spread in the workplace and classrooms. Reported cases of the illness from early December are at a five-year-high, but the real figure is likely to be much greater as most sufferers do not seek medical attention. People struck down have been urged by GPs not to go back to work until the symptoms have fully disappeared.

It makes sense to pay extra attention to hygiene to prevent or reduce transmission. But if people are washing their hands at all times, won't that use an awful lot of water?

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