Monday, December 31, 2007

Almost all recorded music is digital

The NY Times reports:
Warner is the third of the four major music corporations to reconsider its use of so-called digital rights management software, known by its initials as D.R.M., and offer its catalog in the unrestricted MP3 format. ...

The move also comes as the industry faces increasing pressure to bolster digital music sales as its traditional business -- selling CDs -- suffers a sharp decline.
The reporter is not very clear on the concept. Music sales went digital about 25 years ago. CDs contain digital music, and they always have. The traditional music business is the digital music business.

The main promoter of DRM music is Apple with its iTunes store. If you buy music elsewhere, in CD or mp3 format, then you can nearly always just copy it to your computer or portable music player without any difficulty. Music from Apple comes with tight restrictions, and can only be played on an Apple computer or ipod.

Update: Here is a Jan. 14 NY Times article that makes the same mistake. It quotes someone saying:
How do I convince them that digital music is a good thing to begin with?
When does anyone ever listen to recorded music that is not digital?

Sunday, December 30, 2007

ex Offenders Are Barred From Internet by New Jersey

The NY Times reports:
New Jersey enacted legislation on Thursday banning some convicted sex offenders from using the Internet.

In signing the restrictions into law, Acting Gov. Richard J. Codey, who is filling in while Gov. Jon S. Corzine is vacationing, noted that sexual predators were as likely to lurk at a computer keyboard as in a park or playground.

No federal law restricts sex offenders’ use of the Internet, and Florida and Nevada are the only other states to impose such restrictions.
There are some good comments here.

These laws are really extreme. A lot of sex offender are convicted of minor crimes based on flimsy evidence.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

UK dumbs tests down

A UK paper reports:
Pupils should be given as much time as they need to complete crucial national tests, says the Government's exam watchdog.

This would ensure the children, aged 11 to 14 and sitting Key Stage tests, do not become stressed, says a report by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority.

The proposal will reignite accusations that examinations are being dumbed down and an "all must have prizes" system is being encouraged.
In the USA, a lot of kids get extra time by claiming to have a learning disability.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Idiots on The View

The TV show The View seems like just a parody of silly women saying silly things. Here is Sherri Shepherd's best in 2007. She says that nothing predated Jesus and Christians, and that she tries not to beat her kid in a rich white kids store.

Monday, December 24, 2007

County lets women out of jail

Wisconsin news:
Sometime next year, La Crosse County might let all its female prisoners out of jail. Instead of sitting behind bars, the women will be in a new community-based program the La Crosse County Board unanimously approved Thursday night. ...

Supervisor Keith Belzer, a criminal defense attorney, said in 15 years he's never represented a woman who was put in jail because she's dangerous.

"I'm not saying there won't ever be a woman in La Crosse County who's dangerous and needs to be locked up for the safety of the community," said Belzer. "I will say that would be the rare exception rather than the rule."

Belzer said women are almost always in the system "because of some kind of relationship with a man."
So if a woman gets convicted of a crime, she just gets treatment on having better relationships with men? Weird.

Humor comes from testosterone

UK BBC reports:
Men are naturally more comedic than women because of the male hormone testosterone, an expert claims.

Men make more gags than women and their jokes tend to be more aggressive, Professor Sam Shuster, of Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, says.

The unicycling doctor observed how the genders reacted to his "amusing" hobby.

Women tended to make encouraging, praising comments, while men jeered. The most aggressive were young men, he told the British Medical Journal. ...

Dr Nick Neave is a psychologist at the University of Northumbria who has been studying the physical, behavioural, and psychological effects of testosterone.

He suggested men might respond aggressively because they see the other unicycling man as a threat, attracting female attention away from themselves.

"This would be particularly challenging for young males entering the breeding market and thus it does not surprise me that their responses were the more threatening."
Somehow I don't think that this clown was really a threat to young men.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Low IQ kids do not get adopted

Steve Sailer analyzes a NY Times story about how Romanian orphanage kids have low IQ. He quotes:
On I.Q. tests taken at 54 months, the foster children scored an average of 81, compared to 73 among the children who continued in an institution. The children who moved into foster care at the youngest ages tended to show the most improvement, the researchers found.

The comparison group of youngsters who grew up in their biological families had an average I.Q. of 109 at the same age, found the researchers, who announced their preliminary findings as soon in Romania as they were known.
It appears that the low IQ kids are gypsies that no one wants to adopt.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Those named K strike out

The WSJ Numbers Guy writes:
For example, major league baseball players with first or last initial K were more likely than average to strike out; and business graduate students with initials C or D had lower grades, on average, perhaps reflecting an unconscious affinity to the grades corresponding to their initials.
There have been a lot of other studies that have found correlations with names and birth dates. This sounds like astrology to me. If these studies are correct, then it seems possible that astrological signs could have some significant correlations.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Women spend much more than men

A Business school publication says:
Women spend $4 trillion annually and account for 83% of U.S. consumer spending, which makes up two-thirds of the nation's gross national product, according to WomenCertified, a women's consumer advocacy and retail training organization headquartered in Hollywood, Fla., which also worked on the study.

The "Men Buy, Women Shop" study is based on a random, national sample of 1,250 shoppers who were asked about a recent shopping experience in telephone interviews conducted from October 20 to November 4, 2007. The sample was dominated, two to one, by females.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Swedes castrate army symbol

News from Sweden:
Protests from female soldiers have led to the Swedish military removing the penis of a heraldic lion depicted on the Nordic Battlegroup's coat of arms.

The armed forces agreed to emasculate the lion after a group of women from the rapid reaction force lodged a complaint to the European Court of Justice, Göteborgs-Posten reports. ...

But the castrated lion has already won the day and is now worn on the arms of all soldiers in the battle group's Swedish battalions.

"We were given the task of making sure the willy disappeared," Christian Braunstein from the army's 'tradition commission' told Göteborgs-Posten.

"We were forced to cut the lion's willy off with the aid of a computer," he added.
I guess nobody cares if the male soldiers don't like having to wear the image of a castrated lion.

Huckabee urges wives to submit

AP reports:
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Republican Mike Huckabee's record on women's rights is coming under increased scrutiny, including his endorsement of the Southern Baptist Convention's stance that women should "submit graciously" to their husbands and his opposition to sending women into combat. ...

The former Arkansas governor and his wife Janet signed a full-page ad in USA Today in support of the statement with 129 other evangelical leaders in 1998.

"A wife is to submit graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ," the convention says in its statement of faith.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Homeschooled kid wins biggest college sports award

Homeschooled kids have been winning spelling bees and other contests for years, but now a homeschooler has won the Heisman Trophy for college football. Florida QB Tim Tebow was homeschooled until college.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Bernie Ward indicted

When a right-wing radio talk-show host gets caught in some minor scandal, the news media grossly exaggerates the story. But now left-wing radio talk-show host Bernie Ward just got indicted for distributing child pornography, and everyone is strangely silent.

Bernie Ward sounds like a puppet of, and is a typical lying Bush-hater. He is a failed Catholic priest, and has the most annoying holier-than-thou attitude when he lectures the public on his own peculiar theology. He claims that he needed the child porn for a book on Hypocrisy that he was writing. I doubt that he deserves the draconian penalties that he faces. I think that he is mainly guilty of being an idiot. But Ward appears to have done something worse than Rush Limbaugh, and Ward is the real hypocrite.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Women want casual but ethical sex

Here is some wacky sex research from down under:
Women 'want no-strings sex'
5:00AM Saturday December 08, 2007
By Simon Collins

Two young women researchers are calling for a new form of sexual ethics that would allow women to have casual sex without feeling that they're "sluts".

They say the popular view of women as either promiscuous or passive victims has failed to reduce incidents of rape and sexual assault.

Instead, they want both women and men to think about what each of them really wants out of a sexual encounter, and negotiate how to get it.

Canadian sociologist Melanie Beres, a post-doctoral researcher at Auckland University, and Auckland doctoral student Pantea Farvid told a sociology conference yesterday that rape prevention efforts should stop just giving women tips to avoid harm and promote an ethic of "self-care and care for the other".

Dr Beres interviewed young Canadians aged 19 to 25 about their casual sex experiences, while Ms Farvid interviewed New Zealanders in the same age bracket. The New Zealand women were more likely to have actively initiated casual sex, whereas the Canadians were more likely to say it "just happened". Drink was used by some as an excuse for their choices.

Studies have shown New Zealanders start sex younger than in many countries and have high rates of teen pregnancies and STDs. By the age of 25, 13 per cent of women have had more than 10 sexual partners.

Dr Beres said some women deliberately challenged society's "double standard" that said casual sex was okay for men. One woman in her study took the initiative in sexual encounters and another had decided that a serious relationship would hinder her career, so she sought casual sex to meet her physical needs.

Ms Farvid said a more open approach to sex would move away from the legal idea that the only issue in sexual morality was consent.

In some highly publicised group sex cases, men had escaped conviction because of doubts over consent. But on the basis of care for oneself and others, it would be unethical to have "four men in a room with a woman".
I guess that the women are still sluts if they have sex with four men at one time.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Free speech on YouTube

A JAMA article complains that the freely available info on does not always match the official govt mandates. The article is not freely available on the web.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Republicans are more sane

A Gallup poll finds:
Republicans are significantly more likely than Democrats or independents to rate their mental health as excellent, according to data from the last four November Gallup Health and Healthcare polls. Fifty-eight percent of Republicans report having excellent mental health, compared to 43% of independents and 38% of Democrats. This relationship between party identification and reports of excellent mental health persists even within categories of income, age, gender, church attendance, and education.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Female voting consequences

John R. Lott Jr., author of the book Freedomnomics, writes in the Wash Times:
Studies show that women are generally more risk averse than men. Possibly, this is why they are more supportive of government programs to ensure against certain risks in life. ...

Even after accounting for a range of other factors — such as industrialization, urbanization, education and income — the impact of granting of women's suffrage on per-capita state government expenditures and revenue was startling. Per capita state government spending after accounting for inflation had been flat or falling during the 10 years before women began voting. But state governments started expanding the first year after women voted and continued growing until within 11 years real per capita spending had more than doubled. The increase in government spending and revenue started immediately after women started voting.
Everyone agrees that women should be allowed to vote, but Lott shows that women's suffrage has had a number of undesirable consequences.

Deep-voiced men father more kids

The NY Science Times reports:

Researchers have found that men with deeper voices have more children -- at least among the Hadza, a group of hunter-gatherers in Tanzania.

According to background information in an article published online for the Dec. 22 edition of Biology Letters, most women in Western societies find lower-pitched male voices more attractive, judging them healthier and more masculine. Meanwhile, men find higher-pitched voices more appealing.

The evolutionary reasons for reproductive success are difficult to discover in a society that uses modern birth control methods. The Hadza use no birth control and choose their own spouses; this makes them what the researchers call a “natural fertility population” where hypotheses about human reproductive success can be tested.

Researchers collected voice recordings (the Hadza speak Swahili) and reproductive histories from 49 men and 52 women to determine if voice pitch might affect the number of children.

After controlling for age, voice pitch was a highly accurate predictor of the number of children a man fathered, and those with deeper voices fathered significantly more. The researchers estimated that voice quality alone could account for 42 percent of the variance in men’s reproductive success. The quality of women’s voices was unrelated to how many children they had.

Maybe the women think that the men with the high-pitched voices are gay.

Update: Evolutionary psychologist Gordon Gallup says the handgrip is more important:
Gallup’s new research suggests that handgrip strength in men is directly connected with reproductive fitness.

People with high grip-strength scores are usually healthier than those with weak grips. "They live longer and recover faster from injury," Gallup says. "They have reduced disability, higher bone density and greater fat-free body mass." And in a study published this year, Gallup and his son Andrew -- at the time an undergraduate psychology major -- found that males with high grip-strength scores reported being more aggressive and dominant and had more masculine body types (broader shoulders, narrower hips). They also had "increased sexual opportunities," which resulted in an increased number of sexual partners, and younger ages of first sexual encounter.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

UK rape trial changes not working

The UK has to keep changing the rules in order to increase the rape conviction rate:
Legislation to stop rape complainants from being unfairly questioned about their sexual history in court is not working, a report has concluded. ...

It said there had been "no discernible effect" on reducing the number of failed prosecutions.

Data for 2004 shows the proportion of rape allegations that result in a conviction continues to fall, standing at 5.6% out of 14,000 reported offences.
That is an odd way to report the conviction rate. Many of those reported offenses were withdrawn or not prosecuted for various reasons. The UK govt just wants to boost conviction rates.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Earth's Moon is unusual

From a JPL news release:
New observations from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope suggest that moons like Earth's - that formed out of tremendous collisions - are uncommon in the universe, arising at most in only 5 to 10 percent of planetary systems. ...

Scientists believe the Moon arose about 30 to 50 million years after our Sun was born, and after our rocky planets had begun to take shape. A body as big as Mars is thought to have smacked into our infant Earth, breaking off a piece of its mantle. Some of the resulting debris fell into orbit around Earth, eventually coalescing into the moon we see today. The other moons in our solar system either formed simultaneously with their planet or were captured by their planet's gravity.
A lot of things about the Earth-Moon system are very unusual, and they may even be essential for life on Earth. I think that scientists overestimate the possibility of intelligent life on other planets.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Deadbeat dad avoids felony conviction

Michigan news:
A jury found a 36-year-old Eastpointe man not guilty of felony child support for late payments following a 2-day-trial in Macomb County Circuit Court.

Corey Flener wiped away tears after the jury delivered the verdict Thursday afternoon and said he felt relieved to have the burden of a potential felony conviction lifted. If convicted, he would have faced a sentence of up to four years in prison and a fine levied by Judge Tracey Yokich. ...

Flener still owes $60,000 but claims he was behind $45,000 in 2000 before he realized he owed any money because he was unaware his now ex-wife, Tammy, filed for divorce. The amount has climbed also because of accumulating interest.
These prosecutions are outrageous. It does no good to throw a man in jail, just because he cannot pay the interest on some dubious old debt to his ex-wife.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Child custody evaluations

NPR All Things Considered (afternoon radio news) had a segment (audio here) on how child custody evaluations are bogus, and ought to be abolished.

The host finished with
In other words, perhaps the best thing that parents can do is: Skip the child custody evaluation, sit down, and figure it out themselves.
No, that is not really the lesson here. The child custody evaluations are ordered by the court; parents almost never submit to them voluntarily. What we need is for the courts to stop ordering them.

Cops overreact to toddler's story

The Las Vegas Sun reports:
Authorities: Girl, 4, Invents Abduction

Santa Ana, Calif. (AP) - Deputies began a search and even questioned a man after a 4-year-old girl reported an attempted abduction before she admitted she made the whole thing up, a sheriff's spokesman said.

The girl said a man with spiked hair and a dragon tattoo approached her on a playground Tuesday and showed her a gun tucked in his waistband, sheriff's spokesman Jim Amormino said. Authorities dispatched eight police cars, a helicopter and a dozen armed officers to find the suspect and even interviewed a man with spiked hair during a four-hour hunt, he said.

But the child's story changed repeatedly during the day and she finally admitted to inventing the attempted kidnapping to get back at her mother, Amormino said. The mother had briefly left her daughter unsupervised in a gated playground in mobile home park where the family lives and the child was scared, he said.

Amormino said authorities were stunned that a child so young could provide such vivid details about something that didn't happen.

"In 28 years in law enforcement, I have never had a 4-year-old make up a story like this," he said Wednesday. "It says something about what television is doing to our children."

Investigators cannot charge the child, but may suggest that her parents get her counseling, Amormino said.
It would be better to send the cops into counseling. Children commonly make up stories.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Using Caller ID

Why is it that so few businesses use Caller ID? It is very annoying to call a business, and then have to orally give my phone number. Caller ID technology has been available for 20 years. It only costs about $2 per month. It saves a lot of time, mistakes, and lost numbers.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Successful blacks

Black Harvard prof Henry Louis Gates Jr writes in the NY Times:
I have been studying the family trees of 20 successful African-Americans, people in fields ranging from entertainment and sports (Oprah Winfrey, the track star Jackie Joyner-Kersee) to space travel and medicine (the astronaut Mae Jemison and Ben Carson, a pediatric neurosurgeon). And I’ve seen an astonishing pattern: 15 of the 20 descend from at least one line of former slaves who managed to obtain property by 1920 — a time when only 25 percent of all African-American families owned property.
Someone observed:
There's nothing "astonishing" [his word] about Gates's statistic. If we go back to great-grandparents (as Gates does in his Winfrey example), then four relevant families exist (by hypothesis) in 1920. At that time, according to Gates, 25% of black families owned property. The probability that "at least one" of the four relevant antecedent families held property in 1920 is thus 1.0 - (0.75 x 0.75 x 0.75 x 0.75) which is about 68%. Gates's sample of 20 yielded 75%.
He is correct. Gates's argument is bogus.

Executions save lives

The NY Times admits:
According to roughly a dozen recent studies, executions save lives. For each inmate put to death, the studies say, 3 to 18 murders are prevented.

The effect is most pronounced, according to some studies, in Texas and other states that execute condemned inmates relatively often and relatively quickly. ...

To economists, it is obvious that if the cost of an activity rises, the amount of the activity will drop. ... To many economists, then, it follows inexorably that there will be fewer murders as the likelihood of execution rises.
It is amazing how many otherwise intelligent people say that they are against the death penalty because it has been proved not to be a deterrent. In fact, nearly all the research for decades has shown that the death penalty is a deterrent.

There are other arguments against the death penalty, but people should realize that saving the life of a convicted murderer could result in some other innocent person getting murdered.

Monday, November 12, 2007

The NY Times reports:
Doctors cannot diagnose attention deficit or any other psychiatric disorder with imaging technology
I've met people who have told me that their kid has ADD or autism or dyslexia or something else, and that they are sure of it because of an MRI or some other brain scan. It is just not possible with current technology.

The main point of the article is to say that misbehaving kids are not doomed:
Kindergartners who interrupted the teacher, defied instructions and even picked fights were performing as well in reading and math as well-behaved children of the same abilities when they both reached fifth grade, the study found. ... The findings should also put to rest concerns that boys and girls who are restless, disruptive or withdrawn in kindergarten are bound to suffer academically. ...

About 80 percent of those with attention problems were taking or had taken stimulant drugs, and the researchers did not know the effect of the medications on brain development. Doctors consider stimulant drugs a reliable way to improve attention in the short term; the new study is not likely to change that attitude.
So your kid will do fine without the drugs, but your pediatrician will want to drug him anyway.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Shapely women have smart kids

NewScientist reports:
Curvier women may have smart children because hip fat contains polyunsaturated fatty acids critical for the development of the fetus's brain.

Using data from the US National Center for Health Statistics, William Lassek at the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania and Steven Gaulin of the University of California, Santa Barbara, found a child's performance in cognition tests was linked to their mother's waist-hip ratio, a proxy for how much fat she stores on her hips.
The study authors claimed that they accounted for other factors, but I don't believe it. Men prefer women with small waist-hip ratios. So do women. So all they really found was that female success in one area is correlated with success in another area. Maybe these women are smarter or healthier, or marry smarter husbands, or have more money, or less likely to be drug addicts, or a lot of other things.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Gay jokes could be banned

A gay lawyer brags:
Yesterday the House passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. The vote was 235-184, with 35 Republicans in favor and 25 Democrats against. It's the first time either house of Congress has ever passed a gay civil-rights bill.
The gay lobby has mixed opinions. In the UK, a similar law could make gay jokes illegal.

Once again, Congress is telling us to do what it won't do itself. Congress passed a law allowing the armed forces to discriminate based on homosexual activities.

If they are not trying to ban gay jokes, why don't they just put a clause in the law explicitly saying that the right to tell gay jokes is not being restricted?

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

New book on Duke rape case

Someone recommended this PBS interview:
Legal journalist Stuart Taylor discusses his new book, "Until Proven Innocent," which takes a deeper look at the controversy surrounding the Duke University Lacrosse team rape case.
Their innocence is old news. I named the accuser back in April 2006 because I had concluded that they were innocent.

I am sure that Taylor and K.C. Johnson do a fine job of documenting the innocence of the Duke lacrosse players, but I doubt that the book goes far enough in exposing the evil behind the prosecution.

Taylor places most of the blame on the "rogue District Attorney Mike Nifong". The blame should really go primarily to the justice system that is fundamentally tilted against anyone accused of a sex crime.

What saved the Duke boys was not the justice system, but modern technology. Without digital cameras, cell phones, ATMs, video surveillance, DNA tests, and bloggers, they would be in jail today. Even when they presented overwhelming evidence of their innocence to the judge, the judge still refused to dismiss the charges. It still took overwhelming public pressure, and documentation of mistakes by the accuser, police, and DA.

There are many others in jail today for sex crimes based only on flimsy evidence. The rules of evidence for sex crimes is very one-sided, and the public has no patience with accused sex offenders.

Disbarring Nifong was really a fluke. I bet that prosecutors in every state have done worse things, and nothing happened to them even when they got caught.

No, this is not just a story of a rogue prosecutor. It is the story of how hard it is in our society for anyone to prove himself innocent of a sex crime.

The difference myth

Here is some science news from the Boston Globe paper:
Scientists have turned up some intriguing findings of anatomical differences between the sexes.
You would think that would be obvious. The article goes on to argue that brain differences are either insignificant, or should be ignored anyway.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

From a UK Times column:
With increasing frequency, women in their twenties, thirties and forties take a pragmatic, postfeminist view that sex is something over which they have no need to negotiate. In the bedroom, there is no compromise. If a man has a higher sex drive than a woman, then he can sort himself out. If he wants to try something new and she can’t be bothered, tough luck to him. ...

Having researched my new book, as well as talked to thousands of men and women over the years, I now firmly believe that too many women see the sexual side of their lives as something to be claimed completely and utterly as their own. ...

Does she really want to take out the rubbish in the pouring rain? No, but partners in relationships do such things because they know that it makes the other happy. Sex should be seen in the same light.
More amusing is the feminist outrage to this. They don't believe that a woman should satisfy her husband, and they don't believe that men have greater sexual needs anyway.

More cell phone hype

The Google Android gPhone has become the move overhyped product since the Apple iPhone. Google brags that the big advantage will be its spyware capabilities:
Android does not differentiate between the phone's core applications and third-party applications. ...

With Android, a developer could build an application that enables users to view the location of their friends and be alerted when they are in the vicinity giving them a chance to connect.
This makes a lot of sense for Google. With the ability to spy on everything you are doing and everywhere you are going, it can sell more targeted ads. Soon your cell phone will light up with a Google ad that says, "You are a block from Macy's and your friend Jenny bought shoes there last week. Click here for a map and prices."

Meanwhile Time mag declared the Apple iPhone the Invention Of the Year. Time said that it was pretty, cool, and may someday be replaced with a product that is cheaper and more useful.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Krugman lies again

The lying Bush-hater Paul Krugman writes:
"My chance of surviving prostate cancer — and thank God I was cured of it — in the United States? Eighty-two percent," says Rudy Giuliani in a new radio ad attacking Democratic plans for universal health care. "My chances of surviving prostate cancer in England? Only 44 percent, under socialized medicine."

It would be a stunning comparison if it were true. But it isn’t. ...

Mr. Giuliani got his numbers from a recent article in City Journal, a publication of the conservative Manhattan Institute. The author gave no source for his numbers on five-year survival rates — the probability that someone diagnosed with prostate cancer would still be alive five years after the diagnosis. And they're just wrong.

You see, the actual survival rate in Britain is 74.4 percent. That still looks a bit lower than the U.S. rate, but the difference turns out to be mainly a statistical illusion. The details are technical, ...
So Krugman calls Guiliani a liar because he got a statistic from an article that does not cite its source. But Krugman does not cite a source for his 74.4% figure either.

On Krugman's blog, he cites this:
Five-year survival rates were 95 percent in the U.S. and 60 percent in the United Kingdom, which includes Britain, in 1993-1995, the most recent time period with data to compare, the group said.

Today, rates are higher -- 99 percent in the U.S. and an estimated 74 percent in the U.K.
Assuming that this is Krugman's source, he is falsely presenting the 74% figure for the UK as being comparable to Guiliani's 82% figure for the USA. It is not. Even by Krugman's own measures, USA prostate cancer survival rates are much higher than the UK's.

Study on risks of toddlers watching TV

USA Today reports:
Study: Educational TV for toddlers OK

CHICAGO (AP) — Arthur and Barney are OK for toddler TV-watching. But not Rugrats and certainly not Power Rangers, reports a new study of early TV-watching and future attention problems.

The research involved children younger than 3, so TV is mostly a no-no anyway, according to the experts. But if TV is allowed, it should be of the educational variety, the researchers said.

Every hour per day that kids under 3 watched violent child-oriented entertainment their risk doubled for attention problems five years later, the study found. Even non-violent kids' shows like Rugrats and The Flintstones carried a still substantial risk for attention problems, though slightly lower. ...

Previous research and news reports on TV's effects have tended to view television as a single entity, without regard to content. But "the reality is that it's not inherently good or bad. It really depends on what they watch," said Dr. Dimitri Christakis, who co-authored the study with researcher Frederick Zimmerman.
Also, WebMD reports:
Dimitri A. Christakis, MD, MPH, tells WebMD that a 3-year-old who watches TV for two hours a day "has a 20% increased risk for attention problems at age 7 compared with a child who doesn't watch any TV."

Christakis says that the risk increases as TV watching increases so that "for each additional hour of television watched, the risk is increased by almost 10%."
But that is not what the actual research article concluded:
RESULTS. Data were available for 184 boys and 146 girls at both time periods. Adjusting for baseline Behavioral Problem Index scores and age, parental education, maternal depression, and cognitive and emotional support, violent television programming was associated with an increased risk for antisocial behavior for boys but not for girls. Neither educational nor nonviolent programming was associated with increased risk for boys or girls.

CONCLUSIONS. Viewing of violent programming by preschool boys is associated with subsequent aggressive behavior. Modifying the content that is viewed by young children may be warranted.
So the news article says that nonviolent shows can be a problem, but the research says not. The news article says that TV leads to "attention problems such as difficulty concentrating, being easily distracted, impulsiveness, or restlessness." The research article says that TV leads to "aggressive behavior".

In my opinion, you should ignore all of this and just use common sense. This is an example of supposed experts giving opinions outside their expertise. Pediatricians are experts on child medicine, but have no expertise in TV watching.

If watching Rugrats is really correlated with later attention problems or aggressive behavior, then there are several possible explanations. Maybe kids who inherit an attention problem have parents who don't pay attention to what the kids watch on TV. Maybe kids who already have an attention problem are bored by Sesame Street and prefer the faster-paced shows like Rugrats. Maybe the kids with the aggressive behavior are the healthy ones, and it is the kids who did not watch Rugrats who are overly-docile and have the problem.

The Pediatricians officially recommend that no children under the age of two be allowed to watch TV. I don't agree, and I believe that some TV shows can be beneficial.

The Subjectivity of Wine

Jonah Lehrer reports on various experiments to prove that wine-tasting is subjective:
In 2001, Frederic Brochet, of the University of Bordeaux, conducted two separate and very mischievous experiments. In the first test, Brochet invited 57 wine experts and asked them to give their impressions of what looked like two glasses of red and white wine. The wines were actually the same white wine, one of which had been tinted red with food coloring. But that didn't stop the experts from describing the "red" wine in language typically used to describe red wines. One expert praised its "jamminess," while another enjoyed its "crushed red fruit." Not a single one noticed it was actually a white wine.
The experts also cannot tell the difference between expensive and cheap wines, and can be fooled by just putting a fancy label on the bottle.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Nazi attempt to control tobacco

Devra Davis claims that there is some sort of conspiracy to suppress knowledge about cancer prevention, and writes:
During the Nazi era, the Germans tried and failed to enact stringent policies to control tobacco. Their conquerors, despite having full access to German research on tobacco, didn't even try.
Usually people cites the Nazis as an example govt overreaching. This is someone arguing that the Nazis did not go far enough to control the Germans.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

TV writers may strike

The Hollywood writers are scheduled to go on strike, and the TV show "The View" might have to suspend broadcasts.

I didn't know The View had writers! I thought that it was just over-opinionated women babbling on random topics.

McDonalds food is nutritious

From John Tierney:
Here’s the response from Mr. Taubes, a correspondent for the journal Science, to Jeff’s assertion that McDonald's food is certainly unhealthy:
I have two comments about Jeff's post. First, anyone who can tell you "with certainty" that MacDonald’s is bad for us is the kind of zealot who can be dangerous if taken seriously. He might believe it, and he might have good reason to believe it, but telling us "with certainty"? I don’t think so. I can give him numerous examples of populations with epidemics of obesity and diabetes that were fast-food-restaurant free. McDonald's may be serving up foods or nutrients that are bad for us (as may be Starbucks, for that matter), but the negative effects will depend entirely on what people order and what they then eat.
One commentator said:
First, I’m astonished by Mr. Taubes' comments in suggesting that McDonalds is actually food, as I’m not so sure that is the case. Trans-fats kill, and they have no nutritional value–they are simply used to make things taste fresher, but they clog arteries.

Trans-fats should only be consumed by people who are OK with the idea of having a stroke or heart attack.

We also eat too much sugar and the wrong sugars, ...
That last comment may represent popular thought, but it is wrong. Of course trans fats are nutritious, and there is no proof that any other food is better than McDonalds food.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Welfare is not insurance

Why do the S-CHIP promoters keep calling it insurance? Here is a typical definition of insurance:
promise of reimbursement in the case of loss; paid to people or companies so concerned about hazards that they have made prepayments to an insurance company
It is not insurance, it is just a welfare program to give free medical care to middle class kids.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Grandmother gives advice in a letter

More goofy advice in the newspaper advice column:
DEAR ABBY: Our 23-year-old son, "Jason," told me yesterday about a letter he had received from his grandmother. In it she complained that she's embarrassed by his having fathered a child out of wedlock and said the situation is "very difficult" for her. ... Our younger son, "Connor," spent last summer in jail for stealing from us and possession of a controlled substance, but he did not receive a similar letter. ... Should I tell this woman that if she can't be supportive, she should keep a respectful distance? ... -- IRATE IN NEW YORK

DEAR IRATE: Let's view the situation from your mother-in-law's point of view for a moment. ... From a "contemporary" point of view, having a baby without being married is no longer the shock and disgrace that it was when your mother-in-law was a girl. ... The fact that your younger son did not receive a similar letter from his grandmother is a reflection of her skewed sense of priorities.
The son who spent the summer in jail does not need a letter to tell him that he did wrong. It is the son with the out-of-wedlock child who might be helped by getting some advice from someone other than his overly-supportive mom.

Dear Abby also fails to give good advice to the next writer:
DEAR ABBY: I have a big problem. My sister keeps telling me not to use a lot of water because in the future my great-grandchildren are not going to have enough water. Now I feel like I should never have sex because I do not want my great-grandchildren to suffer.

Yeah, I know I am only 13, and I am already thinking about my children. Should I just forget it or never have children? Please, I need your help! -- WHAT ABOUT THE FUTURE, ROCKFORD, TENN.
Someone should tell her that all water is recycled, and her water usage will have nothing to do with the water available to her great-grandchildren.

The Science Education Myth

Vivek Wadhwa writes in Business Week:
Political leaders, tech executives, and academics often claim that the U.S. is falling behind in math and science education. They cite poor test results, declining international rankings, and decreasing enrollment in the hard sciences. They urge us to improve our education system and to graduate more engineers and scientists to keep pace with countries such as India and China.

Yet a new report by the Urban Institute, a nonpartisan think tank, tells a different story. ... the report finds that our education system actually produces more science and engineering graduates than the market demands.
Here is an example of the myth, from the Si Valley paper's Sunday editorial:
High-tech chief executives have been warning for years that America is not turning out enough scientists and engineers to compete in a knowledge-based economy. ...

The state starts testing students in science in fifth grade, but the results count for less than 10 percent of a school's API score - a disincentive for teaching it.
The editorial doesn't say how it thinks that science scores ought to be weighted.

Friday, October 26, 2007

A utility function is really a value function

Statistician Andrew Gelman argues that economists should use the term "value function" instead of utility function.

He has a point. The word value can mean an objective or subjective value. The word utility means the usefulness to somebody, but that is not necessarily what is important. The purpose of the function is to just capture consumer preferences. A consumer might prefer an item because it is more useful, or for other reasons. Whatever the reasons, preference for an item means that the item has more value to him.

My guess is that economists don't like the word "value" because it suggests a dollar value. Their utility functions are often ordinal-valued, meaning that the function can rank preferences, but not give numbers that be related to other contexts, such as the preferences of other consumers. Also, differences between preferences may not be quantifiable.

But an ordinal value is still a value.

I think that the economist concepts of ordinal utility and cardinal utility are also confusing. Ordinal numbers have the property that for any given ordinary, there a is next larger ordinal. But utility theory does not use that property. Economists are always assuming that given two choices, there is something else that is better than one but worse than the other.

Cardinal utility is for those economists who think that utility can be measured. But that doesn't make much sense either. Besides the problem of cardinal numbers not being divisible, as ordinals are not, cardinals are never negative. But measuring utility necessarily results in some things having negative utility. The utility functions are always real-valued.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Rejecting restraining orders

happened to listen to KGO (a popular California talk radio station) when the host was outraged by a local judge that had a rubber stamp for rejecting motions for restraining orders. The appeals court said that the judge had to give a more specific reason. He asked for people to call with stories about restraining orders working.

Amazingly, all the calls were about the orders not working.

In one case, a woman tried to get a restraining order because she thought that her uncle was not treating her aunt well enough. The aunt was voluntarily living with the uncle, and the judge said that he did not want to break up a 50-year marriage. Another calling tried to get an order to stop financial abuse. Several callers told stories of women getting restraining orders for purely vindictive purposes.

I think that if I were a judge, I would want a rubber stamp for rejecting restraining orders. Many of these requests are so obviously ridiculous and so clearly outside the bounds of what the law allows, that no detailed explanation should be necessary.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

UK requires gay propaganda

A UK newspaper reports:
ut Vincent and Pauline Matherick will this week have their latest foster son taken away because they have refused to sign new sexual equality regulations.

To do so, they claim, would force them to promote homosexuality and go against their Christian faith. ...

Officials told the couple that under the regulations they would be required to discuss same-sex relationships with children as young as 11 and tell them that gay partnerships were just as acceptable as heterosexual marriages.

They could also be required to take teenagers to gay association meetings.

When the Mathericks objected, they were told they would be taken off the register of foster parents.
We can expect more of this in the USA, if we pass more anti-discrimination laws favoring sexual orientation and gender identity.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Scaife has nasty divorce

The Wash Post brags that right-winger Richard Mellon Scaife is being sued for divorce, and he didn't have a pre-nuptial agreement:
Unfathomable but true, when Scaife (rhymes with safe) married his second wife, Margaret "Ritchie" Scaife, in 1991, he neglected to wall off a fortune that Forbes recently valued at $1.3 billion. This, to understate matters, is likely going to cost him, big time. As part of a temporary settlement, 60-year-old Ritchie Scaife is currently cashing an alimony check that at first glance will look like a typo: $725,000 a month. Or about $24,000 a day, seven days a week.
Wow. You would think that would be enough, but she complains to the court:
"Defendant has and continues to unlawfully hold in his possession six pairs of asparagus tongs manufactured by Mappin & Webb, Birmingham, 1926 weighing 10 ounces total," reads one of dozens of paragraphs. "The last-known location for these items was at 'Vallamont,' 132 Pheasant Circle, Ligonier, Pa. 15658. The estimated cost for these items is $1,800."
I am not sure what to make of this. He is supposedly part of the vast right-wing conspiracy that investigated the Clintons in the 1990s.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Abortion issue not dominant to Republicans

People are always saying that the Christian Right is preoccupied with the
abortion issue, but CNN reports:
Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney narrowly won a straw poll of mostly Christian conservative voters at the Family Research Council's Values Voters Summit held this weekend in the nation's capital.
Romney is not even a mainstream Christian and he has a pro-abortion record. Meanwhile, the candidate with the rock-solid anti-abortion record is John McCain, and he only scored 1%. If the abortion issue were really so important, then McCain would be the leader.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Dentist fondled woman six times

AP reports:
WOODLAND, Calif. - A dentist accused of fondling the breasts of 27 female patients is trying to keep his dental license by arguing that chest massages are an appropriate procedure in certain cases. Mark Anderson's lawyer says dental journals discuss the need to massage the pectoral muscles to treat a common jaw problem.

Police say Anderson said during recorded phone calls that he routinely massaged patients' chests to treat temporo-mandibular joint disorder, or TMJ, which causes neck and head pain. ...

Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Phillips gave Lew three new complaints, including one from a 31-year-old woman who said Anderson fondled her at least six times over two years.

She took to wearing tight shirts with high necklines, "and Anderson would still get in under her shirt and bra," according to a police report.
Six times?! Okay, this is a little wacky, but she went there five times with a clear expectation of what was going to happen. She could have objected, or switched to another dentist.

Porn and the Iraq occupation

Northwestern University law prof Andrew Koppelman writes in an academic article:
Schlafly’s preeminent concern is to preserve a pattern of gender-specific roles and relations that, she thinks, have helped protect women and children from desertion and abuse. She wants to suppress pornography because it helps to reinforce a vernacular masculine culture that is indifferent or hostile to the needs of women and children. Schlafly’s worries about this culture are legitimate and valid.
But then it gets really wacky. He concludes his article with this:
But if censorship is a bad idea, moral criticism of pornography is an urgent necessity. ...

One story that dominates American popular culture, from R-rated movies to Disney cartoons, is a struggle between good guys and bad guys, in which the problem is solved in the end by the death of the bad guy. ...

The same narrative appears to have played a large role in the biggest foreign policy disaster since Viet Nam: the failure to plan adequately for the occupation of Iraq. President Bush and his advisers desperately wanted to prevail there. They doubtless feared above all that Americans would die unnecessarily if they did not properly prepare for the war. Yet somehow none of them could get their minds around the idea that their difficulties might not be conclusively solved by the defeat of Saddam Hussein. Chalk another one up to the corrupting effects of bad literature.
So if it weren't for Disney movies legitimatizing the struggle against bad guys, then we would have been better prepared for the occupation of Iraq?

Yes, there are bad guys in the world. The Mohammedan jihadists who support suicide bombings are definitely bad guys.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

What Sex is Your Computer?

Here is a funny joke about whether computers are male or female.

Advice columnist encourages extramarital affair

Dear Abby advises a writer who wants support for having an extramarital affair:
DEAR CONFUSED: If you're honest with yourself, I think you already know the answer to that question. Your friendship with your girlfriend did not start out as sexual, but rather evolved from a deep emotional connection. Look at the bright side. At least you finally understand what has been missing.
The writer claimed to have a "wonderful" spouse, and was having a secret affair. So why does Dear Abby approve? Because it is a homosexual affair.

A couple of days before, readers pointed out her bad advice to a man considering marrying his stepmother. She told him to go ahead, even tho it is against the Bible and illegal in Texas where they lived:
DEAR SMITTEN: What you have in mind is unusual but not unheard of. You are not her biological son, so there is no reason why you could not marry if you wish. In fact, it could work out very well since your feelings for each other evolved from an already-established friendship. I say, go for it -- but be prepared for some teasing.
Yes, there are reasons. The risk of genetic defects in not the only argument against incest.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Why basketball is boring

Baseball statistician Bill James writes:
Take the problem of what we could call NBA "sluggishness." In the regular season, players simply don't seem to be playing hard all the time. Some people attribute this to high salaries, but the other major sports are choking on money and don't seem to have the problem to any comparable degree. ...

The NBA's problem is that the underlying mathematics of the league are screwed up. In every sport, there is an element of predetermination and an element of randomness in the outcomes. Who will win the championship next year is not entirely a crapshoot. We know that Kentucky has a better chance of winning the NCAA basketball title than Nebraska does - next year, or in 2019. If we knew with certainty who was going to win the title next year, then we could say that the championship was 100 percent predetermined, 0 percent random.

In the NBA, the element of predetermination is simply too high. Simply stated, the best team wins too often. If the best team always wins, then the sequence of events leading to victory is meaningless. Who fights for the rebound, who sacrifices his body to keep the ball from rolling out of bounds doesn't matter. The greater team is going to come out on top anyway.

A fan can look at the standings in December, pick the teams that will make the playoffs, and might get them all. This has a horrific effect on the game. Everybody knows who's going to win.
Here is another view.

I agree with James. Basketball has the most screwed up rules of any major professional sport. It is a wonder that the league ever got to be successful.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Legal Status Doesn't Deter Abortion

AP Medical Writer Maria Cheng writes:
LONDON (AP) -- Women are just as likely to get an abortion in countries where it is outlawed as they are in countries where it is legal, according to research published Friday.

In a study examining abortion trends from 1995 to 2003, experts also found that abortion rates are virtually equal in rich and poor countries, and that half of all abortions worldwide are unsafe.

The study was done by Gilda Sedgh of the Guttmacher Institute in the United States and colleagues from the World Health Organization. It was published in an edition of The Lancet medical journal devoted to maternal health.

"The legal status of abortion has never dissuaded women and couples, who, for whatever reason, seek to end pregnancy," Beth Fredrick of the International Women's Health Coalition in the U.S. said in an accompanying commentary. ...

"The only way to decrease unsafe abortion is to increase contraception," said Sharon Camp, president and chief executive officer of the Guttmacher Institute.
If that is true, then abortion law is irrelevant. The legality and subsidization of abortion has nothing to do with the availability, frequency, and safety of abortions.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Men and Women pretty similar, research finds

A new book says:
These writers all subscribe to some version of what Cameron dubs the Mars-Venus myth, which holds that women are more verbal than men, that women talk more about people, relationships and feelings, while men talk more about things and facts, that women use language in a co-operative way, whereas men use it competitively. Oh, and that these differences mean that men and women routinely fail to communicate, but can learn to do better — which might explain why Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus has sold more than 10m copies in 37 languages.

For Cameron, this is simplistic eyewash, best countered with a few well-aimed stats. She cites the meta-analysis of Janet Hyde, a psychologist who has collated masses of research findings on male-female communications. Hyde's number-crunching suggests that the difference in language use between men and women is statistically negligible. Women don't interrupt more than men, nor are they more talkative or empathetic in conversation, less prone to assertive conversation, or any better or worse at verbal reasoning. The headline for Hyde's discovery could read "Men and Women pretty similar, research finds".
Yes, males and females are more alike than different. I suspect that this research was not effective at focusing on the differences.

The book is The Myth of Mars and Venus: Do Men and Women Really Speak Different Languages? by Oxford U. English prof Deborah Cameron.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Md. court considers rape suit

The Baltimore Sun paper reports:
Maryland's highest court heard arguments this morning in a closely watched case regarding whether consensual sex can become rape if a woman says no during the act. ...

Defense attorney Michael R. Malloy argued that if intercourse is consensual under existing common law it can't be rape. He argued that the jury that convicted had faulty instructions from the judge. ...

The victim, who had met Baby that night, testified at the trial that she told him that "as long as he stops when I tell him to" she would have sex with him.

As he began, she told him to stop because he was hurting her, but he kept going for five or 10 seconds, she said.

Baby, who was tried as an adult, denied any wrongdoing.

During deliberations, the jury asked Judge Louise G. Scrivener whether sex that begins consensually but continues after the woman tells the man to stop constitutes rape. The judge replied that was "a question that you as a jury must decide."
Maouloud Baby is the guy's name. He was 16 years old. She was 18.

This is just crazy. I don't know what that jury was thinking.

I think that the net of effect of convictions like this will be to de-stimatize rape. If I hear that someone served 5 years in prison for rape, I really have no idea whether he was the perpetrator of a serious violent crime, or whether it was a trivial misunderstanding or a false accusation.

Study: Bad marriage might literally hurt the heart

USA Today reports:
CHICAGO (AP) — A lousy marriage might literally make you sick.
Marital strife and other bad personal relationships can raise your risk for heart disease, researchers reported Monday.

What it likely boils down to is stress — a well-known contributor to health problems, as well as a potential byproduct of troubled relationships, the scientists said.

In a study of 9,011 British civil servants, most of them married, those with the worst close relationships were 34% more likely to have heart attacks or other heart trouble during 12 years of follow-up than those with good relationships. That included partners, close relatives and friends.

The study, in Monday's Archives of Internal Medicine, follows previous research that has linked health problems with being single and having few close relationships. In the new study, researchers focused more on the quality of marriage and other important relationships.
It seems just as likely to me that bad health ruins marriages. Or maybe smoking, trans fats, and obesity cause both divorce and heart disease. More research is needed.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Democracy Left Behind

I just watched a PBS documentary called Democracy Left Behind. It is an attack on No Child Left Behind, the Bush administration policy of testing schoolkids in math and reading. It was made by Santa Cruz filmmaker Bob Gliner, and it interviewed local educators. Bruce Fuller, a UC Berkeley professor of Education and Public Policy, complained: (18 kin. into a 1 hour show)
It depoliticizes the education process. I mean we have adolescents around this country that know about political problems. They watch Jon Stewart on the Daily Show. In the media, in music, they talk about racism and about inequality. Yet they walk into a classroom, and somehow this is antithetical to what education now looks like under NCLB. So it is this disconnect between kids' daily lives, their consciousness, what's going on in a social class and unequal society. It is that disconnect between their daily lives and what they hear from their teacher which I think leads to understandable alienation and high rates of drop out.
About the only response in defense of NLCB was from Kati Haycock, director of The Education Trust, who said:
In focusing in particular on things like reading and writing and math,we are somehow depriving young people of the skills that they need to participate in a democracy -- I mean that core idea is just nuts.
She is right. That was the core idea of the film, and it is just nuts.

As an example of something that they'd like to teach instead of math and reading, the film showed an elementary school class on South African apartheid.

The show just convinces me that our public schools are run by crazy leftist political ideologues who will sabotage the educational process at every opportunity. Only standardized testing, as required by NCLB and also by state law, forces them to stick to the curriculum and actually teach something useful.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Ice cream is good food

The NY Science Times reports:
In 1988, the surgeon general, C. Everett Koop, proclaimed ice cream to a be public-health menace right up there with cigarettes. Alluding to his office's famous 1964 report on the perils of smoking, Dr. Koop announced that the American diet was a problem of "comparable" magnitude, chiefly because of the high-fat foods that were causing coronary heart disease and other deadly ailments.

He introduced his report with these words: "The depth of the science base underlying its findings is even more impressive than that for tobacco and health in 1964."

That was a ludicrous statement, as Gary Taubes demonstrates in his new book meticulously debunking diet myths, "Good Calories, Bad Calories" (Knopf, 2007). The notion that fatty foods shorten your life began as a hypothesis based on dubious assumptions and data; when scientists tried to confirm it they failed repeatedly. The evidence against Häagen-Dazs was nothing like the evidence against Marlboros.

It may seem bizarre that a surgeon general could go so wrong. After all, wasn't it his job to express the scientific consensus? But that was the problem. Dr. Koop was expressing the consensus. He, like the architects of the federal "food pyramid" telling Americans what to eat, went wrong by listening to everyone else. He was caught in what social scientists call a cascade.
There are more diet comments here.

Koop was also controversial for promoting condom use and for urging explicit sex education in the early elementary grades. But he seems to have gotten a free pass for giving bogus diet advice.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Third World backwater names

Jonathan writes:
Guess I disagree with you about "Myanmar", tried to comment on your post but have forgotten my Blogger password again ... so I'll comment on your thoughts in an update to a recent post of mine about Myanmar, er, Burma and just pass on a few thoughts here.

My question is: Didn't we start calling "Russia" the "USSR" and/or the "Soviet Union" after the commie thugs took it over from the Romanov thugs? Why do you treat "Burma"/"Myanmar" as a special case? Your methodology seems to be that if a junta takes over, they are not to be encouraged by us "falling in line" with their preference. IMHO, Might Does Not Make Right, But Sometimes Causes Efficient Temporary Conformity. I also note that we referred to Nazi Germany as "The Third Reich" in newsreels and history books, basically because that's what it was. I see no reason why we can't harbor a "good feeling fondness" for all things Burma, like the Burma Road, Burma Shave, etc. and simply face reality by harboring a "bad feeling revulsion" while calling it Myanmar. If the junta is overthrown, we can call it Burma again.

"Many Americans are not familiar with the word Myanmar'" was what First Lady Laura Bush said last week when she was asked to reflect on the current situation therein. I understand the nostalgic sentiment, as well as wanting to use lingo that more, rather than less, folks understand. However, Mrs. Bush came off looking like a real piker when she told the reporter how recently she learned about Aung San Suu Kyi. Mrs. Bush said that she learned about the Nobel Laureate "a few years ago" when one of her (Mrs. Bush's) cousins, or similar relatives, had become active in some sort of international social work. And I thought: Wow. I first read or heard news coverage about Suu Kyi's imprisonment about twelve years ago, evidently she's been under detention for over fifteen years. If folks who are comparative newbies when it comes to the recent historic problems in "Burma" want to tell me what to call it, I think they need to sharpen their pencils and show more than a recent passing familiarity with the case of Suu Kyi.

Like, we don't refer to the country of "Tibet" anymore, do we? When we speak of Tibet now, it's either as a geographic region only, or are speaking of a time when Tibet was still an independent country or an autonomous region.
No self-respecting country would want to call itself a name like Myanmar anyway. It makes them sound like a Third World backwater. The name sounds as if it wants to join a club with Bangladesh, Côte d'Ivoire, Djibouti, Kampuchea, Timor-Leste, and Zimbabwe. Would you want to vacation in any of those places?

Besides, we don't necessarily adopt the names of our enemies. There is a country that calls itself Democratic People's Republic of Korea. We call it North Korea.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

DNA profiling

Wired mag reports on DNA profiling:
On July 16, 2002, a survey crew from the Department of Transportation found Pam Kinamore's nude, decomposing body in the area along the banks of the Mississippi known as Whiskey Bay, just west of Baton Rouge. The police tested the DNA and quickly realized that they were dealing with a serial killer: the same man who had killed two other white, middle-class women in the area.

The FBI, Louisiana State Police, Baton Rouge Police Department and sheriff's departments soon began a massive search. Based on an FBI profile and a confident eyewitness, the Multi-Agency Homicide Task Force futilely upended South Louisiana in search of a young white man who drove a white pick-up truck. They interrogated possible suspects, knocked on hundreds of doors, held frequent press conferences and sorted through thousands of tips.

In late December, after a fourth murder, police set up a dragnet to obtain DNA from some 1200 white men. Authorities spent months and more than a million dollars running those samples against the killer's. Still nothing.

In early March, 2003, investigators turned to Tony Frudakis, a molecular biologist who said he could determine the killer's race by analyzing his DNA. They were unsure about the science, so, before giving him the go-ahead, the task force sent Frudakis DNA swabs taken from 20 people whose race they knew and asked him to determine their races through blind testing. He nailed every single one.

Still, when they gathered in the Baton Rouge police department for a conference call with Frudakis in mid-March, they were not prepared to hear or accept his conclusions about the killer.

"Your guy has substantial African ancestry," said Frudakis. "He could be Afro-Caribbean or African American but there is no chance that this is a Caucasian. No chance at all." ... The task force followed Frudakis' advice and, two months later, the killer was in custody. ...

But even those who believe this can be done are conflicted about whether it should be done. History is replete with examples of injustices and inequities that were conscripted into law based on racial classification. The Civil Rights movement of the 1960's succeeded in ending legal racial discrimination, in large measure, by downplaying the significance of race and racial differences. By the mid-1990s prominent academics and sociologists even went so far as to say that race did not exist at all.

"Race is a social construct, not a scientific classification," said an editorial in the May 3, 2001 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, adding that "In medicine, there is only one race -- the human race."

Then, along comes Frudakis with a science that seems to be saying the opposite.
A comment says:
If this is racial profiling, then video camera footage is racial profiling. There both technological means of determining your race and what you look like. To make this real clear... if you think this is profiling, you're a moron.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Rules for understanding people

Here are Four Rules to Understand What Makes People Tick: People Mostly Care About Themselves, People are Motivated by Selfish Altruism, People Don’t Think Much, Conformity is the Norm. It explains:
By studying primates, researchers noticed four main categories of selfish altruism. I believe they are the same categories we use, even if slightly more sophisticated:

1. Dominance -- Some primates will give help as a way of asserting dominance in the group. It is as if they are saying, "Look at how powerful I am that I can give some of my resources to help you."
2. Reciprocity -- You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours. The idea is that I do a favor for you with the assumption it will be returned one day. If the cost to me is less than the benefit towards you, I might help you even if I can’t predict an immediate payback.
3. Trade -- If we both have something the other person wants, we have a reason to interact. While reciprocity is vague on the details of a payback, trade is direct.
4. Familial -- It makes sense, from an evolutionary perspective, to help those who might share your genes.

By looking through this lens of selfish altruism, you can better make decisions. Viewing people as completely uncaring or selfish is incomplete. But expecting people to think of you constantly and do nice things for free is dangerous.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Duke issues lame apology

Duke U. president Richard H. Brodhead has now given the apology that was apparently required by his out-of-court settlement with the lacrosse players, and he just further illustrates what an irresponsible racist he is. Here is the AP story.

He says that the guilt or innocence of the students are just different "versions of the truth". He blames Michael B. Nifong, the Durham County prosecutor.

For his own personal responsibility in the matter, he says:
First and foremost, I regret our failure to reach out to the lacrosse players and their families in this time of extraordinary peril. Given the complexities of the case, getting this communication right would never have been easy. But the fact is that we did not get it right, causing the families to feel abandoned when they most needed support. This was a mistake. I take responsibility for it, and I apologize.
So he is not really apologizing for punishing innocent students, but blaming it all on a miscommunication. In essence, he is saying that it is everyone else's fault for misunderstanding him.

He goes on to blame others for he himself did:
Second, some of those who were quick to speak as if the charges were true were on this campus, and some faculty made statements that were ill-judged and divisive. They had the right to express their views. But the public as well as the accused students and their families could have thought that those were expressions of the university as a whole. They were not, and we could have done more to underscore that.
Could have done more?! He did everything to support those unfair accusations. He terminated the lacrosse team and kicked the accused students out of school, instead of punishing the racist and libelous professors.

Broadhead is a disgrace. This wasn't the first time he falsely accused innocently people for political purposes, and Duke should not allow it.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Criminal bias

Jonathan Ekman writes in a alumni magazine:
Only a social scientist “Shooter’s Choice,” July–Aug/07 could seriously argue that any possible bias against black suspects derives from “ambient social stereotypes” and not from rational discrimination based on statistical probability. The racial disparity in criminal activity in this country is widely known, yet for many in the groves of academe it must be ignored, explained away, or simply discounted.

Social psychologist Joshua Correll replies: Mr. Ekman’s question is one we often hear. It’s true that African Americans in the United States are disproportionately likely to be arrested for violent crime, and my colleagues and I recognize that this disparity may contribute to a pattern of bias that leads participants in our video-game studies to shoot black targets more quickly and more frequently than whites. It is not our intent to “explain away” the possibility that racial bias in decisions to shoot stems from more-or-less rational decision-making. Our intent is to understand the mechanisms that inspire this behavioral bias. In truth, no one would argue that participants in our studies shoot blacks more quickly or more frequently than whites simply because blacks are more likely to be arrested. We need to recognize that there is a crucial intervening process. People shoot African Americans more quickly because they subjectively, psychologically associate them with crime and danger. It is this psychological association, or stereotype—not arrest rates—that drives behavior.

Of course, the association may derive from racial disparities in criminal activity just as it may derive from movies, news reports, or gangsta rap music. The point is that the psychological representation is a critical, proximal variable. In our efforts to understand the behavioral phenomenon, we believe it is valuable to understand the processes that generate it. In this case, those processes seem to involve stereotypes.
Correll used a video game to study whether cops are quicker to shoot a black suspect than a white suspect. It is a good idea, and he gets some interesting results. But then he claims to distinguish between active prejudice, racial stereotypes, and rational assessment of statistical facts. He discounts active prejudice because blacks show the same biases as the whites. But then he jumps to the conclusion that it could not be rational decision-making so the explanation must be racial stereotypes.

Ekman is right. Only an academic social scientist would give such nutty arguments. Correll refuses to even admit that there is racial disparity in criminal activity, and merely alludes to a disparity is arrest rates. Cops are going to shoot the most threatening suspects, based on all available info. It is only common sense that age, sex, race, clothing, and any other aspect of appearance will be rational factors.

The proper way to test for bias is to compare the simulation with some actual threat measure. For example, if urban 25-year-old men are 100 times more likely to shoot at a cop than little old ladies, then cops doing a video game simulation should be 100 times more likely to shoot the young men. Any more or less would be bias.

Explaining the divorce rate

Justin Wolfers writes:
I had an op-ed in yesterday’s New York Times noting a very simple fact: those married in the 1990s have proved less likely to divorce than those wed in the 1980s, which were less likely to divorce than those wed in the 1970s. The Divorce Facts are that divorce is falling, and marriages are more stable.
Here is an academic paper that tries to look at data to test a couple of theories about the effect of unilateral (aka no-fault) divorce law on the divorce rate. Different states adopted unilateral divorce at different times, so it is possible to look at how the divorce rates changed relative to the changes in law. There were of course other changes in our society that are difficult to measure. I'll try to explain some of this in plain English.

1. Coase theory. The Coase theorem says that shifts in property rights can be counterbalanced by private contracts. This theory predicts that changes in divorce law would have no effect on the divorce rate.

Suppose a husband wants a divorce and the wife does not. Under unilateral divorce, he may not get the divorce because the wife may somehow sweeten the marriage contract in order to induce him to stay. Likewise, under the old (mutual-consent-required) divorce law, he might somehow pay off the wife to induce her to agree to the divorce. Assuming that these inducements are readily available, easily negotiated, and legally enforceable, then the theory says that husbands and wives will find socially optimal arrangements, regardless of divorce law.

2. Naive probability model. Suppose that there is a probability of 40% that a married person will want a divorce after 10 years of marriage, independent of all other factors, including whether the spouse also wants a divorce. Then the divorce rate should have jumped from 16% to 64% after changing to unilateral divorce.

Out of every 100 couples, 40 men want divorce and 60 men do not. Of those 40 marriages, 40*40%=16 of the women want divorce and 24 do not. Of the other 60 marriages, 60*40%=24 of the women want divorce, and 36 do not. So if mutual consent is required, then only 16 will get divorced. But there are another 24+24=48 marriages in which exactly one party wants a divorce, so you expect 16+24+24=64 divorces under unilateral divorce.

The article finds that the unilateral divorce caused an immediate jump in the divorce rate, but may not have had any long term effect. It may have also caused a small drop in the marriage rate.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

The country is Burma, not Myanmar

Why does the American news media use the name Myanmar instead of Burma? The UK BBC reports:
The ruling military junta changed its name from Burma to Myanmar in 1989, a year after thousands were killed in the suppression of a popular uprising. Rangoon also became Yangon. ...

The change was recognised by the United Nations, and by countries such as France and Japan, but not by the United States and the UK.

A statement by the Foreign Office says: "Burma's democracy movement prefers the form 'Burma' because they do not accept the legitimacy of the unelected military regime to change the official name of the country. Internationally, both names are recognised."

It's general practice at the BBC to refer to the country as Burma, and the BBC News website says this is because most of its audience is familiar with that name rather than Myanmar. The same goes for Rangoon, people in general are more familiar with this name than Yangon.
So the country is popularly known as Burma, and the USA says that Burma is the official name. Isn't that enough? Why would anyone call it Myanmar?

Nevertheless, the NY Times, WSJ, TV networks, etc call it Myanmar. They appear to be making some sort of political statement by doing so, but what? That the UN is more important than the USA? That the military junta ought to crush the pro-freedom rebels? I don't get it. I just see it as anti-Americanism on the part of the major news media.

I should note that not all call it Myanmar. USA Today still calls it Burma.

Research on best teaching methods

From a 1998 Wash Times article:
What if the federal government spent $1 billion over nearly three decades to study thoroughly the question of which teaching method best instills knowledge, cognitive skills and positive self-concept in students?

What if that study were able to conclude exactly which method best does all three?

Wouldn't the American people like to know about it?

Both the study and its conclusion do exist.
The method is called Direct Instruction, and I learned about it here.

Don't expect your local schoolteachers to have even heard of it.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Scientist and the Stairmaster

Gary Taubes writes:
Why most of us believe that exercise makes us thinner—and why we're wrong.

Just last month, the American Heart Association and the American College of Sports Medicine published joint guidelines for physical activity and health. They suggested that 30 minutes of moderate physical activity five days a week is necessary to “promote and maintain health.” What they didn’t say, though, was that more physical activity will lead us to lose weight. Indeed, the best they could say about the relationship between fat and exercise was this: “It is reasonable to assume that persons with relatively high daily energy expenditures would be less likely to gain weight over time, compared with those who have low energy expenditures. So far, data to support this hypothesis are not particularly compelling.” In other words, despite half a century of efforts to prove otherwise, scientists still can’t say that exercise will help keep off the pounds.
This article shows how hard it is to prove anything about free will and human behavior. It seems obvious that you could exercise to lose weight, but the medical studies don't prove it.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Islam v Islamist

I just watched Islam vs. Islamist, a documentary produced for PBS. It was controversial, and PBS tried to kill it.

It describes how some Moslems want to reform Islam so that it could be coexist with Western democracy, and how they are ostracized and attacked for their efforts. You can buy it here. My local broadcast had a panel discussion afterwards with Muslims, including a couple who didn't like the documentary.

I just found this, from a gaming site:
Admit it - back in the 20th Century, none of you imagined that World War III would be Robots vs. Muslims. Seems obvious now.

Abolish the SAT test

Charles Murray, coauthor of the controversial book The Bell Curve, now suggests abolishing the SAT test. It is no longer useful in helping to predict college grades, if grades, other test scores, and other measures are available. He also says:
Hence the final reason for getting rid of the SAT: knowing those scores is too dispiriting for those who do poorly and too inspiriting for those who do well.
The high IQ society, MENSA, has already stopped using the SAT test. It accepts scores from pre-1994 SAT tests, but says that the SAT, PSAT, and ACT "no longer correlate with an IQ test."

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Lesbians sue because they have unwanted twins

What's wrong with this picture? News from down under:
AUSTRALIA, September 20, 2007 ( - A lesbian couple in Australia have taken the first 'wrongful birth' lawsuit in Australian legislative history to court. The two women, who have three year old twin daughters, are suing Canberra obstetrician, Robert Armellin, for 'wrongful birth' after he supervised the implantation of two embryos instead of one into the birth mother during the in-vitro fertilization procedure.

The women, who cannot be named because of a court order, are suing the doctor for almost $400,000 (USD) which they contest will be the cost of raising the mistakenly implanted second child. The sum includes funds for private school, medical expenses and lost wages for the women.

According to the Australian newspaper, the PerthNow, the mother claimed that certain aspects of pregnancy were extremely stressful to her - for instance, buying a stroller - due to the fact that she was carrying twins. "It was like the last frontier of acceptance to spend hundreds of dollars on a pram." The mother also lamented that she suffered nausea during the pregnancy.

The mother's partner claimed in court that the couple became so overwhelmed with every day childcare issues that they lost their ability to function as a couple.
Of course they can't function as a couple; they're lesbians!

I don't know how this nonsense gets to Australia. Maybe the twins will someday also sue because they were raised by wacky lesbians.

Thelma and Louise

Judith Warner writes:
I watched "Thelma and Louise" again this week.

Boy, how times have changed.

Remember, in 1991, how topical the movie seemed? How revolutionary, how thrilling, how cathartic?

It didn’t seem any of those things to me the other night, when I attended a screening of the film guest-hosted by Senator Susan Collins and Representative Jane Harman.

It simply seemed depressing, oppressive and hopeless. It seemed like a relic from the past, a buried memory. It was dark. It was disturbing. It was -- it dawned on me, driving home and still sniveling over the sight of that blue Thunderbird plummeting into the void — a movie that could not be made today.

Thank goodness. ...

That year [1991], the William Kennedy Smith rape case went to trial, belittling and publicly humiliating the victim; Anita Hill confronted Clarence Thomas and emerged besmirched while he reigned victorious; and Roe v. Wade seemed destined for extinction.

Date rape is no longer a contentious concept; it's a known reality. Rape victims are no longer so thoughtlessly named and shamed by the media as was William Kennedy Smith’s accuser. Rape itself is down – its incidence having dropped 75 percent since the early 1990s, according to the Department of Justice.
Thelma and Louise is about two women who go on a road trip, murder a man after a bar dispute, flee the police, and commit suicide.

I am appalled that Warner refers to Smith's accuser as a "rape victim", and the NY Times editors allow this. Smith was acquitted of all charges in a jury trial; he is not a rapist and she is not a rape victim. I didn't think that the accuser's story was very plausible. The column looks libelous to me.

Black on white crime

If a population were 90% white and 10% black, and if crime were race-blind, then would you expect more white-on-black crime or black-on-white crime?

The simple answer is that it should be exactly the same. You would expect more white criminals, and more white victims. But the interracial crime should be symmetrical.

Take a simple numerical example. Suppose you have 100 people, including 90 whites and 10 blacks. Suppose that 10% are criminals, and each criminal mugs 10% of the population. Then you would have 9 white criminals, and each would mug 1 black and 9 whites, for a total of 9 white-on-black crimes. You would have 1 black criminal mugging 1 black and 9 whites, for a total of 9 black-on-white crimes. That is 9 cross-racial crimes, either way.

The actual crime data for the USA is not symmetrical. There is far more black-on-white crime than white-on-black crime, no matter how you measure it.

Those who complain about the prosecution of the Jena 6 act as if whites are committing crimes on blacks. But every account of the Jena 6 incidents shows that the serious crimes were committed by blacks on whites.

It appears to me that the only reason that anyone has any sympathy for the Jena 6 is some confusion over the name "Justin". One white boy named Justin was involved in putting a couple of nooses on a tree in a school yard as a prank. Another white boy named Justin got beaten up and left unconscious several months later. There is no connection between the nooses and the beating, and some out-of-town racial agitators assumed that it was the same Justin. It was not. The beating was an ordinary and brutal crime by some thugs who belong in jail. Let Jena deal with it.

If it turns out that the Jena 6 were motivated in part by racial tensions in the town, then they are guilty of a hate crime, and should receive extra stiff sentences under hate crime laws.