Sunday, April 29, 2007

Unilateral divorce

There appears to be a shift from the term "no-fault divorce" to "unilateral divorce", as in NY Times articles here and by Tyler Cowen and Isobel Coleman.

I am not sure what the reason is for the shift, but the term "no fault" is indeed very misleading. The divorce court does not consider fault for purpose of dissolving the marriage or dividing the assets, but it certainly does consider fault for matters of child custody and support. When a child is involved, the courts can spends years scrutinizing the most trivial of faults.

Can lawyers beget evil?

Terry McDermott on CSPAN2 today said:
People do evil things. Mohammad Atta didn't come into the world as an evil creature. His dad was a lawyer.

Friday, April 27, 2007

MIT Admissions Dean gets booted

The book Less Stress, More Success: A New Approach to Guiding Your Teen Through College Admissions and Beyond gets rave reviews, except for this one:
The co-author of this book, Marilee Jones, was recently forced to resign from her position as Dean of Admissions at MIT when information supplied to MIT revealed that she lied when she applied for a job there, and subsequently. Jones had claimed to have degrees from Albany Medical College, Union College and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. In fact, she had no degrees from any of those places, or anywhere else, M.I.T. officials said.

No wonder Jones recommends not stressing out about being admitted to college. Follow her example and just lie about it.
You would think that MIT would have checked at least once in the 28 years she worked there.

Freakonomics is ruining economics

The Freakonomics blog writes:
I blogged a few weeks back about a piece in The New Republic last month that claimed I was ruining economics. At that time, there wasn’t a full version of the article online to link to, so there did not seem to be much point in saying much about the piece. Now, you can read the full article here.

If you’ve read the article, I’m curious as to how you would answer the following questions:
1) Where did the author of the story get his economics PhD?
2) How many years was he enrolled in the economics graduate program at Harvard?
3) How many times have he and I been in the same room in our lives?

It might surprise you to know that the answers to those questions are: he has no PhD, he never attended the economics graduate program at Harvard (the closest he ever got was dating someone in the program), and he and I have never been in the same room in our lives.
Wow, that article must have touched a new. Do I have to attend Harvard to criticize his book?

The New Republic article is actually entertaining and informative. Steven D. Levitt has written a bunch of clever papers but they also invite criticism. I am surprised that his response is so lame.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Dear Abby and Bill O'Reilly

Today's Dear Abby:
DEAR ABBY: ... I am a single mother who supports her children. I can't afford to be killed or maimed on the road. This afternoon I was behind a woman who was driving erratically. She rolled through stop signs, sped up and slowed down for no apparent reason, and switched from lane to lane. When I was finally able to safely pass her, I saw ... the woman was doing 70 miles an hour. ... Maybe your family doesn't need you alive and healthy, but my kids need me! -- CINDY IN MINNEAPOLIS
I hope Cindy stays in Minneapolis. She seems to think that her life is worth more than others, and she seems to drive like a maniac.

I just watched the O'Reilly factor on Fox News TV. It has high ratings, but I can see why some people hate it.

Sen. Chuck Schumer explained his support for the Second Amendment, and said, "Every amendment has limitations. First amendment. Pornography -- can't do it except in certain instances." Huhh? Just about the only limitation is that the models have to be over 18 years old. Then Schumer said that we should have licensing and registration of guns just like cars. In fact the gun requirements are greater than those for cars.

Then O'Reilly lectured atheist Richard Dawkins on how he is a Roman Catholic and "being humble is a Christian virtue". Neither has much humility.

O'Reilly bragged about how he refused to air the tape of Alec Baldwin chewing out his daughter. He also had two guests discussing it, but they didn't talk about how Baldwin has been stopped from seeing his own daughter. Fox News did play the tape as soon as the O'Reilly show ended. Sean Hannity compared Baldwin to a violent criminal.

O'Reilly quizzed guests about Rosie O'Donnell playing Wilma Flinstone in a cartoon movie, and made fun of her for saying that five Supreme Court justices are Catholic. He ended by saying that sixth graders were smart to watch his show, and giving a commercial plug for the companies that made his shirt and suit.

In other news, Michigan student was suspended for wearing a sticker that said 'I'm straight'. The other kids were wearing gay stickers, and I guess he was being disruptive.

Also, see how the Frisco paper reports a shopowner successfully defended himself against some armed robbers. The paper suggests that the owner is no better than the robbers.

Europeans consider paying organ donors

William Saletan writes:
Twice in the past two weeks, transplant experts from around the world have convened in Europe to discuss the emerging global market in human organs. Two maps presented at the meetings tell the story. One shows countries from which patients have traveled for organs in the past three years: Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, South Korea and Taiwan. The other shows countries from which organs have been sold: China, Colombia, Pakistan and the Philippines.

The numbers on the maps add up to thousands. According to the World Health Organization, the annual tally of international kidney transactions is about 6,000. ...

Politicians have tried to rein in this market. The United States banned organ sales two decades ago. India did the same in 1994, and China followed last year. But when lives are at stake, rules get bent. To procure more organs, doctors have discarded brain-death standards, donor age limits and recipient health requirements. States have let transplant agencies put patients on life support, contrary to their living wills, to preserve their organs. ...

Some reformers think they can solve the organ shortage and tame the market by legalizing sales. Their latest proposal, presented at one of the European meetings last week by Arthur Matas of the University of Minnesota, is a single-payer system for organs. It is half-libertarian and half-socialist. On the one hand, Matas says markets for eggs and sperm are harmless, kidney purchases can save countries money and offering poor people cash for organs is no more coercive than offering them money to work in mines or join the army. On the other hand, he thinks the government can fix kidney prices and determine who gets them.

But studies reviewed at the meetings in Europe show that flooding the market with purchased organs reduces the incentive to donate.
I believe that reducing the incentive to donate would be a good thing. The organ donors are being exploited the most.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Defending Don Imus

I am still surprised at how few people defended Don Imus. Here is the original complaint about him. All he said was that the Rutgers players looked like hos. The context was that he watched the Rutgers-Tennessee girls basketball championship, and commented that the winning Tennessee team was cute while the Rutgers girls had tatoos and were "rough". I don't see why he was either racist or sexist, as he was merely expressing a sports fan's preference for one team of black girls over another.

This law blog reports that the European Union is criminalizing "condoning, denying or grossly trivialising crimes of genocide". Even academic historians can get into trouble. The policy seems self-defeating to me -- I tend to discount any story when the contrary point of view is forbidden. I also think that free speech should allow you to trivialize whatever you want to trivialize.

George writes:
What makes Imus a racist and a sexist is that he is a white man.
It is racist and sexist to punish a white man for things that others could say with approval.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Zuni v Dept of Education

A hotly contested US Supreme Court decision centered on the meaning of the word percentile. Breyer argues:
Finally, we draw reassurance from the fact that no group of statisticians, nor any individual statistician, has told us directly in briefs, or indirectly through citation, that the language before us cannot be read as we have read it. This circumstance is significant, for the statutory language is technical, and we are not statisticians. And the views of experts (or their absence) might help us understand (though not control our determination of) what Congress had in mind.

The upshot is that the language of the statute is broad enough to permit the Secretary's reading. That fact requires us to look beyond the language to determine whether the Secretary's interpretation is a reasonable, hence permissible, implementation of the statute. ... We consequently find the Secretary's method of calculation lawful.
This is a pretty ridiculous excuse for not using the literal meaning of the word.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Racial preferences in dating

John Tierney has some data on racial preferences in dating. One commenter said, "It is unthinkable that anyone would want to be with someone of the same race -- don’t they know about the power of genetic diversity?"

Unthinkable? It seems quite common to me. But Tierney actually has data saying that women have racial preferences and men don't. He says:
David predicted that black men are more likely to date white women than white men are to date black women — which is right, although not for the reason many people think. It’s not that white men are more reluctant to date non-whites; it’s that black women are less willing to date someone of another race.
News to me.

There are some wacky comments from those trying to be politically correct. One says, "How does this data work towards improving race relations? Does it not work to increase divide and suspicion?". Another says:
The biggest fallacy in this "research" on racial profiles and dating is that the experimental design is faulty. As a biologist, I will tell you that race is NOT A VALID criterion in taxonomy. For example. there is more genetic disimilarity between a two "white" guys sitting in a classroom side by side than the 'white' guy from New York and a "chinese" guy from Beijing. You might want to read the article in New York Times (April 5, 2007)which states that the difference between a Chihuahua and a Great Dane is one gene! So, how did the researchers decide who is Black, Hispanic and Asian? Why is Barack Obama considered "black"? Doesn't his mother (who is "white")get any credit for giving him 23 chromosomes when he was conceived?? Prof. S. K. Ballal?
So if I were getting a dog, Prof. Ballal would tell me that it is not meaningful to distinguish between a Chihuahua and a Great Dane.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Winning the vote

AP news:
Maryland officially became the first state on Tuesday to approve a plan to give its electoral votes for president to the winner of the national popular vote instead of the candidate chosen by state voters.
A statistician striving for terminologically correctness attacks another aspect of this story, but I think that he jumped on the wrong phrase. The error in the article is saying that new plan is to award electoral votes to "the winner of the national popular vote". In fact, the plan is to give the electoral votes to the winner of a plurality of the national popular vote. When we say that the President has to win the electoral vote, that means that he has to win a majority of the electoral vote.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

At Least Google Listens

From another blog:
Men talk to their search engines more than their girlfriends, work colleagues or even their families, research has claimed.

A poll conducted by MSN Search found that search engines are the first port of call for nearly half of men seeking advice. Family are consulted by a third, while partners are the sounding board of choice for only one in four men.

In comparison, the study into gender search patterns reveals that women still opt for more traditional advice options, with one in three rating family as their number one choice for help and information. ...

The problem may be the age old complaint about men "helping" when women have a problem. Men seek solutions, women seek empathy. Girlfriends don't offer solutions, Google does. Girlfriends offer consolation that men take as patronizing, Google offers information that can be used to overcome the problem. Girlfriends say "It's okay," Google gives you options for how to fix it.
Funny. That last comment was from a man, obviously. The (female) blogger says that maybe Google has better listening skills. Yeah, right.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Staying fat and single

Today's Dear Abby:
DEAR ABBY: I recently ended a nine-month relationship with a 40-year-old man I'll call Shallow Hal. I was head over heels in love with him. We had a lot in common and our personalities were compatible, but there was one major problem. Hal loved everything about me, but his love for me was contingent upon my losing weight. ...

For nine months Hal strung me along, and I believed that losing weight would change everything and we would end up together, happily ever after.

I am currently working on my master's in counseling psychology, and I should have known better. Clearly, Hal did not accept me for who I was, ...

Why do so many women like me waste so much time on men who simply don't care?
What she didn't do was to lose weight, and Dear Abby didn't advise her to. Abby said that it was more important for her to get a therapist to convince
her to be a contented fat woman than it is to please a man.

This is wacky. THe writer is better off losing weight than seeing a therapist.
Her boyfriend Hal told her what she needed to do. She is the one who strung him along by promising to lose weight.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Defining harassment

Princeton University says:
The University defines sexual harassment as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when ... such verbal or physical conduct has the effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual's work, academic performance, or living conditions by creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive environment.

Sexual harassment makes victims feel uncomfortable, hindering their ability to function in school, at work, or in social settings. Both men and women can be targets of sexual harassment, and it can occur between individuals of the same gender. Sexual harassment comes in many forms – it may be intentional or accidental, subtle or obvious.
No, that is not harassment. Harassment is repeatedly annoying someone for no legitimate purpose, over a prolonged period of time.

FIRE has info on other colleges trying to restrict free speech.

Girls Gone Wild maker to be jailed

LA Times reports:
A federal judge in Panama City, Fla., on Thursday ordered "Girls Gone Wild" founder Joe Francis jailed for contempt of court in a civil suit brought by seven young women who claimed the entrepreneur's film crews had placed them in sexually explicit situations.

Francis, the Santa Monica-based multimillionaire who has made a fortune selling risque videos of scantily clad coeds, was ordered by U.S. District Judge Richard Smoak to surrender to court by noon Thursday, but hadn't done so by mid-evening.

Francis told the Associated Press late Thursday that Smoak "had lost his mind."

"This judge has gone as far as to call me the devil and an evildoer," he said. "It is a case of a judge gone wild." ...

Smoak ordered Francis jailed if an accord had not been reached in the case by Saturday, but he suspended that order when it appeared that a deal had been struck.

At an emergency hearing Wednesday, a lawyer for the plaintiffs told the judge that he thought the case was resolved but then learned Francis had altered the offer, making it unacceptable to his clients.
I never heard of a defendant being jailed because he refused to agree to a settlement.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

SF woman complains of bicycle attack

California news:
It was supposed to be a birthday night out for the kids in San Francisco, but instead turned into a Critical Mass horror show -- complete with a pummeled car, a smashed rear window and little children screaming in terror.

The spontaneous Critical Mass bike rides, in which thousands of free-spirited cyclists roam the city, have been a fixture on the last Friday night of the month since the early 1990s. ...

Susan Ferrando, her husband, their two children and three preteens had come to San Francisco from Redwood City to celebrate the birthday of Ferrando's 11-year-old daughter. ...

Confusion, however, quickly turned to terror, she said, when the swarming cyclists began wildly circling around and then running into the sides of her Toyota van.

Filled with panic, Ferrando said, she started inching forward until coming to a stop at Post and Gough streets, where she was surrounded by bikers on all sides.

A biker in front blocked her as another biker began pounding on the windshield. Another was pounding on her window. Another pounded the other side.

"It seemed like they were using their bikes as weapons", Ferrando said.
The trouble with Ferrando's story is that there are dozens of witnesses who say that she was a hit-and-run driver. Being from out-of-town and not expecting crowds of bicyclists does not give her the right to hit them with her van.

George writes:
What gives those bicyclists the right to decide that their bike ride is more important than car traffic? The Critical Mass bikers don't ride in single file, run traffic lights, and cause traffic jams.
And why is Ferrando's birthday celebration more important that the bike ride? The police could take measures to slow down the bikers, but that would just cause worse traffic jams.

Under Idaho law, a bicyclist may treat a stop sign like a yield sign, and a red stop light like a stop sign.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

New H-1B invasion

VDARE reports and comments:
The rush by companies, particularly of the high-tech persuasion, to apply for H-1B visas has come to an end–only one day after it began.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said Tuesday that it had received 150,000 applications as of Monday afternoon for the controversial work permits, which allow foreigners with a bachelor’s degree in their area of specialty to be employed in the United States for up to six years.

Now, what this is really about: there are 10,000,000 folks that apply to get into the US each year. A subset of those folks are willing to do are say anything to get US immigration rights-which are considerably more valuable than anything they can reasonably aspire to in their home companies. Bloated, corporate welfare cases like Microsoft, HP, Intel and Oracle depend on cheap guest worker visas so they can pay employees in immigration rights-rather than cash-and appear like viable companies.

Those spots should be auctioned off. The more an employer is paying for an H1-B visa, the more highly-skilled the worker in question is likely to be. IOW, we really will be getting those people with skills we can’t find here.
Auctioning off the visas is actually a good idea. Anytime we have a scarce resource, it is worthwhile finding out what firms are willing to pay. Companies that they are not just seeking cheap labor, but desperately filling jobs that no American can do. If so, then they should be willing to pay high prices for the visas, and an auction would help the feds make sure that the visas go to companies that really need them.

Update: I didn't think that there was any market data on what an H-1B is worth, but this article says:
We don’t really have "markets" in U.S. immigration rights. But India does. In the Indian dowry market, an Indian IT worker can expect the dowry from the bride's family to double when he acquires an H-1b visa (which also confers barely a 50% chance of attaining citizenship).

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Schools drop Holocaust and Crusades

UK news:
Schools have avoided teaching the Holocaust and the Crusades in history lessons because they are concerned about causing offence to Muslim pupils or challenging "charged" versions of history which children have been taught at home, government research has found.

A report for the Department for Education and Skills found that a history department in a northern city had avoided selecting the Holocaust as a GCSE topic for fear of confronting "anti-semitic sentiment and Holocaust denial" among some Muslim pupils.

Another school decided to teach the Holocaust despite anti-semitic sentiment among students, but avoided the Crusades as "their balanced treatment of the topic would have directly challenged what was taught in some local mosques".
They ought to be teaching that the Crusades saved European civilization.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Bad Kids? Train the Parents

A new study claims that parenting classes work:
Here’s an interesting paper from the British Medical Journal which argues that children’s anti-social behavior can be significantly altered by training their parents to be better parents. (And here is the BMJ’s editorial summary.)

The paper’s authors conducted a randomized study with 153 socially disadvantaged Welsh parents with children aged 3 or 4. Some of the parents were given a 12-week “intervention programme,” in which two professionals taught the parents how to reward, punish, and discipline their children. The control group of parents were wait-listed for this workshop.

The results showed that the children of the parents who took the workshop behaved significantly better afterward, at least in the short term.
These results aren't too surprising, but don't really prove that the classes are teaching anything useful. Maybe just inducing parents to reflect on what they are doing causes them to do better. It would be more interesting if someone did an experiment like this comparing different parenting theories.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Paranoid parents don't allow bicycles

An LA Times op-ed says:
"Haven't you heard about all of the predators in this area?" asked a father.

"No, I haven't," I said. "I think this is a pretty safe neighborhood."

"You'd be surprised," he replied, lowering his eyebrows. "You should read the Megan's Law website." He continued: "You know how to solve the traffic problem around this school? Get rid of all the predators. Then you won't have any more traffic."
The article describe how kids aren't allowed to ride bicycles anymore.

Don't-mess-with-Texas justice

Texas news:
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Darrell Roberson came home from a card game late one night to find his wife rolling around with another man in a pickup truck in the driveway.

Caught in the act with her lover, Tracy Denise Roberson -- thinking quickly, if not clearly -- cried rape, authorities say. Her husband pulled a gun and killed the other man with a shot to the head.

On Thursday, a grand jury handed up a manslaughter indictment against the wife, not the husband.

In a case likely to reinforce the state's reputation for don't-mess-with-Texas justice, the grand jury declined to charge the husband with murder, the charge on which he was arrested by police.
Wow, a woman might actually suffer an adverse consequence to making a false rape charge. Besides her lover getting shot, that is.

Boy caught using slang in email

UK news:
A father criticised a police force today for launching an investigation after his ten-year-old son allegedly called a schoolfriend "gay" in an email.

Company director Alan Rawlinson said he was astounded after two police officers arrived at his home in Bold Heath, Cheshire, to speak to his son George.

The officers were called earlier this month after a parent complained that George had called her son a "gay boy" in an email.

Mr Rawlinson, 41, said: "I could not believe what I was hearing when the officers told me.

"They told me they considered it a very serious offence, I thought they were joking at first. ...

"The use of the word gay would imply this is homophobic but we would be hard-pushed to say this is a homophobic crime."
I thought that "gay" was a preferred term.