Wednesday, May 30, 2007

A school principal who hates tests

Dale Jones, a local Cupertino California school principal, writes and attack on standardized tests in the May 29 San Jose Mercury News. (It is not online, strangely.) He complains that the tests take 6 hours (spread over several days), and adds, "what messages does it send to our children when we devote this kind of time to a test?".

He also complains that most of the kids have to take the tests in English, that the schools can't do fire drills during a test, and that test scores can go up if the school concentrate on the curriculum.

His real frustration is that he is unable to convince parents that the tests are worthless. Parents like the tests.

The message it sends to our children is that they will be graded on what they learn. The tests aren't much different from those that have been used for generations, except that the results are more widely reported and acted on.

Woman kills husband, goes free

The LA Times reports
After spending 16 years in prison, Hudie Joyce Walker walked out of a Pomona courtroom Tuesday a free woman — a sign of how much the law has changed for battered women who strike back.

Walker was the beneficiary of the first appellate court decision to interpret a 2002 state law that allows inmates to reopen their cases if they can show that expert testimony on abuse probably would have changed the outcome. ...

Walker was charged with first-degree murder for allegedly shooting her husband, Thomas Walker, at their Hacienda Heights home on Mother's Day 1990. It was a day she had hoped to go to a Dodgers game with her daughters and grandchildren.

Her husband, who had beaten her for years, had other ideas. He insisted that she accompany him to the Moose Lodge in El Monte, one of his regular watering holes.

After they returned home, he pointed a shotgun at her and said, "Today will be your last goddamned day on this Earth," according to court records.
Note how uncorroborated self-serving allegations against the husband are reported as fact, but the LA Times only says that she "allegedly" shot her husband. In fact, a jury convicted her of premeditatedly murdering him, and she even pled guilty to manslaughter eventually.

Here is a story about women who go free after killing their own kids.

The whole idea that expert testimony might manipulates jurors is offensive. Jurors know what murder is. There is no need for experts to tell jurors what is or is not murcer. When experts are allowed to testify on stuff like this, then prosecution and defense experts offer dueling theories about the defendant's state of mind. The experts just don't add much.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Wiring for mindreading

Wired magazine reports:
Three months ago I took my 7-year-old son through a neurological treatment designed to hack his brain. ... As a child diagnosed with sensory processing disorder, or SPD, Caleb doesn't experience senses the way other people do. Stimuli from his environment and body are sometimes misinterpreted or ignored altogether. ... The month-long Sensory Learning Program in Boulder, Colorado, was designed to recalibrate Caleb's reception of sensory input, reorganizing the neural pathways that process information. ...

Another interesting "side-effect" is that Caleb has begun to guess peoples' motives by observing their behavior.
I didn't know that mindreading could be taught by rewiring the brain.

The temperature CO2 correlation

A common global warming argument is to show a graph showing a correlation between increases in temperature and CO2 over millions of years. A correlation does not necessarily imply causation, but in the presence of a strong theory that CO2 is a greenhouse gas, the graph is pretty convincing.

The only trouble is that a closer examination shows that the tightest correlation is between the temperature increases and the CO2 increases 800 years later. This suggests that the temperature increases is causing the CO2 increase, and not the other way around.

The global warming scientists acknowledge this. They say that in typical past warming periods, the Earth warmed for 800 years before causing an increase in CO2. The CO2 then exacerbated the warming for rest of the typical 5000 year cycle, before some unknown force started a cooling trend. They say that the CO2 still causes warming, it just hasn't started the warming cycle as it has in the last century.

All that may be true, but what does the graph prove of relevance to us today? Nothing that I can see. It doesn't give any evidence at all that the recent warming was caused by CO2 or humans. It doesn't tell us whether CO2 has anything to do with the duration or intensity of a warming cycle. It doesn't give us any reason to cut back on CO2 emissions.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Misleading poll on immigration

Yesterday's lead NY Times front page story announced that poll results favor the current immigration reform bill in Congress. It said:
Taking a pragmatic view on a divisive issue, a large majority of Americans want to change the immigration laws to allow illegal immigrants to gain legal status and to create a new guest worker program to meet future labor demands, the poll found.
Here is the actual poll question:
61. If you had to choose, what do you think should happen to most illegal immigrants who have lived and worked in the United States for at least two years: They should be given a chance to keep their jobs and eventually apply for legal status, OR They should be deported back to their native country?

5/18-23/07 Results: 62% Chance to apply for legal status, 33% Deported, 4% DK/NA
The new immigration bill does not just give illegal aliens a "chance to apply for legal status", it gives them legal status immediately. No chance, and no wait. All they have to do is to prove that they were here before Jan. 2007.

So that 62% includes all of those who want to give illegal aliens legal status immediately, as in the Kyl-Kennedy bill, as well as those want some more moderate procedure in which illegals could apply for legal status, and some would be granted it and some would not.

There are also people who want to continue the status quo where illegal aliens do not get legal status, but are not deported either. I don't know how they would have answered.

Meanwhile, the Wash. Post reports on another aspect of the bill:
NEW YORK - Would America open its doors for the next Albert Einstein? Under the new immigration reform bill, the answer is maybe, but maybe not.

For years, foreign-born Nobel Prize winners, corporate officers and the top talents in sports, arts and sciences have had a fast-track to permanent residency and, eventually, citizenship in the United States. In the name of attracting the world's greatest and brightest, authorities have granted these luminaries priority access to green cards under a little-known provision offered to "aliens of extraordinary abilities." ...

But the bill now being debated in Congress does away with the special "EB-1" preferred status category, effectively forcing foreign VIPs to take a number and get in line with everyone else. ...

Last year, 36,960 individuals and family members were granted "priority" permanent resident status under the "extraordinary abilities" category. Under the new 100-point system outlined in the bill, both "extraordinary or ordinary" abilities in specialized fields would offer, at most, eight additional points to a candidate. That is less than the 10 points awarded to those applicants holding a two-year college degree.
This is bizarre. I have complained that the H-1B visas are supposed to goto foreigners filling jobs for which no American is available, but in fact they nearly all goto recent graduates who displace Americans.

But these EB-1 visas really goto for foreigners of unusual merit. I say that we should keep the EB-1 visas and scrap the H-1Bs.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Who opposed the Iraq War?

Conventional wisdom is that while leading Democrat presidential candidates Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, Joe Biden, and John Kerry all voted for the Iraq War, Barack Obama and Al Gore have the virtue of being against the war all along.

I am wondering where the proof for this is. Obama and Gore were out of the Congress, and did not have to vote one way or the other. Their statements appear ambiguous. Eg, Gore said in Sept. 2002:
I believe this proposed foreshortening of deliberation in the Congress robs the country of the time it needs for careful analysis of exactly what may lie before us.
Gore made some valid points in that speech, but claiming that we rushed into war is not going to win him any votes. There was a long and public deliberation over the war decision. It is not clear from Gore's comments how he would have voted on the war. I think that it is a mistake to say that Obama and Gore were anti-war unless they actively spoke out against the war.

Gore also said:
I vividly remember that during one of the campaign debates in 2000, Jim Lehrer asked then-Governor Bush whether or not America, after being involved with military action, should engage in any form of nation building. The answer was, "I don't think so. I think what we need to do is convince people who live in the lands they live in to build the nations. Maybe I'm missing something here. We're going to have kind of a nation-building corps in America? Absolutely not." My point is, this is a Bush doctrine. This is administration policy. Given that it is administration policy, we have to take that into account as a nation in looking at the likely consequences of an overwhelming American military victory against the government of Iraq. If we go in there and dismantle them - and they deserve to be dismantled - but then we wash our hands of it and walk away and leave it in a situation of chaos, and say, "That's for y'all to decide how to put things back together now," that hurts us.
So Gore agreed that the Saddam Hussein govt of Iraq deserved to be dismantled, but argued that the USA should occupy Iraq long enough for some serious nation-building.

That is what Pres. Bush has done. He broke is promise to avoid nation-building. Those who oppose nation-building have a right to be annoyed with Bush's Iraq policy. But Gore's position was to advocate just the sort of nation-building that Bush has done. I don't see how Gore is going to argue that he would have handled the war any better.

This excerpt from Gore's new book, The Assault on Reason, starts with a complaint about a lack of public debate leading up to the Iraq War. I wonder how Gore could be so detached from reality. No war in all of human history was more publicly and openly debated. The arguments for and against the war were debated in Congress, on TV, on blogs, at the United Nations, and in other countries around the world.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Probability of guilt

This article describes a nurse in jail as a result of bogus mathematical arguments, and explains:
suppose that police pick up a suspect and match his or her DNA to evidence collected at a crime scene. Suppose that the likelihood of a match, purely by chance, is only 1 in 10,000. Is this also the chance that they are innocent? It’s easy to make this leap, but you shouldn’t.

Here’s why. Suppose the city in which the person lives has 500,000 adult inhabitants. Given the 1 in 10,000 likelihood of a random DNA match, you’d expect that about 50 people in the city would have DNA that also matches the sample. So the suspect is only 1 of 50 people who could have been at the crime scene. Based on the DNA evidence only, the person is almost certainly innocent, not certainly guilty.

This kind of error is so subtle that the untrained human mind doesn’t deal with it very well, and worse yet, usually cannot even recognize its own inability to do so.
I don't think that the author deals with it very well either. Both conclusions depend on unspecified assumptions about how the suspect was selected, and could be correct. More info is needed.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Mr. Right, It Turns Out, Does Not Take Classes

The NY Times has a silly article about disappointed women who take introductory wine-tasting classes looking for men. You'll find better analysis here:
Men prefer to look at something they have decided to do and figure it out on their own. They like to observe, analyze, and discover. They accept the risks and enjoy the excitement of trial and error. They don't like sitting around having someone tell them what to do, and they aren't intrigued by the prospect of meeting women who spend so much time doing something they loathe.

Truly attractive women need never search for men. We men are searching for them everywhere, all the time, around the clock, from puberty until death us do part. We have men positioned on alert around the planet in strategic locations ready to launch at a moment's notice should an attractive woman appear. A pretty girl can't go to the grocery store for a quart of milk without coming back with a date. Follow a pretty girl around for a few hours and you will find that she is constantly hit on by every man with a pulse. As far as providing our companionship to attractive women in need of it, we men have the Earth covered. There are no gaps in our coverage. None.

So if a woman and her girlfriends can find no men who will date them it is not because all the available single men have been sucked off the face of the planet and deposited in some faraway nebula. It is far more likely that they have overestimated their attractiveness in the dating market and rejected the invitations that any reasonably attractive, healthy woman receives in the course of a week. There is not a single woman alive who can fail to get a date by lowering her expectations, which are too often wildly inflated by conceit.

The fact that such overpriced women seek men by taking classes in tennis, sailing, and wine-tasting demonstrates that they are trying to cull out blue collar applicants for their affections and market their charms to the elite.

The kind of women who complain about the absence of men are the kind of women who complain about the presence of men. Complaining women are a form of Man Repellant. This is an important clue as to why these women are dateless.
The simple explanation is that real men don't even drink wine.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Pediatricians refusing patients

Business Week reports:
Pediatricians are encountering parents who refuse vaccinations for their children, prompting the doctors to show them the door

... In a survey of 302 pediatricians published a year-and-a-half ago in Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine, 28% "said that they would ask the family to seek care elsewhere" for "refusing specific vaccines," and 39% said they would do so for families refusing all vaccines.

They mostly cited as the reason "lack of shared goals" and "lack of trust," while "fear of litigation" was cited by a relatively small number. ...

Increasingly it seems, the pediatricians are following through on their threats, despite the potential for serious revenue loss. ...

And what about the business implications for pediatricians giving the boot to an apparently growing group of parents? Douglas Diekema, a Seattle pediatrician who authored the academy's guidelines on handling anti-vaccination parents, says that so far "The numbers are small enough that it has little impact on physicians."

But longer term, he argues that physicians who refuse to treat objecting patients may actually save money.
If a pediatrician refuses non-vaccinating parents, then you don't want that pediatrician anyway. The job of a physician is to make recommendations, and it is the responsibility of the patient or parent to make the final decisions. Pediatricians don't necessarily know anything about vaccines; they are just following the official mandates from the CDC.

The vaccine schedules are very profitable for pediatricians, and many of them very much like being able to bully patients into following orders. If the pediatrician is going to disregard your wishes on vaccines, then he may also disregard your wishes on more important matters. My advice is to tell the medico to his face that you make your own decisions, and if he has a problem with that, go elsewhere.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Why Americans hate soccer

Here is an amusing anti-soccer rant:
Soccer is a great game for uncoordinated kids to play because no one else out there appears to be doing it right, either. It's impossible to be humiliated while you're playing. You can't strike out, get sacked, or shoot an air ball. You can't even fight, like in hockey.

Soccer is the ideal sport for countries that don't have any other source of national pride remaining. ...

Soccer is effeminate. ...

No, I mean it literally: soccer is a sport for women and girlie-men. ...

If you play or care about soccer and you call yourself a man, you are a liar. It's a sport that requires men to cast aside what makes them men. Of course, if you live in Washington, New York, or (snicker) Greenwich, and you make your living as a law professor or in some other occupation that doesn't require you to lift anything heavier than a salad fork, well, then soccer is perfect for you, twig-boy. You won't look any more ridiculous doing it than any of the nancies competing in the World Cup, or a girls JV team.

Want to know why the rest of the world loves soccer? The rest of the world isn't filled with men anymore. It's filled with appeasers and fruits. Have you ever met a foreigner whom you didn't suspect of being gay? I rest my case.

Friday, May 11, 2007

British TV gone feminine

The British BBC reports:
British TV standards are deteriorating because the BBC is "run by women", astronomer Sir Patrick Moore has said.

The Sky at Night host also described female newsreaders as "jokey" and called for separate channels to cater for the needs of the different sexes.

The presenter said: "The trouble is the BBC now is run by women and it shows soap operas, cooking, quizzes, kitchen-sink plays. You wouldn't have had that in the golden days." ...

I used to watch Doctor Who and Star Trek, but they went PC - making women commanders, that kind of thing. I stopped watching Sir Patrick Moore
"I would like to see two independent wavelengths - one controlled by women, and one for us, controlled by men." ...

"I used to watch Doctor Who and Star Trek, but they went PC - making women commanders, that kind of thing. I stopped watching."

Sir Patrick appears in the Guinness Book of Records as the longest-serving TV presenter, having appeared on his show about astronomy since 1957.
In Britain, the people who read the news on TV are calls newsreaders.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Who is smarter than a fifth grader?

My 5th grade daughter just competed in the Santa Cruz Math Contest, and had to answer these questions:
10. Find the surface area of a plate with the radius of 6 inn. Use 3.14 for pi.
11. A Ferris wheel at the boardwalk has a diameter of 50 meters. Find its circumference. Use 3.14 for pi.
19. What is the sum of the first ten prime numbers?

Answers: about 113 in2, 314 m, 101.
I am afraid that I would not have won. Problem 11 is just wrong. If the radius were 50 then the circumference would be 314, but as it is, the correct answer is pi times the diameter, or 157 m.

You can only get the approved answer to problem 19 if you count 1 as a prime number. But it is not. It seems to satisfy the definition for primes, but it is excluded in order to simplify mathematical statements such as the unique prime factorization theorem. If 1 were a prime, then prime factorizations would no longer be unique as you could include or not include factors of 1.

The difficulty with problem 10 is that it uses the term "surface area", instead of just "area". The term "surface area" suggests that the plate should be considered a 3-dimensional object, and that the areas of both sides should be added together. The given answer is just the area of one side.