Monday, June 29, 2009

Assault with potato chips

A Tennessee newspaper reports:
Arguing couple does no damage with Cheetos
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
By Brian Mosely

A local couple arrested on domestic assault charges Sunday had an unusual choice of alleged weaponry -- Cheetos.

Warrants filed by Cpl. Kevin Roddy, of the Bedford County Sheriff's Department, stated he responded to a call at a home on Pass Road, where 40-year-old James Earl Taylor and Mary S. Childers, 44, were allegedly involved in an argument.

According to Roddy's report, the pair became "involved in a verbal altercation" with each other "at which time Cheetos potato chips were used in the assault."

"There was evidence of the assault," the report read, "however no physical marks on either party and the primary aggressor was unable to be determined."

Both Taylor and Childers were charged by Roddy with domestic assault. Both posted a bond of $2,500 and will appear in Bedford County General Sessions Court on July 15.
No, this is not a joke. The cops really do go around making ridiculous domestic violence arrests.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Technologies I Hate

PC Mag has a column titled, 12 Technologies I Hate. Here are mine.

Apple iTunes - The Apple ipods are very expensive and lacking in features compared to the competition, but the worst thing is that you have to use Apple iTunes.

Cell phone plans - They are so annoying that I use a prepaid phone. Every time I boot it up, it displays how many paid minutes I have left, when they expire, and how many missed calls I have. Not even the Apple iphone will do any of that.

Email apps - The email apps from Msft, Apple, Mozilla, etc are highly polished and feature rich, but brain-damaged. Crude web-based systems sometimes work a lot better. That is crazy. A native app should be better than a browswer-based app.

Car stereos - My car stereo died about ten years ago, and I am still waiting for one that is more convenient than my portable ipod-type music player.

Adobe Flash - I know it is needed for YouTube, but most it is just an annoyance delivering ads and bad website graphics. I hope HTML 5 soon makes it unnecessary for YouTube. I keep it turned off.

Blu-ray - Everyone cheered when this drove HD-DVD out of business, but it seems like a step backwards to me.

Bluetooth - A better technology for wireless devices is really needed.

Universal remote control - I've bought a couple of fancy ones, and I returned them because they could not recognize my devices and they were more trouble than they were worth.

Online photo prints. This should be a natural, but all of the sites are really painful. I have attempted an online order about 25 times, and succeeded only about 3 times.

Update: A reader suggests following these ATT instructions to request text messages with account info. I don't know about this. I also read stories like this about people running up huge iphone bills without their knowledge. I also read that the average iphone user pays about $3 per minute, because of billing confusion. My guess is that most iphone users do not know how to get the account info, if it even works at all.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

National gay leader

The NY Times reports:
Yet the gay rights movement, which is about to enter its fifth decade, has never had a such a leader despite making remarkable strides in a relatively short period of time.

Gay people have no national standard-bearer, no go-to sound-byte machine for the media.
Now they have Perez Hilton!

Maybe they were better off with no leader.

Bad advice from tech magazine

Wired mag gives this bad advice:
On my blog, I reprint letters from newspaper advice columns with my own comical answers. Am I risking a legal smackdown from Dear Abby?

You bet. The advice queen's reps can reasonably contend that your blog violates copyright.
No, Dear Abby does not have a copyright in the letters. Not unless she admits to writing fake letters, and she isn't likely to do that. Any copyright would belong to the author. And copyright law does not block commentary such as what I am doing now.
My company seems to be hiring lots of foreigners on H-1B visas, while recent US college grads like my daughter go jobless. How do I complain about this without seeming racist?

Applications for H-1B visas are actually down this year, what with the US job market shriveling. ... Visa holders must be paid at least the "prevailing wage" for their occupation, as determined by the US government, and immigration paperwork can run up to $8,500 per visa. So the company doesn't have a financial incentive to load up on H-1Bs. It would be cheaper to hire your kid. ... Meanwhile, congrats on working for a company that's actually hiring.
No, it is cheaper to hire the H-1B foreign worker, and that is the only reason any company ever hires the H-1B. H-1B workers are nearly always paid less than American workers doing the same job. It is not racist to oppose an American policy that favors foreigners over unemployed Americans.
Due to my foolish overreliance on equities, the 529 account I've been keeping for my teenage son has lost more than half its value. How do I tell the boy?

Take a cue from politics and lead with a message of hope. Assure Junior that you're still committed to helping him attend his first-choice college. ...

You should also make it clear that you take full responsibility and are willing to make sacrifices. If that means putting in overtime, getting loans, or selling your beloved Harley, so be it. ...
Again, this is completely foolish advice. He is saying that the dad should mimic Pres. Obama by offering a blank check on money that he does not have.

Would he also tell the kid that he can have his first choice of car, regardless of price and availability of funds? No one should make such silly promises.

An expensive college is a luxury. If the kid just wants education, there are much cheaper ways to get it.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Bogus data on gays

The San Jose Mercury News reported this story on page 1A a couple of days ago:
In the midst of the nation's widening debate over whether same-sex couples should be allowed to marry, the U.S. Census Bureau has quietly completed a statistical portrait of U.S. lesbian and gay couples who describe themselves as married.
Clayton Cramer explains:
There's a new study out showing Census data on married same-sex couples vs. married opposite-sex couples--and the results are quite surprising in how much they are alike. But Professor Dale Carpenter over at Volokh Conspiracy points out that the same-sex couples are so atypical of what we know from other studies that it is likely what is called a "miscoding error," where mistakes in recording sex on forms mean that many of those identified as same-sex married couples really aren't.
The newspaper has not published a correction, and neither has the US Census.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Video game law

California has a law banning sales of extremely offensive and violent video games to minors, but the federal court has ruled that the law violates free speech rights. Meanwhile, there is a federal law against anyone with a depiction of an animal being harmed or killed, and it has so far resisted court challenge.

So if you are making a video game involving shooting, be sure it shows killing people and not animals. That is the way free speech works in the USA.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Mother’s Fight Against Junk Food

The NY Times reports:
Ms. Roth and her husband, Ben, say they were told by Helene Moffatt, a school safety official, that if they considered the regular dissemination of junk food a threat to their children’s health and safety — and indeed, they do — they should request a health and safety transfer, something that generally follows threats of violence. That transfer request, they were told, would also require filing a complaint with the police. ...

“She has some valid points, but the way she delivers them is abrasive,” said Jim Stanek, a fellow P.S. 9 parent, who responded angrily to an e-mail message Ms. Roth sent to around 75 parents saying that the physical education teacher who served her children doughnuts probably “couldn’t pass a standardized phys ed. test.”
She sounds like a nut, but it is annoying how some schools feed the kids sugary snacks all day long.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Drink spiking a myth

An Australian newspaper reports:
Drink spiking is largely a myth and far more likely to be an excuse young women use after they become heavily intoxicated, according to WA research.

A Perth study of suspected drink spiking victims found claims of being given sedatives or illicit drugs without consent are exaggerated and that alcohol is often the real culprit. ...

The researchers said they did not identify a single case where a sedative drug was likely to have been placed illegally in a drink in a pub or nightclub.

The study also showed that many people remained in denial, with more than a third still believing they had been victims of drink spiking, irrespective of test results which disproved this.
Exaggerated? No, it is a hoax. Alcohol does the job.

Dogs do not feel guilty

The NY Times reports:
Alexandra Horowitz of Barnard College’s psychology department studies animal cognition, and has long been fascinated with the way dog owners anthropomorphize their pets’ behavior — ascribing to them human emotions like jealousy and guilt. “I wanted to look at some of these attributes and see if there’s anything behind them,” she said.
She ccould not find anything, except that dogs frequently behave in a way to please their owners.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Alcohol may not be good for you

The NY Times reports:
By now, it is a familiar litany. Study after study suggests that alcohol in moderation may promote heart health and even ward off diabetes and dementia. The evidence is so plentiful that some experts consider moderate drinking — about one drink a day for women, about two for men — a central component of a healthy lifestyle.

But what if it’s all a big mistake? ...

The association was first made in the early 20th century. In 1924, a Johns Hopkins biologist, Raymond Pearl, published a graph with a U-shaped curve, its tall strands on either side representing the higher death rates of heavy drinkers and nondrinkers; in the middle were moderate drinkers, with the lowest rates. Dozens of other observational studies have replicated the findings, particularly with respect to heart disease.

“With the exception of smoking and lung cancer, this is probably the most established association in the field of nutrition,” said Eric Rimm, an associate professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health. “There are probably at least 100 studies by now, and the number grows on a monthly basis. That’s what makes it so unique.”
I have commented before that a 2006 study showed that the research is flawed. The article explains some of the flaws.

This shows how little is known about nutrition. With all those studies, they can't tell whether alcohol is good or bad for you. They cannot tell you whether vegetables are good for you either.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The legal dope experiment in Alaska

Nicholas D. Kristof writes in the NY Times:
Moving forward, we need to be less ideological and more empirical in figuring out what works in combating America’s drug problem. One approach would be for a state or two to experiment with legalization of marijuana, allowing it to be sold by licensed pharmacists, while measuring the impact on usage and crime.
That sounds like a good idea, but the experiment has already been done in Alaska:
In 1975, the Alaska Supreme Court ruled in "Ravin v. State of Alaska" that a fundamental constitutional right to privacy protects personal marijuana possession. This legalized the possession of up to four ounces of marijuana for personal use. In 1990, however, a voter initiative changed state law to make possession of any amount of marijuana illegal, even in one's own home.

This clash of laws has lead to a number of court cases and appeals in the state. The latest appellate court decision deemed the 1990 voter initiative unconstitutional, on the grounds that a popular voter initiative cannot overturn a core constitutional principle.
The Alaskans keep trying to recriminalize marijuana, but the courts don't allow it, as this July 2006 story says:
A Superior Court judge has struck down part of a new Alaska law intended to circumvent the state Supreme Court's ruling that legalizes possession of small amounts of marijuana, the Associated Press reported July 11.
If Kristof really wants an empirical approach, then I suggest that he learns what happened in Alaska, and find out why the Alaskans want to recriminalize marijuana.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Obama defends the same-sex marriage ban

Not everyone realizes that there is a federal law banning same-sex marriage. (DOMA) While some USA states now issue same-sex marriage licenses, no such arrangements are recognized as marriages under federal law.

This DOMA law was signed by Pres. Bill Clinton, and now defended by Pres. Barack Obama:
The Obama Justice Department yesterday filed a brief urging a California district court to dismiss a little-known constitutional challenge to DOMA filed in late 2008 by a married gay couple.
Obama was elected with a promise to oppose same-sex marriage, so this should not be surprising.

I did not know it, but the US Supreme Court has already ruled on whether the US Constitution requires same-sex marriage in Baker v Nelson (1972).

Friday, June 12, 2009

Satellite signals go thru air

The NY Times reports:
After Long Wait, Stations Switch Off Analog

Cable and satellite customers are automatically prepared because they do not rely on over-the-air signals.
Just how does the reporter think that those satellite signals get here, if not over the air?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Fox News and reality

Charles Krauthammer writes:
What Fox did is not just create a venue for alternative opinion. It created an alternate reality. ...

That's why Fox News is so resented. It altered the intellectual and ideological landscape of America. It gave not only voice but also legitimacy to a worldview that had been utterly excluded from the mainstream media.

I'm proud to be part of this televised apostasy. ...

When I left psychiatry to start writing, ...
I think I get his point, but he must have learned about alternate realities in psychiatry school.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Mohammedan is not a misnomer

Some say that I should not use the term "Mohammedan" because some Mohammedans prefer not to use the term. The Islamic Bulletin says:
What does 'Islam' mean?
The Arabic word 'Islam' simply means 'submission', and derives from a word meaning 'peace'. In a religious context it means complete submission to the will of God. 'Mohammedanism' is thus a misnomer because it suggests that Muslims worship Muhammad rather than God.
This is just wrong. It is not a misnomer. The term Lutheran does not suggest that Lutherans worship Luther. The term Buddhist does not suggest that Buddhists worship Buddha. Christians do not worship Christ rather than God. Christians follow the teachings of Christ. Mohammedans follow the teachings of Mohammad. It is a completely accurate and inoffensive term.

A 1913 dictionary defines:
a. Of or pertaining to Mohammed, or the religion and institutions founded by Mohammed.
n. A follower of Mohammed, the founder of Islamism; one who professes Mohammedanism or Islamism.
Mohammad founded the religion of Islam, and he also political and legal systems. The followers of Mohammad usually subscribe to his religious and his non-religious teachings. If you just want to refer to someone who subscribes to the religion of Islam, then I guess moslem or muslim would be the best term. If you want to describe someone who more broadly follows the teachings of Mohammad, then I think that Mohammedan is the more accurate term.

I am not trying to offend anyone, or to reinvent terms. I don't think that I am saying anything here that Mohammedans would disagree with. Being a Mohammedan is more than just subscribing to a religion.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

The United States is not at war with the Muslim world

An article in Foreign Policy magazine argues:
Even before U.S. President Barack Obama utters a word of his long-anticipated June 4 address to "the Muslim world," there is already a problem with the rhetoric. As well meaning as it sounds, the term "Muslim world" is a trap. There is no unified Muslim world. And describing it as such legitimizes the idea that it is "us vs. them" -- just the sort of divided world that al Qaeda wants to create.

To see the trouble with the term "Muslim world," one needs only to try and define it. Who is included in the Muslim world? What countries -- or individuals -- make the cut, and who defines it? Is half-Muslim Nigeria a part of the Muslim world as much as the Islamic Republic of Iran? And how do different sects in internal conflict, like the Sunni and Shia of Iraq, reconcile their placement in a single "world" to American eyes? Are extremists -- such as the Taliban or al Qaeda -- lumped together with secular Muslims?

No one questions that a religion known as Islam exists or that many Muslims believe in their global community, the ummah. As a theological reference, however, the ummah is vaguely analogous to the belief that all Christians are part of the body of Christ. It is a powerful spiritual metaphor, but not a visceral part of every believer's identity.
This argument is absurd. Of course there is a Muslim world. I prefer to call it the Mohammedan world.

I don't know that al Qaeda wants to create a divided world. I thought that they want to expand the (Sunni) Mohammedan world. But whatever al Qaeda wants, it does not change the fact that it is useful to lump the Mohammedans together, just as it is useful to speak of the Christian world or the English-speaking world.

Usually when Mohammedans take over a country, they kick all the infidels out. Apparently that hasn't happened in Nigeria yet. But we don't discard the concept because Nigeria is half Mohammedan. That is like saying that there is no such thing as daylight because it gets dark during twilight.
Thankfully, President Obama has a chance to get it right. ... At the tail end of the speech, however, he made that critical rhetorical slip: "Let me repeat: The United States is not at war with the Muslim world."
In the past 20 years, the USA has gone to war five times in behalf of Mohammedans -- in Kuwait, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq.

The dark side of soy

Men's Health magazine reports:
The unassuming soybean has silently infiltrated the American diet as what might just be the perfect protein source: It's cheap and vegetarian, and could even unclog our hearts. But there may be a hidden dark side to soy, one that has the power to undermine everything it means to be male.
The story tells of a man who drank 3 quarts of soy milk a day, and his body became feminized.

It is healthier to eat lard.

This article cites studies showing that soy cuts breast cancer risk for chinese women.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Anger as school tells children aged five about gay issues

A UK newspaper reports:
Pupils as young as five were left 'confused and worried' after a school assembly to explain homosexuality.

Teachers played a recording of Elton John's Your Song before explaining that the singer is homosexual and what the term means.

The children were then shown images of same-sex couples.

Parents said the experience left some pupils afraid to cuddle each other in the playground in case other children thought they were gay. ...

When parents complained to the headmaster, they claim they were treated as 'homophobic' for even raising the issue.
This is coming to the USA, as long as homosexuality is considered a civil rights issue just like race.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Germans are confused about Obama

A new poll reports:
An amazingly high 89% of Germans trusted Obama to do the right thing regarding world affairs.

The German public does disapprove, by 37% to 54%, of Obama's escalation of the war in Afghanistan, and by 52% to 42%, favors immediately ending Germany's participation in that war.
The survey is contradictory. It says that Germans trust Obama to do the right thing, but they don't agree with what he has actually done. So what are they trusting him for? Is this trust just talk, or can it be measured somehow? If they really trust him in world affairs, why don't they trust him in Afghanistan?

They appear to suffer from some sort of Obama derangement syndrome. They say they support him, but they don't actually support what he is doing.

Avoiding dictatorial professionals

Donald M. Berwick is a Harvard pediatrician, and he advocates
giving patients what they want.
Q. Tell me about your views on “noncompliance.”

A. I think “noncompliance” is a control word, a power word, and we need a slightly different one. “Compliance” means I order and you either do it or not; you obey. Patients live in their bodies and may know more than the person who prescribes or does their procedure. They may know better about what is going on in their body and about the optimization of their own life. I think people who aren’t taking their own medicine are telling us valuable information about their medications and their life, and we need to listen to them.
A lot of physicians have a different attitude. They want to drop you if you show any signs of noncompliance. Other professionals have the same disease, including lawyers, optometrists, dentists, etc. Usually they will withhold info in order to try to prevent you from making an informed decision.

To my astonishment, I have learned that many otherwise intelligent people do not mind being manipulated in this way. Some of them don't seem to even realize that they have a choice about their own medical care.

Meanwhile, there are physicians who regularly complain about patients doing their own research on the web. These patients come in with there own diagnosis, and know what drug prescription they need. You might think that physicians would be happy about this, but some of them hate it.

A good way to test your professional's attitude is to try refusing his advice. Wait
for him to recommend a treatment, and then tell him that you are going to do something different instead. If he recognizes that you are in control of your own life, then he will accept and cooperate with your decision. If he tries to stop you, then you should fire him immediately.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Assimilated Pronunciation

Mark Krikorian got into trouble for this:
So, are we supposed to use the Spanish pronunciation, so-toe-my-OR, or the natural English pronunciation, SO-tuh-my-er, like Niedermeyer? The president pronounced it both ways, first in Spanish, then after several uses, lapsing into English. Though in the best "Pockiston" tradition, he also rolled his r's in Puerto Rico.
He's got a point. There is something unamerican about those pronunciations. The country is Pakistan, not Pockyston. I don't know what Sotomayor's problem is, but I guess we will soon find out.

Mohammedan inventions

Wired magazine explains What Muslims Gave the Scientific World:
In the Middle Ages, while Christians were busy warring, plundering, and burning heretics at the stake, Muslim scholars were inventing the most advanced devices of the day.
The last invention listed was a 13th century weapon for warfare.

The crisis in math, science

Solomon Friedberg writes this op-ed in the Boston Globe:
This week's announcement that nearly three-quarters of aspiring elementary school teachers failed the math section of the state's licensing exam is the latest example. ...

Last June, the National Council of Teacher Quality, a nonpartisan research and advocacy group, reported that the average 2007 mathematics SAT score of high-school seniors planning to major in education in college was 32 points below the national average for all college-bound students. And colleges themselves are too often not helping. The council surveyed 77 education schools, and it rated 37 of them as "fail on all measures" in preparing elementary teachers to teach math. The situation in science is no better - a 2007 report of the National Academies described the scientific knowledge of K-8 teachers as "limited" and "often quite thin." ...

To break the feedback loop, we need a new Mathematics and Science Education Act. Its principal points should include:

# Financial incentives to attract mathematically and scientifically able students to become teachers.It should provide low-interest college loans for top math and science students who want to become teachers, with debt forgiveness for those who remain teachers for a certain period of time.

A focus at colleges and universities on developing math and science content knowledge along with teaching skills. We must ensure that new teachers know these subjects thoroughly - the why, not just the what.
No, this is completely crazy. Our colleges graduate plenty of people with the necessary competence to teach math and science. These suggestions will not help anything.

The K-8 schools in the USA have been taken over by women who hate math. They have joined teachers unions who insist that pay be based solely on seniority and education degrees. They get tenure after a couple of years. If a man wants to teach kids, he is suspected of being a pedophile.

American K-8 math and science education will never improve until the systemic problems are addressed.

Monday, June 01, 2009

You are what you think you ate

Freakonomics reports:
How do you make undergraduates eat their vegetables? Trick them into believing they had a childhood love of the stuff. A team of researchers at U.C. Irvine studying implanted false memories asked 128 undergrads questions about how well they liked certain foods growing up. A week later, the students were called back and shown their results. But the researchers secretly changed the answers of one group of students to say that they loved asparagus the first time they tried it. When these students were later asked to order dishes on a hypothetical restaurant menu, those who had read falsified self-testimony about their childhood love of asparagus were significantly more likely to order it than they had been just a week earlier. No word on how effective this kind of memory implantation is outside the lab. Readers … a little help?
Some people are easily manipulated.

One of the authors (Elizabeth F. Loftus) has done other research on how easily false memories can be implanted in people. The Freudians hate her because they do things to implant memories, and then claim that the memories are real and causing neurosis.

The New Yorker magazine reports:
Tells about ... a rare condition called apotemnophilia, the compulsion to have a perfectly healthy limb amputated. Ramachandran is known for his low-tech method, which often involves little more than interviews with patients and a few hands-on tests. He suspected that apotemnophilia was a neurological disorder and not, as Freudians have theorized, a psychological syndrome associated with repressed sexual desires.
The Freudians think that all problems are caused by repressed sexual desire, even tho there is no proof that there is any such thing.