Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Failure to communicate

Some people foolishly believe that communication can solve all problems. Here is a recent example:
Imagine if somebody were to really sit down with Osama Bin Ladin and say, ‘listen man, what is it that you’re so angry at me about that you’re willing to have people strap bombs to themselves, or get inside of airplanes and fly them into buildings.’ That would be the miracle if we can get, sit down and talk to our enemies and find a way for them to hear us. – Matthew Modine
Modine was an actor in the movie Full Metal Jacket. Bin Laden has made himself clear enough.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Study finds supertaskers

CBS News reports:
A new study by University of Utah psychologists on the ability of people to operate a motor vehicle and talk on a cell phone ...

Reaction to hit the brakes was slowed 20 percent. Drivers also failed to keep pace with traffic, as following distances increased 30 percent. Their performances in memorization declined (by 11 percent), and math performance dropped as well (by 3 percent).

Yet for the "supertaskers," there was no change in their braking times, following distances or mathematical ability - and their memory improved by 3 percent.

Researchers found this small group of "supertaskers" also displayed better performance when performing a single task than did the rest of the subjects.
Maybe the DMV driving test should test for multitasking. Those who can do it are probably safer with the legal right to use cellphones.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Men must now buy maternity insurance

Most men have probably ignored the health care insurance abortion debate, because they don't need abortion insurance anyway. But now that changes. Men will not only have to buy abortion insurance, they will have to buy maternity insurance:
Until now, it has been perfectly legal in most states for companies selling individual health policies — for people who do not have group coverage through employers — to engage in “gender rating,” that is, charging women more than men for the same coverage, even for policies that do not include maternity care. The rationale was that women used the health care system more than men. ...

In addition, individual policies often excluded maternity coverage, or charged much more for it. Now, gender rating is essentially outlawed, and policies must include maternity coverage, considered “an essential health benefit.”
Some people say that more health insurance will save money, because increased preventive care will cut more expensive treatments later. But the truth is just the opposite:
And the new health care legislation, he says, is not going to make a bit of difference.

To truly change the nation’s chronic overuse of medical care, there will have to be a substantial change in the way patients think about health care, how medicine is practiced and how it is paid for, economists and doctors say.

The legislation does little to help in those areas.
Most preventive care is not really cost-effective, so it is inevitable that it will be rationed, now that everyone expects to get it for free.

Women seek mental health treatments much more than men, and the new law has a big payoff for them:
Even without the new health care law, mental health advocates were getting ready to celebrate parity — a law requiring benefits for substance abuse and mental illnesses to be on par with benefits for medical illnesses. ...

Now mental health advocates are almost giddy. The law signed by President Obama last week expands parity to a much wider pool, making it possible for millions more people to get the same coverage for substance abuse and illnesses like bipolar disorder, major depression and schizophrenia as they would for, say, diabetes or cancer.
So I'll also have to pay for mental health insurance that I do not want or need.

I suspect that millions of Americans may decide that it makes more sense not to buy that health insurance for things they don't need. They can wait until they get sick, and then take advantage of the inability of insurance companies to look at pre-existing conditions.

Insurance used to mean paying a big company to take the risk of uncertain accident or illness. That concept is dead. Now it means paying for either the medical conditions you already have, or the ones you will never have.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Innumerate math teachers

A Psychology Today article writes:
In an article published in 2005, Patricia Clark Kenschaft, a professor of mathematics at Montclair State University, described her experiences of going into elementary schools and talking with teachers about math. In one visit to a K-6 elementary school in New Jersey she discovered that not a single teacher, out of the fifty that she met with, knew how to find the area of a rectangle.[2] They taught multiplication, but none of them knew that multiplication is used to find the area of a rectangle. Their most common guess was that you add the length and the width to get the area.
This is pathetic, but widespread. Elementary schools just don't believe in hiring the sort of teachers who are interested in math. They would probably drop math altogether, if they could get away with it. Math is on the standardized tests, so they have to keep it. They just teach it badly.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Why babies get fat

The NY Times reports:
Babies whose mothers smoked during pregnancy are at risk of becoming obese, even though the babies are usually small at birth.

Babies who sleep less than 12 hours are at increased risk for obesity later. If they don’t sleep enough and also watch two hours or more of TV a day, they are at even greater risk.
It seems unlikely to me that these things really cause obesity. Maybe it is a simple matter that those who do not follow health guidelines tend to smoke and get fat, but there is no direct relationship between a mom smoking and a baby getting fat. There could also be genetic reasons for a correlation. I expect that official health guidelines will list these things as causes of childhood obesity, but they are more likely to be spurious correlations.

New research indicates HFCS may be causing obesity:
When rats are drinking high-fructose corn syrup at levels well below those in soda pop, they're becoming obese -- every single one, across the board. Even when rats are fed a high-fat diet, you don't see this; they don't all gain extra weight.
That quote is from a psychology professor. I would think that medical researchers could figure stuff like this out, but I guess they are too busy doing retrospective cohort studies.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Attacks on the Pope

The NY Times has another page one story attacking the Catholic Church. This one is titled, Warned About Abuse, Vatican Failed to Defrock Priest.

Apparently there were some allegations against a Milwaukee priest in 1974, and the Church transferred him elsewhere. Additional action was considered in 1996, before the priest died in 1998. The paper reports:
But Cardinal Bertone halted the process after Father Murphy personally wrote to Cardinal Ratzinger protesting that he should not be put on trial because he had already repented and was in poor health and that the case was beyond the church’s own statute of limitations.
Leftist-atheist religion-haters are going nuts with this, such as Hitchens.

This is ridiculous. It is a complaint about how someone 14 years ago may or may not have handled something that may or may not have happened 36 years ago. It is not possible to find out the facts. Whatever happened, it could not have been that bad, or someone would have complained before now. The only reason anyone is complaining now is that there are some opportunistic lawyers in Wisconsin who are suing for a lot of money. Maybe the complainers just made the allegations up in order to collect millions of dollars in court.

There are reasons why we have statutes of limitations. There are also reasons for a presumption of innocence. Nothing good is going to come out of this story.

It is disturbing how people uncritically accept these dubious accusations. It is somewhat similar to how the news media has accepted wacky stories of Toyota runaway acceleration, even tho the last one was shown to be a hoax.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Reality show is scripted

The NY Post reports:
A teen ex-beauty queen is suing Disney and the TV show "Wife Swap" for $100 million -- charging that they intentionally ruined her life by making her look like a spoiled brat, exposing her to "ridicule, mockery and derision." ...

And while the show claims to be reality, many of its sequences were scripted, the suit alleges.
I guess the kid can sue because she was under age during filming, and now she is over 18 and not bound by contract. Mockery is much of the purpose of these shows.

This study claims to explain why skinny models are so popular with women:
According to a new study by the University of Arizona, ads featuring bigger models don’t actually make most women feel very good about themselves. Apparently, pretty much everything makes women feel like crap about how they look.

According to the researchers, larger women feel better about themselves when ads don’t include any models at all, average-sized ladies actually have lower self-esteem after looking at ads with plus-sized models rather than uber-skinny ones, and thin folk prefer the traditional tiny models.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Teen prankster arrested for racial joke

The NY Times reports:
WASHINGTON TOWNSHIP, N.J. — The authorities in southern New Jersey said Saturday that they had arrested a 16-year-old boy for activating a public-address system at a Wal-Mart store last week and ordering “all black people” to leave.

The boy, from Atlantic County, was charged by Gloucester County authorities with bias and intimidation and harassment in connection with the episode last Sunday. If convicted, he could face up to a year in a juvenile detention center, officials said. His name was not released because he is a minor.

According to the police, the boy picked up a public-address telephone in the Wal-Mart in Washington Township, one of two dozen accessible to the store’s customers, and said, “All black people, leave the store now.” ...

Investigators also scoured Facebook, MySpace and YouTube, and found postings, including some that the police chief said involved “kids bragging” about what happened.

With the help of anonymous tipsters, he added, investigators were led to the suspect, who was arrested Friday.
I can see why Wal-Mart is embarrassed, but what is the crime?

Wal-Mart could easily prevent this sort of thing if it wanted to. It could turn of the system when not in use. Apparently it has a store full of video cameras, but they did not record this.

The black people in the store did not leave, and assumed that it was a joke.

If no one was harmed, then what was the crime? Is rude behavior in a Wal-Mart now illegal?

I also heard this story reported on the radio. This is only news because some editors think that it is funny. So how are these editors better than that teenager? He risked offending a couple of black folks in the store, while the editors risk offending millions of blacks.

In other teen crime news:
In most states, teenagers who send or receive sexually explicit photographs by cellphone or computer — known as “sexting” — have risked felony child pornography charges and being listed on a sex offender registry for decades to come.

But there is growing consensus among lawyers and legislators that the child pornography laws are too blunt an instrument to deal with an adolescent cyberculture in which all kinds of sexual pictures circulate on sites like MySpace and Facebook.
The problem here is that there are draconian penalties for behavior that today's teenagers see as harmless fun. The authorities are going to have to convince the teenagers that it is harmful, change the law, or prosecute a lot of kids.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Odd national origin options

I am filling out my US Census form, and I find several things odd. I have the short form, with only ten questions.

There is no question about my citizenship, or one that directly asks for my national origin, but there are about 25 national origins lists. None apply to me, and I have never even heard of some of them. I can say that I am Korean, but I cannot say that I am American or even French.

It separates race from being Hispanic, which makes sense, but what box do they expect non-white Mexicans to check? My guess is to check both "white" and "American Indian" to indicate mixed ancestry, but the latter asks for a tribe name, and Mexicans don't have that, as far as I know.

Only one answer is boldface, and that is the "No" for not being Hispanic. Is that for people who are emphatically not Hispanic?

What ever happened to the oriental race? There is no Caucasian race either anymore. It appears that the entire sub-continent of India has been kicked out of the white race.

The Census web site does not explain any of this. You cannot even file your census response online.

Friday, March 19, 2010

More evidence that copyright is broken

From an unofficial Google watcher:
The truth is difficult to find if those that know it have a lot to lose when it's revealed. Three years after Viacom sued YouTube for 1 billion dollars, some pieces of truth are revealed:

"For years, Viacom continuously and secretly uploaded its content to YouTube, even while publicly complaining about its presence there. It hired no fewer than 18 different marketing agencies to upload its content to the site. It deliberately "roughed up" the videos to make them look stolen or leaked. " ...

"... The team told senior Google execs that YouTube was a "rogue enabler" of content theft, that its content is all free, and much of it is highly sought after pirated clips and that YouTube's business model is completely sustained by pirated content. " ...
Google will probably have to pay millions of dollars, because YouTube would have never taken off without that pirated content. And yet hardly anyone sees anything wrong with it.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Differences between men and women

Funny columns today on the differences, from a man:
Men move the discussion forward. Women swap recipes and beauty tips.
Men debate. Women wheedle.
Men confront. Women slander.
Men act. Women plot.
Men invent. Women benefit.
Men are passionate. Women are passion parasites.
Men cheat. Women betray.
and a woman:
Guys seek thrills and speed. They go for the adrenalin rush. They get pumped by going higher, faster, farther than anyone else. They want lots of action and instant gratification. That's also why guys like blogging – instant opinions, and lots of them.

Prize for Poincare conjecture solution

Today's math news:
The Clay Mathematics Institute (CMI) announces today that Dr. Grigoriy Perelman of St. Petersburg, Russia, is the recipient of the Millennium Prize for resolution of the Poincaré conjecture.
Math is the only academic subject who people get credited for what they actually do, and not for self-promotion. Perelman has dropped out, and done nothing to promote his work. He just posted it, and lectured on it.

Poincare discovered and published relativity theory before Einstein, and most physicists refuse to credit him to this day.

Update: Pravda claims that Perelman does not want the money. He is not talking, so nobody really knows.

Update: As of July 2, 2010, Perelman has refused the prize.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Female prison guard misconduct

Here is a weird story about sex in prison, with the authorities having trouble figuring out who is raping whom. AP reports:
HELENA, Mont. — Inmate Michael Murphy sought out female guards and prison workers that he knew would be easy to charm.

He started by seeking a small favor, which could lead to a kiss or love letters. In at least five cases, he convinced women to have sex with him or perform other significant illegal favors.

And yet Michael Murphy is considered the victim in each case, because inmates cannot legally consent to sex.

In each of those cases, the female corrections employees were caught, shamed and forced out of a job, according to documents detailing an investigation by Montana prison officials and obtained by The Associated Press after an open records lawsuit.

The women officers described Murphy as the aggressor, even as the predator. But that makes no difference in either state or federal penitentiaries, where prison employees — male or female — are the violators if they have sex with inmates.

A Justice Department study shows that cases like Murphy's are common: Female staff are more often implicated than their male counterparts in prison sexual misconduct. ...

The therapist, for instance, told internal investigators that from the start that she knew she had been manipulated and compromised.

"And then he kissed me one day in my office and I just thought, 'What the f--- did I just do, what just happened?'" she said in a 2008 interview she was told would be confidential. "From that point on I just, I felt like I couldn't do anything, I couldn't say no to him, I couldn't get myself out of it. It's like he had that over me, and he continued to push."
Wow, a female prison therapist cannot control herself any better than that?

Monday, March 15, 2010

Neanderthal med student article

An article by 24-year-old med student Brent Thoma drew this response:
"I can only hope that he is sincere in his decision to forgo a career in Family Medicine, thereby sparing countless future female patients the agony of having to deal with his apparent Neanderthal tendencies," one professor wrote. Several letters were subsequently sent to the journal defending the student.

At least one member of the public has also written to Canadian Family Physician demanding an apology and retraction.

"Congratulations on publishing the most offensive, insensitive article ever," wrote Grace Sanchez MacCall, a business owner from Toronto.

In an interview, Ms. Sanchez MacCall understood that the article addresses a legitimate issue. "But the way it was addressed, using humour ineptly, was completely inappropriate and had no place in being legitimized by a professional association's journal," she said.
The article obviously struck a nerve, as it appeared several months ago and people are still complaining about it.

Mohammedan history lesson

Nobody wants to explain Mohammedanism, but check out this video: Colonel Allen West Answers a Marine's Question.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Marriage expert debunked

John Gottman claims to have a method of analyzing marriage, but this article shoots it down:
Then, three to six years later, Gottman's team checked on the same couples' marital status and announced that based on the coding of the tapes, they could predict with 83 percent accuracy which ones were divorced. ...

Malcolm Gladwell devoted most of a chapter to him in his huge best-seller Blink. In a 2007 survey asking psychotherapists to elect the 10 most influential members of their profession over the last quarter-century, Gottman was only one of four who made the cut who wasn't deceased. "Many in the field now believe that most of what we know about marriage and divorce comes from his work," states an article accompanying the Top 10 list.
Sounds amazing, but the research is worthless. Andrew Gelman agrees that the claims are bogus.

This is another example of Gladwell's junk. He has sold millions of dollars worth of book with convincing explanations, but it is snake oil.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Making it hard to filter porn

Slashdot reports:
The Associated Press reports that the board of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers has deferred a decision until June on whether to create a '.xxx' Internet suffix as an online red-light district, ... Backers of '.xxx' have billed the proposal as a way for the adult-entertainment industry to clean up its act, though some adult sites worry that governments would wind up mandating the use of '.xxx' and that sites with the '.xxx' suffix could easily be blocked by government web filters in the future.
If a .xxx top-level domain makes it easier to filter porn, so much the better. I think that laws ought to encourage the hard-core porn to get over to .xxx.

There are always civil-liberties types who complain that filtering should not be easy, because that encourages censorship. I think that is backwards. We should have the liberty to easily reject the porn, if we want.

Yes, I imagine that most employers will block the .xxx domain on company computers. Workers are not being paid to watch porn. Okay with me. There is no shortage of porn on the internet.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Swiss voters reject animal lawyers

AP reports:
GENEVA – The result was emphatic: Swiss voters don't think abused animals need to have their own lawyers. ...

Official results showed that 70.5 percent of voters cast their ballot against the proposal to extend nationwide a system that has been in place in Zurich since 1992. Some 29.5 percent of voters backed the proposal, with turnout at just over 45 percent.

According to the country's only animal lawyer, Antoine F. Goetschel, public prosecutors are often unsure about animal rights and shy away from pursuing cases ...

Most of his clients are dogs, cows and cats, Goetschel told The Associated Press in a recent interview. Many cases involve the serious abuse of animals, such as deliberate wounding, rape and neglect.

But in one high-profile case last month, Goetschel represented a dead pike after an animal protection group accused the angler who caught it of cruelty for taking 10 minutes to haul the fish in.

The angler was found not guilty.
This article is not a joke. A Swiss lawyer represented a dead pike fish. 30% of the Swiss voted for this nutty law.

I am waiting for Switzerland to get its second animal lawyer. Then they can sue each other when one rabbit rapes another.

Popular Science

Popular Science (Monthly) magazine has put its old issues online. Popular Science (Monthly) magazine has put its old issues online.

A 1952 letter confronts Einstein with his bogus claims about creating a unified field theory. Einstein. Einstein denies any responsibility for his publicity-seeking behavior, and then gives some doubletalk excuses. His theories were garbage.

A 1929 story updates an experiment that led to relativity theory. The trouble with this is that Einstein denied that the experiment had anything to do with his work on relativity. It was only used by those who actually invented relativity.

The magazines are complete with the original ads, which are unlike any ads today.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Publishing phony facts

You would think that a writer's career might be damaged by this NY Times book review:
If Charles Pellegrino weren't so shamelessly self-promoting, it might be O.K. to let this book drift into oblivion past the icebergs that it ought to hit. But he quotes himself in epigraphs, invents friendships with famous people and claims scientific authority for a work that flouts most principles of scientific scholarship. He shouldn't get away with it.
But he got another book published, and it is getting worse treatment:
In the case of “The Last Train From Hiroshima,” the author, Charles Pellegrino, said he had been duped by a source and insisted that other sources the publisher questioned definitely existed. ...

Mr. Pellegrino said he had relied on information from a source, Joseph Fuoco, who claimed he was a last-minute substitute as a flight engineer on one of the escort planes for the Enola Gay, the plane that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Late last month, scientists, historians and veterans denounced Mr. Fuoco as an impostor who did not ride on the mission. ...

Mr. Pellegrino said he had been awarded the doctorate at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand in the early 1980s and then stripped of it a few years later because of a disagreement with department members over evolutionary theory. “It got to be a very hot and nasty topic in 1982,” Mr. Pellegrino said in a telephone interview. ...

In a telephone interview Mr. Pellegrino talked repeatedly of his supporters, including Stephen Jay Gould, who died in 2002, but who, according to Mr. Pellegrino, knew that he had been academically persecuted.
Earlier, this book got a rave review in the NY Times.

I guess that it is impractical for most publishers and book reviewers to do any fact-checking.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Iceland rejects debt repayment

Iceland has voted overwhelmingly against a plan to repay some unusual and excessive debts created by its bank. This is great. How can we vote to repudiate debt?

California has a constitution requiring a balanced budget, and yet we have accumulated vast amounts of debt.

I think that we need a new California constitution amendment to limit debt. It should say that no session of the legislature should be obligated to pay a debt burden created by a previous session.

I particularly object to debt created by unbalanced budgets and unfunded pension plans.

Someone might argue that such an amendment would interfere with federal law on the enforcement of contracts, but I don't think so. California would just have to put a clause in its contracts that state obligations are limited by constitutional spending authority. If some state agency signs a contract with a union saying that employees can retire at 95% of full salary with annual increases, then a clause would have to say that the pension payments could be limited by what is in the fund and what some future legislature decides to appropriate. It should be legally impossible for the state to guarantee a pension greater than that.

As it is, we have thousands of state bureaucrats retiring on six-figure pensions, and they are bankrupting the state. The politicians who made these promises are gone and no one is accountable.

Publishers reject cold submissions

The WSJ reports:
In 1991, a book editor at Random House pulled from the heaps of unsolicited manuscripts a novel about a murder that roils a Baltimore suburb. Written by a first-time author and mother named Mary Cahill, "Carpool" was published to fanfare. Ms. Cahill was interviewed on the "Today" show. "Carpool" was a best seller.

That was the last time Random House, the largest publisher in the U.S., remembers publishing anything found in a slush pile. Today, Random House and most of its major counterparts refuse to accept unsolicited material. ...

It used to be that you could bang out a screenplay on your typewriter, then mail it in to a studio with a self-addressed stamped envelope and a prayer. Studios already were reluctant to read because of plagiarism concerns, but they became even more skittish in 1990 when humorist Art Buchwald sued Paramount, alleging that the studio stole an idea from him and turned it into the Eddie Murphy vehicle, "Coming to America." (Mr. Buchwald received an undisclosed settlement from Paramount.)
She makes it sound as if Paramount got burned by a chance similarity to an unsolicited manuscript. In fact, Paramount had a signed contract with Buchwald, made the movie with his plot, and cheated him out of his share of the $288M in earnings.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Female US ship captain fired

Time magazine reports:
... booted as captain of a billion-dollar warship for "cruelty and maltreatment" of her 400-member crew. According to the Navy inspector general's report that triggered her removal — and the accounts of officers who served with her — Captain Holly Graf was the closest thing the U.S. Navy had to a female Captain Bligh.

A Navy admiral stripped Graf of her command of the Japan-based guided missile cruiser U.S.S. Cowpens in January. The just-released IG report concludes that Graf "repeatedly verbally abused her crew and committed assault" and accuses her of using her position as commander of the Cowpens "for personal gain." But old Navy hands tell TIME that those charges, substantiated in the IG report, came about because of the poisonous atmosphere she created aboard her ship.
The article goes on to give examples of her using profanity to sailors, including those who had gone to her for personal advice.

I don't doubt that she is incompetent, and was only promoted because of misguided affirmative action policies. But is profanity really that upsetting to today's sailor? And why was anyone asking her for personal advice, if she were really a female Captain Bligh?

The complaints against Captain Bligh in Mutiny on the Bounty were things like cruelly flogging sailors for no reason. I don't recall sailors complaining about profanity and hurt feelings. I don't know how we can fight a war unless we have tougher sailors than this.