Monday, February 28, 2011

Compared to a pig

Here is a letter to today's advice column:
Dear Annie: You have printed a few letters about teaching children manners, and one writer suggested a game called "Pass the Piggy."

When I was 4 years old and first learning to use utensils, I dropped something off my fork. My father leaned over and said, "Am I going to have to get you a pig trough?"

The next night he watched me intently, and when something fell from my trembling hand, he exclaimed, "That's it!" He had nailed together a wooden pig trough, which he dropped in front of me and then laughed like it was the most hilarious joke in the world.

Since then, I have felt shamed and unlovable. When I started school, I was terrified that somehow the other children would find out about it. I have had two bad marriages and don't date. I'm now 59 and was only recently able to talk about this incident in a support group, and only after both of my parents died.

When your psyche is damaged in childhood, it is irreparable. Don't ever compare your children to pigs. — Texas Single Woman
This letter is a prank. 4-year-old kids like pigs. There is no record of anyone being damaged by such a childhood remark.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Argument to defend marriage law

The Obama administration says that it will no longer defend the constitutionality of federal marriage law. If the matter were really being settled by the soundness of the legal arguments, then no additional briefs should be necessary anyway. The Obama DoJ has already written its brief on the subject, and you can find it here and here. Any judge just could just read this brief, regard of how Obama is shifting his political stances. That will not happen, because the dispute is political and the court action is a smokescreen.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Monopoly business tactics

This confirms monopolistic behavior by Apple:
Apple also allegedly told Sony that the app couldn’t access content purchased on other Sony Reader devices, which is where most of the outrage was focused. Amazon’s Kindle app and Barnes & Noble’s Nook app are both popular mechanisms for users to download and read books that they have purchased from the respective stores. Many feared that this supposed change in Apple policy would take their e-books away from their iPads, iPhones and iPod touches. Apple’s second statement indicates that this is indeed the case ...
and by Google:
Google has punished e-commerce sites, including J. C. Penney, for inflating its rankings by paying for links from unrelated sites.
In both cases, the company is trying to extend its monopoly in one market to another.

If I buy my own Apple iphone/ipod/ipad, and I buy my own ebooks and ebook reader, then I should be able to read my ebooks as I please without a veto from Steve Jobs. But he is saying that he will forbid it, because he did not get his 30% cut of the ebook sale.

Likewise, if I am doing a Google search, I should not be blocked from finding JC Penney just because PC Penney bought ads from a rival.

Apple and Google admit to these monopolistic practices. I recommend using alternative products.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Jury Nullification Advocate Is Indicted

Law prof Volokh writes:
The New York Times reports:

Since 2009, Mr. Heicklen has stood ... at courthouse entrances ... and handed out pamphlets encouraging jurors to ignore the law if they disagree with it, and to render verdicts based on conscience.

That concept, called jury nullification, is highly controversial, and courts are hostile to it. But federal prosecutors have now taken the unusual step of having Mr. Heicklen indicted on a charge that his distributing of such pamphlets at the courthouse entrance violates the law against jury tampering.
It seems to me that such speech is constitutionally protected, and that the indictment therefore violates the First Amendment. One can debate whether jury nullification is good or bad for the legal system, but it’s clear that it’s not a crime for jurors to refuse to convict even when the jury instructions seem to call for a guilty verdict. So Heicklen is encouraging a jury to engage in legal — even if, in the view of some, harmful — conduct.
So a retired chemistry professor has been indicted for advocating what has been considered a legal and essential liberty for 300 years. He has already been denied a jury trial. His own notes are here, where he describe distributing this pamphlet. For those who think that jury nullification is somehow illegal for reasons of perjury or some other reason, please read the pamphlet. This retired professor was performing a public service.

Update: There are persistent comments on Volokh's blog from people who argue that jury nullification violates a juror's oath to uphold the law. These comments show a fundamental logical error. The jury system is in our constitution. The law says that juries are supposed to return verdicts, not factual determinations. No oath could be contrary to that.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Small Nuclear War Could Reverse Global Warming

Nat. Geo. reports:
Even a regional nuclear war could spark "unprecedented" global cooling and reduce rainfall for years, according to U.S. government computer models. ...

Earth is currently in a long-term warming trend. After a regional nuclear war, though, average global temperatures would drop by 2.25 degrees F (1.25 degrees C) for two to three years afterward, the models suggest. ...

After ten years, average global temperatures would still be 0.9 degree F (0.5 degree C) lower than before the nuclear war, the models predict.
That cheers me up. I am always reading scare stories about all the bad things that are going to happen in the world, but it is nice to hear some of those bad effects may cancel out.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Whooping vaccine hysteria

A WSJ op-ed by Paul Howard and James R. Copland says:
Vaccines, which save millions of lives every year, are one of the most successful public-health interventions in the history of modern medicine. Among the diseases that they prevent is the whooping cough. Why, then, is that sickness making a scary comeback in California, which is currently weathering its largest whooping-cough epidemic since 1947, with over 7,800 cases and 10 deaths in 2010? Mainly because more and more parents, worried about the vaccine's supposed side effects, are choosing to delay vaccinating their children -— or not to do it at all.
No that is not why California has a pertussis (whooping cough) outbreak. Pertussis is primarily spread by teenagers who were vaccinated as infants, but had the vaccination wear off. Even the NY Times reported:
The rise in pertussis doesn’t seem to be related to parents’ refusing to have their children vaccinated for fear of potential side effects. In California, pertussis rates are about the same in counties with high childhood vaccination rates and low ones. And the C.D.C. reports that pertussis immunization rates have been stable or increasing since 1992.
Five babies have died, but they were too young to be vaccinated, and would not have been saved by stricter vaccine requirements. California's reaction, appropriately, has been to target older kids and adults. See Calif. urgers pertussis vaccination for pregnant women and New Calif. law requires vaccine for grades 7-12.

The op-ed continues:
Today's anti-vaccine hysteria can be traced in part to a 1974 British study that appeared to link the whooping-cough vaccine to rare brain injuries. The study was later debunked, but vaccination rates plummeted for a time in the United Kingdom, Japan, and Sweden.
No, that is not true. As you can read here, The DTP vaccine rate dropped in Sweden because a defective vaccine was ineffective, and in Japan because of adverse reactions. That's right, the parents who had a choice about the vaccines seemed to have a better understanding of the situation than the public health authorities. The rates went back up in Sweden when they got a more effective vaccine, and in Japan when they got the safer DTaP vaccine.

Because of greater medical freedoms, Japan and other countries got the safer DTaP (acellular pertussis) vaccine 20 years before the USA. The US CDC did not want to introduce the DTaP in the USA because the mandatory DTP vaccine had been accepted with about 98% compliance, and the feds did not want to admit that we were using an inferior vaccine.
In October, the Supreme Court heard arguments in Bruesewitz v. Wyeth, a case involving the seizures and mental retardation suffered by an infant vaccinated for whooping cough in 1992. The plaintiffs' lawyers in Bruesewitz argue that cases involving defects in drug design shouldn't be decided by the VICP -— and that Wyeth is at fault because it didn't use a supposedly safer vaccine design developed by Eli Lilly in the 1960s. (The Lilly design, by the way, was never certified by the FDA as safer.)
I am not sure about VICP jurisdiction, but there is no question about DTaP being safer than DTP. That is what Japan and Europe decided in the 1980s, and what the CDC decided in about 2000. The DTP is off the market.

The op-ed authors work for the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, a "conservative, market-oriented think tank". What they are really saying here is that drug companies should not be liable for what they lobby to become a govt mandate, and they pretend that a California pertussis outbreak proves that the mandates are necessary. The pertussis scare story is just a big smokescreen to cover up some flawed govt mandates. A truly conservative market-oriented solution would be to drop the mandates, let people use the safer vaccines, and encourage vaccine usage among those who are actually spreading the disease.

Update: The US Supreme Court just ruled 6-2 in favor of the vaccine manufacturers.
In a final footnote, Justice Sotomayor wrote that a concern about an asserted link “between certain vaccines and autism spectrum disorders” appeared to “underlie the majority and concurring opinions in this case.”
That is weird. All of the experts say that the alleged link has been disproved.

Much of the oral argument was concern with the policy question of who should be determining which vaccines are safe and effective. Some of the justices did not want state juries second-guessing CDC determinations. But nobody was able to say just what the CDC determines when it makes a recommendation.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Manning up

Kay Hymowitz has a new book on Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men into Boys. It has Amazon reviews even before its release.

You can just read her 2008 article:
Not so long ago, the average mid-twentysomething had achieved most of adulthood’s milestones—high school degree, financial independence, marriage, and children. These days, he lingers—happily—in a new hybrid state of semi-hormonal adolescence and responsible self-reliance. Decades in unfolding, this limbo may not seem like news to many, but in fact it is to the early twenty-first century what adolescence was to the early twentieth: a momentous sociological development of profound economic and cultural import. Some call this new period “emerging adulthood,” others “extended adolescence”; David Brooks recently took a stab with the “Odyssey Years,” a “decade of wandering.”

But while we grapple with the name, it’s time to state what is now obvious to legions of frustrated young women: the limbo doesn’t bring out the best in young men. ...

That adds up to tens of millions more young men blissfully free of mortgages, wives, and child-care bills. ...

That sound you hear is women not laughing.
The article has the sound of women whining. What she describes is the inevitable consequence of feminism, and she never addresses the root causes of why marriage has become less attractive to men.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Covered with snow and ice

A London newspaper admits:
Climate contrarians have been making much of an article published on 20 March 2000 – the last day of winter – with the headline: "Snowfalls are now just a thing of the past."

Self evidently, snow has not become a thing of the past, judging from the amount that fell in Britain in December.
It is also evident from the spectular satellite picture here:
But this astonishing picture shows the world as it is today - with half the Northern Hemisphere covered with snow and ice.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Obama misconception

The Wikipedia List of common misconceptions says:
According to various polls, between 20 to 24% of Americans incorrectly believe that Barack Obama is a Muslim.[33] The White House describes Obama as a "devout Christian" who prays every day.[34]
But Jerry Coyne and Bill Maher argue that Obama is an atheist.

As mentioned before, there are reasons for saying that Obama is a Moslem. It is customary to call someone a Moslem if he was born a Moslem and does not overtly repudiate the faith. Yes, Obama says he joined Rev. Wright's church and wrote about it in his autobiography, but he also quit the church when he found out what was going on there from public press reports. Apparently he never attended enough to find out for himself.

So I do not think that it is a misconception just because people tell a pollster something different from what the White House spokesman says.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Illegal sex selection

The UK Daily Mail reports:
Sex selection was made illegal in Britain by the Human Fertilisation And Embryology Act 2008 except on very narrow medical grounds. However, the UK Cypriot Fertility Association (UKCFA), in which Mr Kingsland is a shareholder, is offering it to women who want to choose the gender of their child for purely social reasons.

On its website, the company advertises that the ‘family balancing’ treatment will be carried out at its affiliated clinic, the Cyprus IVF Centre in Famagusta, in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. The state – which is not recognised diplomatically by any nation other than Turkey – is the only place in Europe where sex selection is legal.
This law is very strange. You can have an abortion or test-tube baby for any reasons you want, but it you want a boy or a girl, the law prohibits the choice.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

How Google punishes

A NY Times podcast (Weekend Business, February 11, 2011, at 11:00 to 18:40) has reported that Google demoted a JC Penney search rank from 1 to 76 after discovering that JC Penney was benefiting from ads in a non-Google ad network. The podcast went on to say that Google likes to use its monopoly power to enforce its own unwritten rules about business should advertise on the web. "It is extraordinary to see what happens when Google decides that they want to sink you." (at 15:57)

The podcast also told about how Google has used its power to punish businesses who offer advertising services that compete with Google's business model. Google has even taken a company off of its search engine, just because it advertised for employees to work in search engine optimization.

The article credits Google with "trying to not seem despotic". Google seems despotic to me. I suggest using Yahoo search.

Update: The NY Times article is now online as The Dirty Little Secrets of Search. There are also some comments on Google Buzz suggesting that Google's view may be found on the Matt Cutts blog. The article quotes Cutts, speaking for Google:
“I can confirm that this violates our guidelines,” said Mr. Cutts during an hourlong interview on Wednesday, after looking at a list of paid links to ...

Mr. Cutts avoids the word “punished” ...

“Am I happy this happened?” he later asked. “Absolutely not. Is Google going to take strong corrective action? We absolutely will.”

And the company did. On Wednesday evening, Google began what it calls a “manual action” against Penney, essentially demotions specifically aimed at the company.

You get the sense that Mr. Cutts and his colleagues are acutely aware of the singular power they wield as judge, jury and appeals panel, and they’re eager to project an air of maturity and judiciousness. ...

The tweak affected “how we trust links,” Mr. Cutts said, declining to elaborate. ... But the real damage to Penney’s results began when Google started that “manual action.” ...

MR. CUTTS said he did not plan to write about Penney’s situation, as he did with BMW in 2006.
Google likes to pretend that its search is driven by an objective algorithm. It is not. The bottom line here is that Google management made a conscious decision to punish JC Penney for having a network of paid ads that allegedly violate Google guidelines. Except that Google prefers to call it a “manual action” or a “strong corrective action”, instead of punishment.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Dennis the dentist, debunked

Here is an example of psychology textbooks saying something contrary to the better research:
Three articles published [by Brett Pelham et al.] have shown that a disproportionate share of people choose spouses, places to live, and occupations with names similar to their own. These findings, interpreted as evidence of implicit egotism, are included in most modern social psychology textbooks and many university courses. The current article successfully replicates the original findings but shows that they are most likely caused by a combination of cohort, geographic, and ethnic confounds as well as reverse causality.
It seems likely that people will be making bogus arguments for decades, and supporting them with claim that more dentists are named Dennis.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Discrimination against conservatives, not women

Here is a new study:
It has long been the conventional wisdom in science that women are discriminated against in publication (female-authored manuscripts are said to be rejected more often than those written by males), in funding (female-authored grants are less successful), and in hiring. This, it is said, accounts for the underrepresentation of women in some areas of science, particularly math-related areas like physics.

The authors simply surveyed a number of studies (and there are many) addressing these claims. It turns out that, since at least the late 1970s, the claims of biases in publication, funding, and hiring aren’t borne out by the data: the usual citations of biases are based on only a handful of studies whose results have not been replicated by other work. In general, the authors show that in the three areas of “bias” mentioned above, women are on par with men.
Meanwhile, the NY Times
reports that the social psychologists who make some of these discrimination allegations have much more evidence that their own field discriminates against political conservatives.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Countering Muslim stereotypes

CNN reports:
(CNN) -- After a three-week trial and one hour of deliberations, an upstate New York jury on Monday found Muzzammil "Mo" Hassan guilty of second-degree murder for beheading his wife.

In February 2009, Hassan, who founded a TV network aimed at countering Muslim stereotypes, went to a police station in the Buffalo, New York, suburb of Orchard Park and told officers his wife was dead, police have said. ...

"Mr. Hassan has felt that throughout the tenure of his marriage, no one had listened to his side," Schwartz told reporters after the verdict. "It was important for him in the two hours that he had for summation to get across his side and how he saw his marriage." ...

According to prosecutors, Aasiya Hassan had filed for divorce less than a week before she died. ...

Police earlier said they had responded to several domestic violence calls at the couple's home, but no one had ever been arrested.

Hassan was the chief executive officer of the network Bridges TV, and Aasiya Hassan was the general manager.

He launched Bridges TV, billed as the first English-language cable channel targeting Muslims inside the United States, in 2004. At the time, Hassan said he hoped the network would balance negative portrayals of Muslims following the attacks of September 11, 2001.
So he had 6 years of TV broadcasts and 2 hours of court time to get his point across about Muslim stereotypes. We got the message.

Here is another story in today's news about Moslem justice:
A Muslim mob burned churches and clashed with police in Indonesia on Tuesday as they demanded the death penalty for a Christian man convicted of blaspheming against Islam, police said.

Two days after a Muslim lynch mob killed three members of a minority Islamic sect, crowds of furious Muslims set two churches alight as they rampaged in anger over the prison sentence imposed on defendant Antonius Bawengan, 58.

A court in the Central Java town had earlier sentenced the man to five years in jail, the maximum allowable, for distributing leaflets insulting Islam.

But this only enraged the crowd, who said the sentence was too lenient, police said.

"Today was the climax of the trial... The mob shouted that he should receive the death sentence or be handed over to the public," Central Java province police spokesman Djihartono told AFP.
I hope these facts help counter whatever false Moslem stereotypes could be circulating.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

The shaken-baby hoax

NY Times Magazine reports:
As the diagnosis of shaken-baby syndrome took hold in medicine, and prosecutors began to bring charges based on it, doctors testified that shaking could generate the same terrible force as throwing a child from a second-­story window. It turned out they were wrong. ...

Later experiments confirmed this finding and have made some doctors and biomechanical engineers skeptical that shaking alone can cause severe brain damage or death.
I think that they should show that the syndrome is physically possible before they send parents to prison for it.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

How Google spies on users

Google has gotten a lot of publicity about its complaint about Bing. There are some good comments here.

When you use Google Chrome, with its default Google search option, it spies on your browsing habits by sending your URLs back to Google. It does this, presumably, to improve its search rankings and advertising revenue.

Now Google has discovered that if you use the Microsoft IE8 browser, enable an option to send data back to Microsoft, and install the Microsoft Bing toolbar, then certain browsing habits are reported back to Microsoft for use in the Bing search engine. So why is this a problem?

I set the default search engine in Chrome to be Yahoo, just to cut back on Google spying. I hope Google publicizes this more, but a lot of people think that Google search results are based entirely on algorithmic Page Rank. In fact it is based largely on hand-tuning of favored sites, and on user spying. Bing is just playing the same game.

Update: This article details how Chrome sends info back to Google. Google says that it does not track what you type into the address bar, but, as you can see from the article, that is not true.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

American biological degeneracy

A SciAm podcast tells the story:
Biologist and author Lee Dugatkin talks about his article "Jefferson's Moose" in the February issue of Scientific American, the story of Jefferson's battle against the European theory of American biological degeneracy.
I had no idea that Jefferson and Madison were so concerned with measuring weasels in order to debunk some silly French theory about American inferiority.