Thursday, November 30, 2006

Einstein's influence

Albert Einstein always scores high on lists of great scientists or influential people. He is high on the list of Americans below, even though he was not even an American when he did his famous work on Relativity. He was also Time magazine's Man of the 20th Century.

Einstein is overrated for various reasons. It is not so well known that nearly all of the special theory of relativity had been published first by Henri Poincaré Hendrik Lorentz. It is known that Einstein had read some of it. We don't know how much because Einstein failed to cite his sources. Einstein got his final general relativity field equations from correspondence with David Hilbert. You can find details here, here, and here.

I am not trying to put Einstein down, but I think that there were a lot of others who contributed more.

I have seen Einstein quoted as saying, "The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources." It appears that Einstein was one of the most notorious abusers of that secret in history.

Someone sent me this excerpt from the Feynman Lectures on Physics Vol. 1:
15.3 Equations (15.3) are known as a Lorentz transformation. Einstein, following a suggesin origionally made by Poincaré, then proposed that all physical laws should be of such a kind that they remain unchanged under a Lorwntz transformation.

16.1 PoincarĂ© made the following statement of the principle of relativity: "According to the principle of relativity, the laws of physical phenomena must be the same for a fixed observer as for an observer who has a uniform motion of translation relative to him, so that we have not, nor can we possible have, any means of discerning whether or not we are carried along in such a motion."
This book is one of the most respected Physics textbooks that has ever been written. So what I am saying here is certainly no secret. Lorentz and Poincare were two of the most distinguished scholars of the day, and they published openly in widely-read books and journals.

I conclude that it is wrong to call Special Relativity Einstein's theory. His contributions appear to be much less than those of Lorentz and Poincare. At best, it should be called the Lorentz-Poincare-Einstein theory of relativity. General Relativity should probably be called the Einstein-Hilbert theory.

I have heard various explanation for why Einstein did not get a Nobel Prize for relativity, but never the most straightforward one -- that Einstein did not create the theory and everyone at the time knew it.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Top Living Influentials

The Atlantic Monthly magazine polled some panelists for the 100 most influential people in American history, Phyllis Schlafly ranked 18th among living Americans who received votes.

Pres. Ronald Reagan ranked 17th on the all-time list, for a conservative realignment and the Cold War's end. John F. Kennedy is not on the list. I agree with that. Reagan's influence was vastly greater than Kennedy's.

Sean Connery justifies slapping women

Sean Connery explained in 1987 (YouTube video) how a man should slap a woman, and why it is sometimes right. Barbara Walters comments that he has been married for 31 years. Not politically correct.

Male contraceptive pill

UK research news:
British scientists have developed a revolutionary pill that men could take as a one-off contraceptive just before a date.

The tablet would prevent a man from being able to impregnate a woman, but within a few hours his fertility would return to normal. ...

Experts believe it could transform family planning by allowing couples to share the responsibility for contraception - a role that traditionally falls to women. ...

However the new pill being researched by scientists at King's College London, contains chemicals that prevent ejaculation and could be in tablet-form. ...

Sexual satisfaction is not affected ...
Hmmm. I'm going to go out on a limb and predict that this pill does not catch on.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Import cheap skilled labor

John writes:
The WSJ is supporting a new push to expand the number of H-1B visas. They argue that more visas are needed because many of our most successful U.S. tech companies were founded by immigrants.

A closer look at these claims:

Intel cofounder Andy Grove escaped from Hungary during the 1956 revolution, arriving at the age of 20. He completed his college education in the United States, graduating from C.C.N.Y. in 1960. He earned a Ph.D. at Berkeley before joining Gordon Moore and Robert Noyce at Intel in 1968.

Yahoo cofounder Jerry Yang came from Taiwan in 1979 at the age of 10 with his widowed mother, an English teacher. He was educated entirely in the United States, graduating from Stanford in 1990. He was enrolled in a Ph.D. program at Stanford when he and David Filo created in 1994.

Google cofounder Sergey Brin came from Russia in 1979 at the age of 6 with his parents, both of whom are mathematicians. He was educated entirely in the United States, graduating from the University of Maryland in 1993. He was enrolled in a Ph.D. program at Stanford when he and Larry Page created in 1997.

eBay founder Pierre Omidyar came from France in 1973-74 at the age of 6 with his Iranian-born parents. He was educated entirely in the United States, attending a private prep school in Maryland and graduating from Tufts in 1988 with a degree in computer science. He wrote the original code for eBay and launched the site in 1995 under its original name of AuctionWeb.

Two of the four men who cofounded Sun Microsystems in 1982 were foreign born: Vinod Khosla graduated from engineering school in his native India; Andy Bechtolsheim graduated from engineering school in his native Germany. They both earned master's degrees from Carnegie Mellon in the 1970s, then did further graduate work at Stanford, where they met fellow Sun cofounders Bill Joy and Scott MacNealy.

The WSJ omits Philippe Kahn, who founded Borland in 1983. Kahn was entirely educated in Europe, came to the U.S. in 1982 on a tourist visa, which he overstayed, becoming an illegal alien. Apparently he obtained legal residency in the 1986 amnesty.

None of these people came on H-1B visas. Which raises the question, has any company ever been started by someone who came on H-1B? And a further question: Is the WSJ being intentionally deceptive or just inadvertently so?
The WSJ article relies on this study (pdf). The study was funded by a consortium of firms that want to import cheap labor for startup companies.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Kids on psycho drugs

NY Times reports:
Last year in the United States, about 1.6 million children and teenagers -- 280,000 of them under age 10 -- were given at least two psychiatric drugs in combination, according to an analysis performed by Medco Health Solutions at the request of The New York Times. More than 500,000 were prescribed at least three psychiatric drugs. More than 160,000 got at least four medications together, the analysis found.
That is a lot more than I would have expected. As the article explains, the benefits of all these drugs are unproved.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Chickens prefer beautiful human faces

This paper says that chickens prefer beautiful humans:
We trained chickens to react to an average human female face but not to an average male face (or vice versa). In a subsequent test, the animals showed preferences for faces consistent with human sexual preferences (obtained from university students). This suggests that human preferences arise from general properties of nervous systems, rather than from face-specific adaptations.
Another study claims to explain why beautiful people are paid more.
Interestingly, employers thought beautiful people were more productive even when their only interaction was via a telephone interview. It appears that the confidence that beautiful people have in themselves comes across over the phone as well as in person.
I don't think that the study tested confidence, so that is just one possible explanation. Maybe beauty is correlated with articulateness or something else.

I am not sure which seems more unlikely -- chickens detecting human beauty or employers detecting over the phone. Either way, it appears that beauty is not just some cultural prejudice.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Naughty female teachers

WorldNetDaily has a catalog of female teachers who have recently gotten caught seducing high school boys.

Internet libel immunity

Libel law news:
The California Supreme Court just held, in Barrett v. Rosenthal, that Internet users who post (to Web sites or discussion groups) material created by others are immune from liability.
I was surprised that this case was still pending. I posted about it in 2001. This libel complaint
against defendant Ilena Rosenthal and others is about being called a quackpot, a pimple doctor, and a dimwit.

The core of the matter, as I understand it, is that Stephen Barrett and his Quackwatch site go around debunking alternative medicine. Occasionally some snake oil peddler fights back, and makes accusations against Barrett. Then Barrett sues, figuring that he has mainstream medicine on his side.

I am all in favor of exposing quacks, but Barrett doesn't always have science on his side. His own professional career has been that of a psychiatrist, and he subscribes some goofy psychiatric ideas. He is also an advocate of mandatory vaccination, and I've disagreed with him about some of those vaccines.

Anyway, calling Barrett a "quackpot" seems fair game to me.

Malkin thinks that the court went too far in favor of free speech, because a blogger could republish some anonymously-posted libel without any liability.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Global orgasm on the Solstice

This site wants a synchronized global orgasm on the Winter Solstice on Dec. 22 in order to affect the global consciousness:
The mission of the Global Orgasm is to effect change in the energy field of the Earth through input of the largest possible surge of human energy. Now that there are two more US fleets heading for the Persian Gulf with anti- submarine equipment that can only be for use against Iran, the time to change Earth's energy is NOW!
This is being pushed by some goofy pacifist named Donna Sheehan, no relation to that other goofy peace activist Cindy Sheehan.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Gay penguins invade schools

School news:
SHILOH, Ill. - A picture book about two male penguins raising a baby penguin is getting a chilly reception among some parents who worry about the book's availability to children -- and the reluctance of school administrators to restrict access to it.

The concerns are the latest involving "And Tango Makes Three," the illustrated children's book based on a true story of two male penguins in New York City's Central Park Zoo that adopted a fertilized egg and raised the chick as their own.

Complaining about the book's homosexual undertones, some parents of Shiloh Elementary School students believe the book -- available to be checked out of the school's library in this 11,000-resident town 20 miles east of St. Louis -- tackles topics their children aren't ready to handle.

Their request: Move the book to the library's regular shelves and restrict it to a section for mature issues, perhaps even requiring parental permission before a child can check it out.

For now, "And Tango Makes Three" will stay put, said school district Superintendent Jennifer Filyaw, though a panel she appointed suggested the book be moved and require parental permission to be checked out. The district's attorney said moving it might be construed as censorship.

Filyaw considers the book "adorable" and age appropriate, written for children ages 4 to 8. ...

[A Missouri librarian] said the book was then moved to the nonfiction section because it was based on actual events. In that section, she said, there was less of a chance that the book would "blindside" someone.
If reclassifying this silly gay propaganda book is censorship, then so is their refusal to tell the kids the true story. There are no gay penguins with sex habits resembling male homosexuals. Roy and Silo, the New York Central Park Zoo penguins that inspired the book, were only together because of a lack of available females at the zoo. Silo left Roy when he found a female.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Vicious people have vicious dogs

Dog research:
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - People who own vicious dogs such as pit bulls have significantly more criminal convictions -- including crimes against children -- than owners of licensed, gentler dogs such as beagles, researchers reported on Thursday.

A study of 355 dog owners in Ohio showed that every owner of a high-risk breed known for aggression had at least one brush with the law, from traffic citations to serious criminal convictions.

And 30 percent of people who owned an aggressive breed of dog and who also had been cited at least once for failure to register it had at least five criminal convictions or traffic citations.

This compared to 1 percent of owners of low-risk, licensed dogs such as poodles, beagles or collies, the researchers reported in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence.

"Owners of vicious dogs who have been cited for failing to register a dog (or) failing to keep a dog confined on the premises ... are more than nine times more likely to have been convicted for a crime involving children, three times more likely to have been convicted of domestic violence ... and nearly eight times more likely to be charged with drug (crimes) than owners of low-risk licensed dogs," said Jaclyn Barnes of Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center.
No big surprise here.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Implants vindicated

FDA news:
The Food and Drug Administration yesterday lifted a 14-year ban on the use of silicone gel breast implants in the United States after decades of contentious debate and litigation over their safety.

The federal agency approved implants manufactured by two California companies, Mentor and Allergan, for breast reconstruction and cosmetic breast augmentation, but limited cosmetic use of the implants to women ages 22 and older.

The decision appeared to end a controversy over the safety of silicone implants that lasted more than two decades and resulted in thousands of lawsuits by women who claimed the implants leaked and caused a number of diseases, including cancer and rheumatoid arthritis. The dispute led to the bankruptcy of the manufacturer Dow Corning, a federal moratorium on the use of the implants, and, finally, findings by both the Institute of Medicine and the Food and Drug Administration that the devices do not cause major illnesses.
This shows how broken our legal system is. A big company was bankrupted and billions of dollars was paid to lawyers, and all the evidence says that the silicone is harmless.

Down a slippery slope with absurd results

Crime news:
The defence lawyer of a Wisconsin man charged with having sex with a dead deer is claiming he's innocent of any wrongdoing - because a "crimes against sexual morality" statute prohibits sex with animals, but fails to mention carcasses, The Duluth News Tribune reports.

Bryan James Hathaway, 20, of Superior, was arrested on "a misdemeanour charge of sexual gratification with an animal" after indulging in intercourse with said deceased deer on 11 October.

His attorney, public defender Fredric Anderson, last week filed a motion with a Douglas County court which argued "because the deer was dead, it was not considered an animal and the charge should be dismissed". He wrote: "The statute does not prohibit one from having sex with a carcass."

He further argued that, according to Webster's dictionary, an animal is "any of a kingdom of living beings". If you include carcasses in that definition, Anderson reasoned, "you really go down a slippery slope with absurd results".
I am convinced -- that is one very slippery slope we don't want to go down!

Child shrinks often wrong

NY Times reports:
Children can develop so fast that what looks like attention deficit disorder in the fall may look like anxiety or nothing at all in the summer. ...

"Psychiatry has made great strides in helping kids manage mental illness, particularly moderate conditions, but the system of diagnosis is still 200 to 300 years behind other branches of medicine," said Dr. E. Jane Costello, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University. "On an individual level, for many parents and families, the experience can be a disaster; we must say that." ...

All these labels are based primarily on symptom checklists. According to the American Psychiatric Association's diagnostic manual, for instance, childhood problems qualify as oppositional defiant disorder if the child exhibits at least four of eight behavior patterns, including "often loses temper," "often argues with adults," "is often touchy or easily annoyed by others", and "is often spiteful or vindictive."
Remember this if you get a diagnosis for your kid.

Forcing nursery rhymes on parents

UK Daily Mail:
Did you want to laugh or cry when you read that mothers and fathers who fail to sing nursery rhymes to their children may be obliged to attend classes?
Weird. It sounds like a parody of what a nanny state might do.

Another story:
Beverley Hughes, Minister for Children, plans a national academy for parenting practitioners to train a "parenting workforce" of teachers, psychologists and social workers. Among other priorities, she wants them to educate "disadvantaged parents" about how to sing nursery rhymes and read stories. You surely could not make it up. At least, not without the support of your professional "co-educators".

This new academy is meant to develop an evidence-based view of "what works". If Ms Hughes had done her homework, she might have learnt that years of research shows no clear evidence that an interventionist approach to parenting works at all. Yet the parenting industry pursues its agenda regardless, always insisting that "more research is needed", presumably until they get the "right" results.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Global warming skepticism

This NY Times story says that carbon dioxide may not have been correlated with global warming back in the dinosaur era and before. The RealClimate blog says that it is Broadly Misleading. See also the comments, which note that RealClimate misquotes the NY Times story.

I am not sure who is right here, and maybe no one else does either.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Is men's health getting short shrift?

NY Times reports:
In recent years, women's health has been a national priority. Pink ribbons warn of breast cancer. Pins shaped like red dresses raise awareness about heart disease. Offices of women's health have sprung up at every level of government to offer information and free screenings, and one of the largest government studies on hormones and diet in aging focused entirely on older women.

Yet statistics show that men are more likely than women to suffer an early death.

Now some advocates and medical scientists are beginning to ask a question that in some circles might be considered politically incorrect: Is men's health getting short shrift? ...

"We've got men dying at higher rates of just about every disease, and we don't know why," said Dr. Demetrius J. Porche, an associate dean at Louisiana State University.
The article goes on to say that women get much more health care than men, and much more money is spent on research for women's medical problems.

Single-sex public schools in the USA

I didn't know this:
In 1995, only three public schools in the United States offered single-sex educational opportunities. As of November 2006, at least 253 public schools in the United States are offering gender-separate educational opportunities. Most of those are COED schools which offer single-sex CLASSROOMS, retaining at least some coed activities (in some cases, only lunch and certain electives are coed). However, 51 of those 253 schools are COMPLETELY single-sex in format.
My kids' school just has single-sex sex-ed classes.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Shrinks reverse themselves on gays

August news:
American Psychological Association (APA), President Gerald P. Koocher voiced support for the treatment of those distressed by unwanted homosexual attractions. ...

Highlighting the importance of client autonomy and self-determination, Dr. Koocher stated, "APA has no conflict with psychologists who help those distressed by unwanted homosexual attraction." ... He emphasized that -- 1. The choice to enter therapy to diminish homosexual attractions and to strengthen heterosexual potential must be respected. ...
This was a little different from this 2000 APA statement, and afterwards, Koocher apparently had to backtrack:
Mr. Koocher said discussion of interventions in the "extremely complex issue" of sexual orientation "must balance patient choice with the therapist's ethical obligation to obtain informed consent for any therapy process."

"When dealing with sexual orientation," he said, a therapist "must" be sure that a person wishing to change is not "motivated purely from the social pressures of a homophobic environment" because therapy "will not modify societal prejudices."

Mr. Koocher further stressed that "patients must understand" that treatments intended to modify sexual orientation "lack a validated scientific foundation and may prove psychologically harmful."
This is bizarre. The APA recognizes all sorts of odd disorders, such as Encopresis, which is defecation into inappropriate places. Similar thinking would say that the therapist must make the patient understand that therapy will not modify society preferences for using toliets.

Ever wonder how the psychiatrists and psychologists decided in 1973 that they would no longer classify homosexuality as a disorder? According to this March 1993 Atlantic Monthly article:
Hooker administered psychological tests to her sixty subjects, including the Rorschach ink-blot test, producing sixty psychological profiles. She removed all identifying marks, including those indicating sexual orientation, and, to eliminate her own biases, gave them for interpretation to three eminent psychologists. One of these was Bruno Klopfer, who believed that he would be able to distinguish homosexuals from heterosexuals by means of the Rorschach test. As it turned out, none of the three could tell the homosexuals and heterosexuals apart.
(Also pdf here.) This says:
In 1973, Dr. Robert L. Spitzer was one of the major forces in removing homosexuality from the American Psychiatric Association's (APA) list of mental disorders. On May 9, 2001, Spitzer presented a study to the APA which proves that those struggling with homosexuality can, in fact, leave the lifestyle behind.
You can find a summary of Spitzer's paper and other research
here. I have no idea how scientific it is. A lot of bogus stuff passes for science in this field, including Rorschach ink-blot tests.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Egregious scientific male misbehavior

Vanderbilt astronomer Rob Knop tells a tale of egregious scientific male misbehavior in order to prove that academic science is hostile to women. He says that professor made some "inappropriate" remarks in a cafeteria conversation, including: "if you're male and straight, you can tell what a woman is thinking about you by looking in her eyes."

Maybe the prof has mindreading delusions; maybe he was making good conversation and his remarks were taken out of context; maybe he was flirting; maybe he was rude; maybe he was actually trying to annoy others; maybe he was oblivious to how someone might take offense. I do not have enough info to tell.

What is striking is that Knop is unable or unwilling to explain his objections. Those in the conversation were free to speak up and disagree, or to move to another table. It is not obvious whether anyone took offense. Knop apparently has his own rules for polite behavior that define when and where and how a prof is allowed to express his opinions or tell his personal stories, but he is unwilling to describe them. It appears that he believes that certain opinions should only be expressed to a male audience, but that is sexism of another sort, and he won't admit to that.

Knop is apparently still fuming over a previous blog post in which his department asked him to remove some inappropriate remarks from his blog. Well, that is the path you go down when you join the political correctness police and tell everyone what is and is not appropriate to say.

Big companies beat California initiatives

Corporate money succeeded in Califonia. The tobacco industry beat Prop. 86, the oil industry beat Prop. 87, and the abortion industry beat Prop. 85. An attempt to limit such corporate spending all failed with Prop. 89. George writes:
What abortion industry? There is no abortion industry. If you are referring to Planned Parenthood, it accepts donations, so it is not really a business. Yes, it does charge money for abortions, but it charges less money than the big hospitals, so it is really conducting a public service.
Planned Parenthood is primarily in the abortion business. They make millions of dollars a year doing abortion. It charges whatever the market will bear, just like any other business, as far as I know. I think that it also sells condoms and other products and services.

Planned Parenthood spent millions of dollars on TV ads promoting laws that allow abortion clinics to sell abortions to 14-year-old girls without telling their parents. Planned Parenthood is obviously just trying to increase its business.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Why We Read Fiction

Lisa Zunshine writes in the Nov/Dec Skeptical Inquirer:
Why We Read Fiction

Two areas of research in cognitive evolutionary psychology and anthropology offer tentative but nevertheless exciting insights into cravings that are satisfied -- and intensified -- by reading fiction.

In spite of the way it sounds, mind reading has nothing to do with plain old telepathy. Instead, it is a term used by cognitive psychologists, interchangeably with Theory of Mind (ToM) to describe our ability to explain people's behavior in terms of their thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and desires. Thus we engage in mind reading when we attribute to a person a certain mental state on the basis of her observable action: e.g., when we see her reaching for a glass of water and assume that she is thirsty; when we compose an essay, a lec-ture, a movie, a song, a novel, or instructions for an electrical appliance and try to imagine how this or that segment of our target audience will respond to it; when we negotiate a multi-layered social situation; and so forth. Incorrect though our attributions frequently are, making them is the default way by which we construct and navigate our social environment.

One reason that Theory of Mind has received the sustained attention of cognitive psychologists over the last twenty years is that they have come across people whose ability to interpret behavior in terms of underlying mental states is drastically impaired-people with autism. A severe neurological deficit, autism is characterized by the profound impairment of social and communicative development, by the "lack of the usual flexibility, imagination, and pretence," and, crucially for the present discussion, by a lack of interest in fiction and story-telling (Baron-Cohen 1995). On the whole, studies in autism suggest that we do not just "learn" how to communicate with people and read their emotions, including the emotions of fictional characters. People with autism, after all, generally have as many opportunities to "learn" these things as you and I. Instead it seems that we also have evolved cognitive architecture that makes this particular kind of learning possible, and if this architecture is damaged, a wealth of experience would never fully make up for the damage.
Lisa Zunshine is an associate professor of English at the University of Kentucky and she has just written a book on this subject.

Zunshine goes on to give her own theories as to why she thinks that reading fiction would be good exercise for the brain, but she really doesn't have any brain evidence or any explanation as to why reading fiction would be any better exercise than anything else.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Borat and brain research

The hottest comedian today is
Sacha Baron Cohen who appears in the new movie Borat. He is no relation to the American female figure skater
Sasha Cohen, but is a second cousin to a British brain researcher Simon Baron-Cohen:
In Baron-Cohen's book, The Essential Difference: The Truth About the
Male and Female Brain (2004), he argues that there are innate
differences between male and female brains. Female brains are
predominantly wired for empathy, he reasons, whereas male brains are
predominantly wired for "understanding and building systems". He
describes autism as an extreme version of the male brain, which he
postulates as an explanation for why autism is more common among
He is also cited in the current Scientific American:
Perhaps the most ingenious of the psychological theories is that of Uta Frith of University College London and Simon Baron-Cohen of the University of Cambridge, who posit that the main abnormality in autism is a deficit in the ability to construct a "theory of other minds." Frith and Baron-Cohen argue that specialized neural circuitry in the brain allows us to create sophisticated hypotheses about the inner workings of other people's minds. These hypotheses, in turn, enable us to make useful predictions about others' behavior.

Think outside your bubble

From a California TV ad:
Some girls do not enjoy the relationship with their parents that you may have. Prop. 85 would force girls to notify an abusive or violent parent that they are pregnant and this puts them in real danger. Please --

Think outside your bubble.
Vote NO on Prop. 85
Paid for by [various abortion businesses]
The grammar and terminology is a little weird. Prop. 85 only requires an abortion-seeking underage girl to notify one parent, and it doesn't have to the abusive one. Actually, it doesn't even require that, as there is a simple and nearly automatic judicial override if the girl claims that she can make the abortion decision on her own.

Second, the ad is aimed at voters who are over age 18 and probably much older than that. So why the comparison to an adult voter's relationship to his or her parents?

Third, if a girl has an abusive or violent parent, then she is already in danger. If she is underage and pregnant, then she is already in danger. I think that it should have said that if an underage girl has to tell a violent father about a pregnancy, then this puts the boyfriend in danger.

Finally, I like the slogan, "Think outside your bubble." I don't know what it means, but it sounds great.

George writes:
The slogan "Think outside your bubble" means to look at the issue from another point of view. Not everyone has your old-fashioned morality. Think about a teenaged runaway prostitute who gets pregnant and doesn't want her parents to find out. Think about the boy who gets a girl pregnant, and just wants to get her to the abortion clinic without anyone finding out. Think about Planned Parenthood and other abortion clinics, who will have to ask young pregnant girls whether they are under 18 and whether they have told a parent. Think about a 14-year-old girl who is being sexually abused by a step-father or a neighbor, and gets pregnant. If the parents found out, it could ruin a marriage or make someone move out of the neighborhood or even cause criminal charges. If Prop. 83 also passes, the guy could have to wear a GPS monitoring device for the rest of his life. Getting an abortion has become a rite of passage for girls in our society. Ms. Magazine celebrates women who have had a abortions. Yes, you should call them women, not girls. If they can get pregnant, then they are women and they have a constitutional right to their sexual autonomy.
If an underage girl really wants autonomy, then she should go get legally emancipated. Otherwise, she is under the care of her parents.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Corporate convicts use rehab to cut time

The Houston paper reports:
WASHINGTON -- When former Enron executive Andrew Fastow was sentenced to six years in federal prison this fall, he asked for drug treatment, citing dependency on anti-anxiety medication that helped him cope with the implosion of his company, the imprisonment of his wife and his prosecution.

If the Bureau of Prisons grants his request, Fastow could reduce his time behind bars by up to one year.

Add in the "good-time" credits he could earn by behaving and Fastow -- who once agreed to serve at least 10 years for cheating investors out of millions of dollars -- could be on his way home in about four.

Fastow and other Enron executives are joining a growing trend of white-collar criminals trying to reduce their sentences by entering prison-based drug or alcohol rehabilitation -- an option not open to violent offenders who go through the same treatment.
Going into rehab has become a trendy and phony way for celebrities to cope with scandals. But I don't see anything wrong if someone serving a 6-year federal sentence gets out after 4 years if he has good behavior. Most state prisoners get paroled faster than that.

Maybe Marconi was wrong

A Canadian paper reports
On Dec. 12, 1901, Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi made history by claiming he had used a kite and some copper wire atop Signal Hill in St. John's to receive a wireless signal from across the Atlantic Ocean.

More than a century later, a group of radio scientists in Newfoundland are conducting a series of tests that could debunk Mr. Marconi's claim to fame.

"We're essentially setting out to prove it wrong," said Joe Craig, a physicist and director of the Marconi Radio Club.

Mr. Craig and several other researchers are using a combination of modern computer technology and vintage equipment to determine whether the inventor actually heard three faint, electromagnetic clicks -- the letter S in Morse code -- that were transmitted from 3,470 kilometres away in Poldhu, England.

Mr. Marconi garnered global acclaim for the incredible feat. He won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1909 and became known as the "father of radio."

"I had been absolutely right in my calculation," Marconi wrote at the time. "The electric waves . . . had traversed the Atlantic, serenely ignoring the curvature of the Earth, which so many doubters considered would be a fatal obstacle."

But in recent years, a growing number of skeptics have come forward to question Marconi's claim, saying it's more likely that he heard static or distant lightning.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Brain stem explanation for SIDS

Michael Conlon reports for Reuters:
An abnormality in part of the brain that controls breathing, arousal and other reflexes may be what causes sudden infant death syndrome, a finding that could lead to a preventive treatment, a study says.

The discovery could explain why babies lying face down are more likely to die of SIDS.

In that position an infant's reflexes, including head turning and arousal, are harder to trigger when breathing is challenged, says the report from Children's Hospital Boston and Harvard Medical School.

The study, published in this week's Journal of the American Medical Association, was based on autopsy data from 31 infants who had died from SIDS and 10 who had died from other causes between 1997 and 2005 in California.

In the SIDS infants, a look at the lowest part of the brainstem, the medulla oblongata, found abnormalities in nerve cells that make and use serotonin, one of the chemicals in the brain that transmit messages between nerve cells.

Serotonin and how it is processed in the brainstem may help coordinate breathing, blood pressure, sensitivity to carbon dioxide and temperature, the report says.

When babies sleep face down or have their faces covered by bedding, they are thought to breathe exhaled carbon dioxide back in, depriving them of oxygen.

When that happens the carbon dioxide increase would normally trigger nerve cells in the brainstem, which in turn stimulate respiratory and arousal centres in the brain.
Meanwhile, the American Academy of Pediatrics has been promoting a policy of using forensic pathologists to investigate infanticide whenever SIDS is reported. I don't think that they should be accusing parents of crimes in SIDS cases, unless they can at least figure out what causes AIDS.

Seducer faces rape trial

The Philadelphia Daily News reports:
A total of seven women yesterday accused Marsalis -- described as a drifter with no permanent address here -- of drugging them, then sexually assaulting them. Five said they had met Marsalis through the online dating site

Marsalis has already beaten a similar rap. In January, he was acquitted by a Philadelphia jury on almost identical charges -- that he had raped three women he'd met through the Internet.

Despite that initial setback for prosecutors, Philly police stepped up their investigation of Marsalis.

Police said that over the past 21 months, they have come across 13 victims in 15 incidents in which Marsalis has been suspected of committing rape.

"There was a plan," Lt. Thomas McDevitt of the Special Victims Unit said. "There is no doubt about it."

Marsalis would lure women to meet him in public, telling his victims he was a successful career man on the right track, police said.

He posed as a doctor, an astronaut-in-training, even a ""confident to the president," McDevitt said, adding that Marsalis showed women various cards and photos to back up his stories. ...

The women did not report the alleged attacks to police. One said police contacted her to ask about her encounter with Marsalis.

Two of the women met Marsalis in their apartment buildings, not online. One of those women was not raped but said Marsalis had assaulted her.

The women tried to explain a confounding experience: rapes that involved more confusion than force, more regret than resistance, more acquiescence than threat.

One woman said she became pregnant during the attack and asked Marsalis to accompany her -- and help pay for -- an abortion. He did.

Another woman met Marsalis for lunch in Chinatown just days after her alleged rape. She said she had been drugged and raped again after lunch.

Yet another had lunch with Marsalis the day after the alleged assault. One said that she had spent most of the weekend with him and that he had attacked her again.

One said that, after some time had elapsed since the first attack, she continued to "hang out" with Marsalis in the apartment building where they both resided. She accused him of raping her again right after she was discharged from the hospital following an illness that left her weak. ...

In the January trial in which Marsalis was acquitted, none of those women immediately reported the rapes, and two continued to date and have consensual sex with him.
This is weird. I realize that a lot of people have unusual ideas about what constitutes rape, but unless the police find physical evidence of the illegal use of some drug, they don't have a case.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Gripes from the poor

NY Times reports:, the Web site that provides free home valuations, has been accused by a coalition of community activist groups of undervaluing the homes in black and Latino neighborhoods.
Those groups are unhappy that poor neighborhoods are now so easily identified as being. Before they try to get poor people to move, they might want to read this:
For poor people, living in an affluent area can be a health hazard. That is the provocative conclusion of a study of the death records of more than 8000 people living in four US cities.

The ill effects of being poor or living in economically disadvantaged areas have been demonstrated before, but it is unusual to consider both factors in the same study. When Marilyn Winkleby and colleagues at Stanford University in California did so, they were surprised to find that death rates in four Californian cities were highest for poor people living in the richest neighbourhoods (American Journal of Public Health, DOI: 10.2105/AJPH.2004.060970).
Maybe they are better off living in those poor neighborhoods, and using Zillow to find those neighborhoods.

Who owns most of the wealth?

Michael disputes my claim that "In the USA, women own a majority of the wealth."

This attributes "Women hold 65% of the country's wealth", to Fortune Magazine, but we cannot confirm the cite.

A UK study says, "women currently own 48% of the nation's personal wealth" and increasing, but Michael says the UK may be different from the USA.

He also found this: "Women own more than 47% of the stocks (Source: Peter Hart and NASD and the Investment Institute)", and notes that 47% is less than 50%.

Finally, he sends this study:
According to estate tax returns data, in 1925 one quarter of the wealthiest 0.01 percent were women, Figures 1a; and 1b.2 This fraction rose rapidly through WWII and then more slowly to peak in 1969, when women neared parity with men. Since then, there has been a marked decline. By 2000, women's share had fallen to one-third -- this despite the increased economic emancipation of women commonly observed for the labor market.
and concedes that "this talks about percent of women among the wealthiest and not total wealth".

I will have to research this further.

Update: Now Michael sends this:
The wealth of living individuals can be estimated from Federal estate tax return data using the estate multiplier technique. The fundamental assumption underlying this methodology is that estate tax returns filed for decedents who died in a particular year represent a random sample, designated by death, of the living population in that year. ...

In 2001, there were an estimated 7.4 million adults, age 18 and older, with gross assets of $675,000 or more ...
There were nearly 4.0 million male top wealth holders in 2001, representing 53.7 percent of the top wealth holder population. These men had a combined net worth of $8.0 trillion, for an average net worth of nearly $2.0 million ...
There were over 3.4 million female top wealth holders, comprising 46.3 percent of the total. The combined net worth of these women was $5.8 trillion, while their average net worth was $1.71 million ...

While the average net worth of female wealth holders was more than 15 percent lower than that of males, averages can be very sensitive to outliers. When significant outliers exist, the median is often a better measure of the center of a distribution. The median net worth for male wealth holders was approximately $978,000, while the median value for females was nearly the same at almost $955,000. In fact, Figure B shows that the distribution of wealth for male and female wealth holders is very similar for most points, except for those above the 95th percentile, where male net worth values dominate. It is these larger values that account for the much larger difference in the average net worth between the sexes. While not included in Figure B, it is interesting to note that the left tail of the net worth distribution for males dips much lower (larger negative values) for points below the 1st percentile than for females.
I could not find Figure B.