Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Sleepwalking libel case

A UK paper reports:
Even the judge was taken aback when a jury awarded €10million (£8.51million) to a company boss who sleepwalked naked to a female colleague's bedroom.

Wealthy Donal Kinsella won the biggest libel award in Ireland's history.

He had sued the mining company he worked for over a press release it put out in the aftermath of his late-night wanderings on a company trip to Africa.

Mr Kinsella's lawyers had told the court how the story had gone round the world and life had been made a misery for the married father of six ever since the 2007 incident. ...

The extra €1million (£850,000) was because the jurors felt that the cross examination of Mr Kinsella by the company's lawyers was too aggressive. They believed barristers were trying too hard to discredit Mr Kinsella. ...

Last night, Mr Kinsella said: 'I am vindicated. My name is cleared,' adding that he felt elated by the outcome.
Wow. So in Ireland a man can walk naked into a woman's bedroom, and a woman cannot accuse a him of an impropriety if he is really just sleepwalking. And the lawyers cannot ask aggressive questions to discredit her.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Language influences thoughts and feelings

Here is some new research on linguistic relativity:
ScienceDaily (Nov. 17, 2010) — The language we speak may influence not only our thoughts, but our implicit preferences as well. That's the finding of a study by psychologists at Harvard University, who found that bilingual individuals' opinions of different ethnic groups were affected by the language in which they took a test examining their biases and predilections. ...

"It was quite shocking to see that a person could take the same test, within a brief period of time, and show such different results," Ogunnaike says. "It's like asking your friend if he likes ice cream in English, and then turning around and asking him again in French and getting a different answer." ...

Linguist Benjamin Lee Whorf first posited in the 1930s that language is so powerful that it can determine thought. Mainstream psychology has taken the more skeptical view that while language may affect thought processes, it doesn't influence thought itself. This new study suggests that Whorf's idea, when not caricatured, may generate interesting hypotheses that researchers can continue to test.
It is better for Americans to not learn any foreign languages. If you learn French, you might end up eating some inferior ice cream flavors. Or worse.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Taking the man's surname

The "Dear Annie" advice columnists have written several columns on whether a wife should take her husband's name, and here is their latest:
Women used to take their husband's surname because they were considered their husband's property. Many women continue to do so because they respect tradition, prefer the husband's name, don't want to confuse the children, like to give the impression that they are subservient to their husbands, whatever. ... When men are expected to take their wife's surname upon marriage, we'll be happy to ask for their input.
No, that is not correct. The reason for that tradition is to induce the father to take responsibility for the kids. Before DNA tests and test-tube babies, kids could be sure about their mothers, but not about their fathers unless certain social structures were firmly in place. One of those is marriage, and paternal naming is another. And usually the mom wants to have the same surname as the kids.

Those social structures are being systematically destroyed for ideological reasons. In the brave new world, kids will have to rely on DNA tests.

A couple of days ago, these columnists gave this sick advice:
All young children masturbate. ... At school and at home, it should be explained to the [9-year-old] girl that this is something to be done in her bedroom or bathroom.
I am surprised that this even gets published in a family newspaper. These women give really terrible advice.

Update: A new Pew study says about 39 percent of Americans said marriage was becoming obsolete. Marriage depends on it being a social norm, so it will be obsolete when most people think so.

Update: The columnists got many letters offering much better advice.

Update: Dear Annie published another response:
Dear Annie: ... As a guy, I will never need advice from a couple of feminists with their noses in the air. — Content

Dear Content: ... That would be like letting a woman decide how a man should feel about his erectile dysfunction.
It is rare that any men even write to an advice columnist. Now we see why.

Mindreading toddlers

New research claims that toddlers acquire mindreading skills at age 3.
More intriguing is that the toddlers judged a person’s intention. When one person tried to harm someone else but did not succeed, the youngsters were less likely to help that person at a later time.

But when they observed a person accidentally cause harm to another, they were more willing to help that person.

“It had been thought for a long time that it was at a later age, only around age 5 or 6, that children become conscious of other people’s intentions,” said Amrisha Vaish, one of the study’s authors and a developmental psychologist at the Max Planck Institute. “To help those who help others is actually a very sophisticated ability.”

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Obama consequences

A NY Times podcast says that the new Obama health care law is forcing millions of people to pay more for health insurance, and causing others to be threatened with lost coverage. The paper says that this is a great example of the law of unintended consequences" (at 25:50). It says that no one foresaw this.

No, everyone saw this. It is basic economics. You limit peoples' choices, and on average they will be worse off. They respond to incentives. The health care bill does not do anything to control costs. You cannot just say that you are requiring coverage, and have everyone be better off somehow.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Suing over an $8 snail plate

A Marin County California newspaper reports:
Comes now in Marin Superior Court, small claims division, the case of Chadwick St.-OHarra and Steve Righetti, who are suing the Seafood Peddler restaurant in San Rafael over an alleged incident of what their lawsuit called "exploding" escargot that marred Righetti's birthday dinner in June.

Plaintiffs allege the gastronomical gastropods burst from their plate when cocktail forks were applied, resulting in a spray of hot garlic butter on their faces and polo shirts.

St.-OHarra, a 59-year-old Danville resident, claims the butter got into one of his tear ducts, causing temporary vision impairment. Righetti, 59, a San Rafael businessman who lives in Sonoma, claims the side of his nose was squirted.

"I was humiliated," said Righetti, who owns an automotive shop near the landmark Canal area restaurant. "I thought, 'Do I need this on my birthday?'"
This story encapsulates the decline of America. Marin County which is known as a home for superannuated hippies, lying around in hot tubs listening to Grateful Dead tapes with a joint in one hand and a glass of Chardonnay in the other. Oddly punctuated name. A man taking another man out to dinner to celebrate his birthday. Men eating snails. Suing over an $8 plate of snails. Whining about splattered garlic butter. A man worrying about a stain on a polo shirt.

Almost as bad are the complaints of those stranded on a cruise ship for three days:
Cruise passengers endured stench, cold food

At that distance from land, it was out of cell phone range for much of the ordeal. The fire left the ship without air conditioning, hot water or hot food. The casino was closed and, for a time, so were the bars. The swimming pool was off-limits because the pumps wouldn't work. ...

"Let's put it this way: For me, this was my worst nightmare, my phobia, to be on the sea in a ship and get stuck," Warschauer said.
Having to eat cold food on a cruise ship for three days is not even a nightmare. I'd like to trade these wimps to Chile for the miners from the 2010 CopiapĆ³ mining accident.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Efforts to push female names

SciAm reports:
A recent study finds that despite our efforts for parity between the sexes, male names still come first when referring to a couple.

Brad and Angelina. Romeo and Juliet. John, Yoko. See a pattern? We may have come a long way baby, but our female names still typically follow the man’s name.

Researchers searched the Web for 10 pairs of popular names and found that in 79 percent of the pairs the male name came first. Only 21 percent put the female name first. The research is published in the British Journal of Social Psychology.
Who is SciAm speaking for with "our efforts"? Is there a coordinated campaign to get people to say "Angelina and Brad"?

Some feminists are applying such silly ideas to their own kids:
"Our nontraditional boys' names reflect our own desire to raise sons who will be as comfortable pushing dolls in strollers as pushing trucks."

Their choice: Maxfield. “We liked it that the name carried no image of masculinity, that it would free him from all preconceptions and let people see him as unique,” Richmond said. ...

Paxton was the 12th fastest-rising boys’ name in 2009. The other biggest risers for that year were all in the new group of boys’ names:

1. Cullen
2. Jax
3. King
4. Emmett
5. Colt
6. Braylen
7. Jett
8. Kason
9. Jasper
10. Brooks
It could be worse. The top baby name in Europe now is Mohammed.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Texting teens are troublemakers

Here is a new study:
19.8 percent of teens reported "hypertexting," or sending more than 120 messages a day, while 11.5 percent of teens were "hypernetworking," spending more than 3 hours a day on their preferred social network sites. The authors found that the hyper-texters and -networkers were more likely to be minority students, female, and come from a lower socioeconomic status.

The hyper-texters and -networkers also tended to engage in much more at-risk behavior: higher levels of sexual activity with more sex partners, smoking, and drinking. They also were more likely to be obese and display a tendency toward eating disorders. As if that weren't enough, they had more stress and suicidal thoughts; they also got less sleep and felt less safe at school.
Wow. Liberals used to complain about a "digital divide" in which poor people lack computer access. Now the digital divide is the opposite, and the disadvantages ones have the most computer access.

Whales suffering sunburn

Here is the latest thing for environmentalists to worry about. The lighter-skinned
whales are getting sunburned thru an Anarctic hole in the ozone layer!
DiscoveryNews reports:
The study, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, is the first to demonstrate that sun damage to whale skin is on the rise and is likely tied to increasing levels of ultraviolet radiation resulting from the thinning ozone layer.

"The thing is, whales do not have hair, fur or feathers that could offer some protection, and they are forced to surface in order to breathe," co-author Karina Acevedo-Whitehouse told Discovery News.

"Other animals have behavioral adaptations -- hiding in the shade, for example -- but whales cannot afford to do so," added Acevedo-Whitehouse, a postdoctoral fellow at the Zoological Society of London. ...

The scientists also found that darker whales, in this case sperm and fin whales, tended to not get sunburned as much as lighter blue whales. ...

"Perhaps the most startling lesson from the ozone hole is just how quickly our planet can change," said Jonathan Shanklin, a British Antarctic Survey researcher who has studied the ozone hole and its probable causes, industrial solvents and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) used in refrigeration and air conditioning systems.

Although it's hoped that phasing out of these compounds will allow Antarctic ozone levels to return to 1950's levels by the year 2080, that doesn't provide much hope for whales over the next several years.

"I do not believe we would be able to do very much to reduce the damage to whales caused by sun exposure," Acevedo-Whitehouse said. "However, efforts to mitigate other stressors, such as by reducing contaminants and noise pollution, could be tried and thus aim to reduce their environmental stress levels."
So we cannot reduce the sunburn, but maybe the whales will be happier if we shut down shipping and other byproducts of modern civilization.

Monday, November 08, 2010

More hype for quantum computers

John Markoff of the NY Times reports:
The potential power of quantum computing comes from the possibility of performing a mathematical operation on both states simultaneously. In a two-qubit system it would be possible to compute on four values at once, in a three-qubit system on eight at once, in a four-qubit system on 16, and so on. As the number of qubits increases, potential processing power increases exponentially. ...

The Santa Barbara researchers said they believe they will essentially double the computational power of their quantum computers next year.

John Martinis, a physicist who is a member of the team, said, “We are currently designing a device with four qubits, and five resonators,” the standard microelectronic components that are used to force quantum entanglement. “If all goes well, we hope to increase this to eight qubits and nine resonators in a year or so.”
So if this were correct, then he would be able to compute 256 values at once, in a year or so.

Don't bet on it. I don't think that they have even proof of one genuine qubit really doing two computations at once.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Eat good-flavored cheese

The NY Times has a long article on the dairy industry promoting dairy products, as if it were some sort of national scandal. It says:
Dr. Walter C. Willett, chairman of the nutrition department at the Harvard School of Public Health and a former member of the federal government’s nutrition advisory committee, said: “The U.S.D.A. should not be involved in these programs that are promoting foods that we are consuming too much of already. A small amount of good-flavored cheese can be compatible with a healthy diet, but consumption in the U.S. is enormous and way beyond what is optimally healthy.”
Willett is a leading nutrition expert, but why is he saying that we have to limit our cheese to what is "good-flavored"? Sometimes I think that these experts are more influenced by what they like to eat, rather than any hard science. The guy claims to have written a 1000 research papers, but he does not have any on his Harvard web site. I don't trust any researcher who is afraid to post his own research.

The article exposed govt documents that offer inconsistent advice about cheese -- some say to eat more, and some say to eat less. It says that the feds have stockpiled $4 billion of cheese in Missouri caves! I had no idea that we were so well prepared for a cheese shortage. But the official advice on nutrition is inconsistent in a lot of ways, because of unscientific reasoning.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Quantitative easing

The hot term for the monetary policy of the Pres. Barack Obama administration is Quantitative easing. A UK newspaper desribes it:
Quantitative easing is the modern way to print money. The central bank doesn’t actually have to use a four-colour press to spew out crisp notes. There are more sophisticated ways to boost a nation’s money supply. But ultimately the impact is not very different from dropping dollar bills from a helicopter as Ben Bernanke once described this policy before he became the Federal Reserve’s chairman.
I never heard of this. Apparently it has previously been used in Japan, but it has never actually worked anywhere. This makes our dollars less valuable, and there is nothing that the tea party can do about it.

According to this, it is all a plot to create a new stimulus plan, and spend money without approval from the Republican Congress.