Some interesting science stuff: elephants, washers, exploding stars, sea mushrooms

The remnants of a relatively young star are still seen expanding. What is of special interest is that we are seeing some of the light directly and other parts of the light after it has been reflected off of dust…and due to the longer path, the reflected light from the same event is reaching us later than the direct light!

Bulletin of concerned scientists: wonder if the US should consider calling for a testing ban on “hypersonic” missiles (slower than the ICBMs but fast enough to react quickly). The article is worth reading if only to learn about the technology.

Job discrimination: an applicant changed his first name from Jose to Joe…and ended up getting call backs that he didn’t get earlier.

Life sciences After almost 30 years, scientists were able to place a type of sea mushroom (not quite a fungus, not quite a fish) into a place on the tree of life.

Elephants: we really shouldn’t hunt these creatures; they are too smart and can take pleasure in play:

Technology and vibrations: watch the consequences of an unbalanced load and subsequent vibrations:

September 4, 2014 Posted by | astronomy, evolution, racism, science, social/political | , , , | Leave a comment

Tawny Frogmouth, charter schools and race in America



Do you see the birds in the above photo? See the larger photo at Jerry Coyne’s website; this is an example of evolution leading to excellent animal camouflage.

Education Though current conservatives tend to be a fan of charter schools (which are often “top-down” managed), originally charter schools were a liberal idea to give teachers more say in schools; they were supposed to be an educational laboratory to try out new ideas.

Race This is a very balanced editorial about race relations and the Ferguson shooting aftermath by Nicholas Kristoff. This is a nice companion piece to Kareem Abdul Jabbar’s Time Magazine editorial. Neither editorial is a shallow “whitey sucks” screed but rather an honest, balanced look at the situation.

September 2, 2014 Posted by | nature, racism, science, social/political | , , | Leave a comment

Is there racial bias on who the police shoot? Data is…inconclusive….

Seriously. There isn’t much data out there and what little actual data there is:

Whether or not racial bias is a significant factor in police homicides is very much an open question.

Studies have long concluded that police killings are more common in cities with more violent crime and larger minority populations, yet some researchers have found no positive association between race and killings. Others, however, have concluded that fewer black suspects were killed in cities with black mayors, and, in one city, that blacks made up a greater share of police homicide victims than of arrests overall.

But all those studies used the government’s imperfect data and measured only homicides, excluding the greater number of shootings in which suspects survived. A more comprehensive analysis exists: Dr. Klinger and Dr. Rosenfeld, among others, examined all 230 instances over 10 years in which officers of the St. Louis police fired their weapons (the city’s police, in contrast to the police in Ferguson involved in Mr. Brown’s shooting).

Their conclusions, presented last November at the American Society of Criminology’s annual meeting, were striking. Officers hit their targets in about half of the 230 incidents; in about one-sixth, suspects died. Of the 360 suspects whose race could be identified — some fled before being seen clearly — more than 90 percent were African-American.

But most interesting, perhaps, was the race of the officers who fired their weapons. About two-thirds were white, and one-third black — effectively identical to the racial composition of the St. Louis Police Department as a whole. In this study, at least, firing at a black suspect was an equal-opportunity decision.

In laboratory experiments, meanwhile, subjects who see pictures or videos of threatening activity, and then punch “shoot” or “don’t shoot” buttons befitting their evaluations of the threat, consistently “shoot” black suspects more often than white ones.

But a different experiment last year at Washington State University in Spokane suggested that the opposite might be true: In realistic simulations of confrontations, subjects armed with laser-firing pistols acted in ways that left black suspects less likely to be shot at — not more.

The experiment’s 102 subjects, a mixture of police officers, combat veterans and civilians, were run through a random sample of 60 scenarios drawn from actual police encounters. The scenarios, using white, black and Hispanic actors, were projected in life-size high-definition video on laboratory screens.

I hasten to point out that this talks about SHOOTING and NOT arresting, profiling, searching etc. On those issues, we do have some data.

August 31, 2014 Posted by | racism, social/political | | Leave a comment

Jon Stewart on Ferguson….and Fox’s response

You are tired of hearing about “racism”? Well, some of us are tried of the racism to begin with.

This is one of his best episodes, ever.

Yes, she shooting victim was not a virtuous citizen. But there is enough to suggest that she was shot while he wasn’t a threat and there is overwhelming evidence that black males are not treated fairly by law enforcement (on the whole).

August 27, 2014 Posted by | racism, ranting, social/political | , , | Leave a comment

Racial profiling is real and ugly…

It isn’t a surprise that those with darker skins view police very differently than those with lighter skins; not only are they (we?) profiled, but are often not given the benefit of the doubt.

And those who do NOT experience this as “day to day” reality just can’t “get it”.

I’ve been profiled once (in my case, it was me, AND my car, AND my Texas plates in Illinois) but it happens far more frequently to black men.

It just isn’t right and I can see why it is infuriating to them.

In my case: I’ve been treated well by city police and the state trooper who profiled least seemed apologetic when he realized that I was moving to Illinois rather than running drugs. :-)

August 25, 2014 Posted by | racism, social/political | | Leave a comment

Photo bombing a White Power demonstrator


I almost cried with laughter…

August 24, 2014 Posted by | political humor, political/social, racism | , | Leave a comment

Cops are human too…

I’d like to add something. There was a shooting in St. Louis: in this case the police shot and killed some guy who came out them with a knife. No, the initial story (about how he was holding the knife) was false, but human recollection is often flawed. Not all inaccurate testimony or reporting is lying.

Now, from the safety of my living room/office and the internet, I can say that the police should have made more of an effort to diffuse the situation. BUT, I don’t have someone coming at me with a knife. It is well known that soldiers in combat are almost always scared and often panic. Why would that not also apply to police officers?

Yes, there are some bad police officers who abuse their authority. But in holding the police accountable, we should distinguish between malicious abuse of authority and “heat of the moment” situations. Sure, police candidates are selected and then trained, but the “heat of the moment” situation is going to affect them too; they are not soulless robots.

More stuff
Good media reaction: this article in Time by former NBA great (and UCLA graduate) Kareem Abdul Jabbar is, well, very, very good. It is well written and even handed.

This Media Matters article isn’t so good. It claims that Geraldo Rivera is “blaming the victim”; instead he is making a prediction of how a jury might view the victim. I normally like Media Matters; they’ve slipped a bit here.

Poor communities: Eugene Robison talks about how many of these communities are isolated from the middle class and often invisible to us. This is also why honest discussions are so difficult.

I’ll give an example: most of the black people I know are college students or professionals that I interact with on the internet. Though I know a few and have had honest conversations with them (e. g. one of my friends was profiled by law enforcement and spread eagled on the pavement…this guy is an engineer, for crying out loud!), well, they are only a small percentage of my associates. The college students I see have passed through a sieve of sorts before I see them.

Yes, I sometimes see black people at the gym, or in the parks/rec trails, but these are those with the health and the means to exercise. They are all middle class or above.

My contacts with those in the poor community are minimal and often highly non-representative (e. g. panhandlers…and yes, the demographics of panhandlers vary from place to place; around the University of Texas they were almost all white, at least in the late 1980’s when I was there).

Bottom line: I have no clue as to what life is like in such communities.

I can have some empathy though, at least with regards to how they view police. I got profiled once and didn’t like it (you might read the comment by one visitor who told me that part of the problem was “MY RECORD” (speeding ticket?)), and I imagine that this happens to them all of the time. Still, I mostly see police as “good”; e. g. as being on “my side” and I can understand why others might not have this feeling.

A bit of good news
Teen pregnancy can contribute to poverty, but that is..on its way down! Of course, we aren’t completely sure as to why (e. g. the standard guesses such as “sex education” and “availability of birth control” have been statistically tested, and such tests have proved to be inconclusive).

August 22, 2014 Posted by | political/social, politics/social, racism, social/political | , , , | Leave a comment

Bias of many types…and a walk

Today’s workout: end of “leisure” workout. I did my 8.1 cornstalk course in 2 hours (some rain…I didn’t get that wet) and then 2 more miles on the treadmill: 12:00/11:20 to get 23:20. I wanted to do at least a little faster than marathon pace.

RIP: BKS Lyengar, famous yogi and author of Light on Yoga.

Here he is in 1977 when he was in his late 50’s. What flexibility, strength, and body control!

Survivorship bias: this is the annoying tendency to see, say, a dozen successful companies, see what they have in common, and then conclude that what they have in common is what made them successful. Nope; you have to see how many companies did those same things and WERE NOT successful, among other things. From the article:

This is what Pomona College economist Gary Smith calls the “survivor bias,” which he highlights as one of many statistically related cognitive biases in his deeply insightful book Standard Deviations (Overlook, 2014). Smith illustrates the effect with a playing card hand of three of clubs, eight of clubs, eight of diamonds, queen of hearts and ace of spades. The odds of that particular configuration are about three million to one, but Smith says, “After I look at the cards, the probability of having these five cards is 1, not 1 in 3 million.” [...]

Smith found a similar problem with the 1982 book In Search of Excellence (more than three million copies sold), in which Tom Peters and Robert Waterman identified eight common attributes of 43 “excellent” companies. Since then, Smith points out, of the 35 companies with publicly traded stocks, 20 have done worse than the market average.

Depression I talked about depression in an earlier post. Here is some of what science knows about it right now:


See the subtle racism here? The idea is that this black Attorney General who has spoken out about race relations is somehow too “emotionally invested” or biased to be even handed. Why would a black Attorney General be any less evenhanded than a white one? And shouldn’t we be far more concerned with an Attorney General who did NOT see race relations as a problem?

Here: Kansas City police officer posts a snarky post about Michael Brown’s character (the dead teenager in Ferguson) and shows a photo of a young black man with a gun and money in his mouth. But this black man is some guy in Oregon…not Michael Brown. It is amusing that police officers everywhere are telling us to not to rush to judgement but… :-)

I suppose that given that we have 300+ million people in this country and a lot of police officers, a few are bound to be crackpots.

Racism in sports
Sadly, some African American athletes have racist stuff directed at them. Here is an example (Eddie Chambers, an elite boxer)

August 20, 2014 Posted by | boxing, racism, science, social/political, statistics, walking, yoga | , | Leave a comment

Sadly still relevant


August 19, 2014 Posted by | racism, social/political | , | Leave a comment

Comedy: John Oliver on Ferguson (Police militarization)

This is some of the best commentary that I’ve seen.

August 19, 2014 Posted by | humor, racism, social/political | , | Leave a comment


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