# blueollie

March 31, 2009

## Farewell to March 2009, Part II

Workout notes Yoga, then 6 miles on the treadmill (running), 2 miles walking. 6 mile run: 10:00, 9:30, 25:50 for the next 3 miles, 9:20 for the last mile (55:40 for 6 miles), then 2 miles of cool-down walking (14 minutes per mile).

Politics

This makes me want to watch this HBO special (over lunch hour?)

March 31, 2009

## Farewell to March, 2009 (part I)

Workout notes I’ll be disciplined and only do yoga and a medium run/walk, though I am in the mood to do more.

From across the internet:

🙂

Senator Jim Webb: he is a conservative Democrat and is to the right of me on many issues. But I fully support his proposed project to study crime and punishment:

Support for the proposal has come in from the right, too. The Lynchburg News and Advance a conservative paper that publishes in the hometown of Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University, weighed in favorably.

“America’s prisons — both federal and state — are overflowing with prisoners. The United States has about 5 percent of the world’s population; we have about 25 percent of the world’s known prison population, Webb estimates,” offered the editorial board. “Something, somewhere is seriously wrong.”

Libertarian support for reform of the criminal justice system is a given, but some traditional conservatives back the plan, too, including Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who is the ranking Republican on the subcommittee that will weigh in on the legislation, and Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Penn.), who is ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee. […]

Webb couches the effort in fairly straightforward terms. “Let’s start with a premise that I don’t think a lot of Americans are aware of. We have five percent of the world’s population; we have 25 percent of the world’s known prison population,” Webb said on the Senate floor when introducing the bill.

“There are only two possibilities here: either we have the most evil people on earth living in the United States; or we are doing something dramatically wrong in terms of how we approach the issue of criminal justice.”

Over the weekend, the family-friendly Parade magazine featured a cover story by Webb titled “Why We Must Fix Our Prisons.”

Having moved mountains to pass an historic expansion of the GI Bill in his first two years last session, Webb has an unusual amount of credibility for a senator of such short tenure. “I believe we established a legislative prototype with the GI Bill which brought people from across the aisle together to build broad support for the bill,” says Webb. “I plan to continue to apply the GI Bill prototype as we move forward in this newest legislative endeavor.”

By the way, I backed the extension of the GI bill and would love to see a civilian counterpart (something in return for community service)

Education I teach mathematics and this year have some interesting courses and some good students. But I’ve never encountered this situation during my career:

The self-inflated, “never say I’m less than amazing,” narcissism of the contemporary undergrad extends from their papers to their poon. I’ve seen a crop of little girls in my husband’s office flashing him their panties, begging for a grade, sweating their plagiarism charges. […]

I love my husband, I trust my husband, but I hold my breath during his office hours, terrified to knock or push open the door the full way, fearing that I’ll find some grade-grubbing 18 year old whose IQ qualifies her only to be the bouncer at a strip joint, doing… something.

Now I’ve had my yoga teacher flash her panties at me, but that was because her too-loose yoga pants fell down during an upward stretch. Besides, she was wearing conservative granny underpants anyway. 🙂

I am glad that I teach mathematics. When I grade an exam, I don’t have to put up with: “you should score my answer as being correct because my culture/religion teaches me that” $d/dx (e^x) = xe^(x-1)$. Others have it harder. A student wrote about complaining about getting a low grade on a paper. The professor’s crime: demanding that the student present evidence to back up his claims:

Oh, really? That sounds reasonable to me. What does Mr Friend want?

I think we have been accustomed to perceive intelligence as a product of one’s ability to present concrete evidence, especially scientifically. Not to say this is completely wrong or ineffective, but I think we must consider the possibility of metaphysical realities. And maybe, just maybe, we live in world that can’t always be explained rationally.

I see. He wants to write an irrational paper that lacks empirical evidence and is built on intangible claims, and he wants to get an A for it.

Though I am not working on anything as intense as the stuff used to develop the atomic bomb, I sometimes like to divert myself with unpublishable mini-projects just to sharpen my mind while keeping it from wasting away:

One excellent way to start honing such skills is with a few so-called Fermi problems, named for Enrico Fermi, the physicist who delighted in tossing out the little mental teasers to his colleagues whenever they needed a break from building the atomic bomb.

Here is how it works. You take a monster of a ponder like, What is the total volume of human blood in the world? or, If you put all the miles that Americans drive every year end to end, how far into space could you travel? and you try to estimate what the answer might be. You resist your impulse to run away or imprecate. Instead, you look for a wedge into the problem, and then you calmly, systematically, break it down into edible bits. Importantly, you are not looking for an exact figure but rather a ballpark approximation, something that would be within an order of magnitude, or a factor of 10, of the correct answer. If you got the answer 900, for example, and the real answer is 200, you’re good; if you got 9,000, or 20, you go back and try to find where you went astray.

“It’s really just critical thinking, breaking down seemingly complicated problems into simpler problems,” said John A. Adam, a professor of mathematics at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va. “Once you get over the hurdle and realize that, good grief, any question can be answered to this level of precision, to the nearest power of 10, it’s quite exciting, and you start looking for things to apply it to.”

Science and Religion Yes, religion and science do conflict; sometimes the result is a disaster:

Before you raise the “separate magisteria” and “different-ways-of-knowing-about-the-world” arguments for the inherent compatibility of faith and science, have a gander at this article from the Telegraph. The Taliban are preventing children in Pakistan from getting polio vaccine. If this isn’t a direct confrontation between science and faith, I don’t know what is. o.k., Drs. Polkinghorne and Haught, deal with this. Polio vaccine is proven to work: it’s one of the most effective vaccines around. Scientific research has shown this. The faithful reject it on religious grounds. Children will die or become paralyzed in the name of Islam.

Miliants in northern Pakistan have triggered a medical emergency by refusing to allow health officials to conduct a polio vaccination campaign.

Taliban militants in the former tourist destination of Swat Valley have obstructed officials from vaccinating over 300,000 children.

Militants have seized control of most of Swat and its capital, Mingora, and have extended their rule since striking a peace deal with the government and army earlier this year.

Don’t think for a second that our fundies wouldn’t be just as bad, if we weren’t there to enforce some moderation.

March 31, 2009

I graduated from the Naval Academy in 1981. I’ve come into contact with many of these types on the internet. Most of them appear to be quite conservative.

But I do wonder: we have a group of people who

1. Got educated at tax payer expense
2. Got a government paycheck
3. Many had their dependents get tax payer funded healthcare
4. Many went to work for defense contractors

So what do these people do? They bellyache about government spending and taxes!

March 31, 2009 Posted by | ranting, republicans | 3 Comments

## Republicans and Conservatives: their own words

Michelle Bachman (several quotes)

John Shimkus

Alan Keyes

What to do? Kos discusses:

So you know how dejected liberals threatened after 2000 and 2004 to “move to Canada” to be in more ideologically friendly territory? I wasn’t with that crowd, of course. I wasn’t about to give up on this great nation of ours.

But that has long had me thinking: where would conservatives go if they wanted to escape this horrible SOCIALIST America, what with the 39 percent top rate and HEALTH CARE for all (assuming we ever get it)?

Iran? They’d love the theocracy, with a bona fide morality police to beat the crap out of non-believers! But the country worships the wrong god. So close…

Russia? It’s got the oligarchy thing that conservatives love, plus a war-mongering leadership that dreams of empire. Too bad they don’t speak American, or even use American letters in their alphabet!

Singapore? Unfettered capitalism, English as an official language, and a caning if you chew gum on the streets. Oh, and jail if you get caught being gay. It’s conservative nirvana! Well, except that people are Asian. If only they’d be whiter.

Dubai? A playground for the rich, but with the oppressive hand of religion to stamp out all fun. Still the wrong god, though.

Any other suggestions?

March 31, 2009

## I can’t run!

Workout notes 3000 yard swim; 8:54 warm up 500, 10 x 200 on the 3:30 (3:20 for the first, rest were 3:16-3:19; mostly 3:18).

I can’t run In one of these photos, I am walking at about 10 minutes per mile. In the other photo, I am “running” at about 7:50 minutes per mile. Can you tell which is which?

Neither can I. Note: I am supposed to be running in the second photo. Right now, the difference between my “run” and my “walk” is that when I am walking, my support leg is straight as it passes underneath my body. When I “run”, my knee is bent.

Oh yes, my body position sucks. I can’t seem to straighten out no matter how hard I try to.

March 30, 2009 Posted by | racewalking, running, swimming, training, walking | 5 Comments

## We’ve Got Idiots in Illinois too

Workout notes In a few minutes I’ll go to our university’s pool and swim perhaps 2500 yards and do some yoga stretches afterward.

The good: From Cosmic Variance: 2009 is the International Year of Astronomy. Some of the activities are outlined in the blog post that I’ve linked to. But check out these cool posters:

But since I can’t stand to stay in a good mood for too long, I’ll post a video of an idiotic Illinois Congressman: John Shimkus

You see that? We need MORE carbon in the atmosphere and well, we use the Bible as our guide.

Not all of the idiots live in places like the deep south or Oklahoma.

Update: this week’s Climate Change Crock.

March 30, 2009

## 29 March Part II

Workout notes 20.5 mile walk; 1:58 for 10 treadmill miles (varied the incline), light lunch, then about 2:35 (ish) for an outside 10.5 mile course in hiking boots; I left at 11:47 and returned at 14:22. Most of the course was very walkable with only small patches of slush; the only bad part was coming up the hill at MLK-Moss where the City had completely plowed under the sidewalk.

I wouldn’t say that the second walk was “easy” but it wasn’t overly difficult either.

Other items

see more pwn and owned pictures

Science Climate Change Crock:

PZ Myers: makes an interesting point:

Oh, no. Richard Lynn, the fellow infamous for trying to link intelligence and race, is in the news again, this time trying to claim a causal relationship between atheism and intelligence.

“Why should fewer academics believe in God than the general population? I believe it is simply a matter of the IQ,” Lynn told the Times Higher Education magazine. “Academics have higher IQs than the general population. Several Gallup poll studies of the general population have shown that those with higher IQs tend not to believe in God.”

I am always so tempted to simply accept this kind of claim — it’s wonderfully self-serving, obviously — but I can’t. I’ve known lots of religious people who really are brilliant, and I also know lots of atheists who were sincerely religious once upon a time, and there was no sudden increase in their native intelligence when they abandoned faith. […]

Yes, there are a lot of atheists in the topmost ranks of successful scientists, but it’s not because they are intrinsically smarter than someone who believes in gods — it’s because they more easily embrace the mode of thinking that is most productive and successful in scientific fields, and are less burdened with absurd presuppositions. […]

Christopher Hitchens in Newsweek on the Texas Board of Education:

It’s not just that the overwhelming majority of scientists are now convinced that evolution is inscribed in the fossil record and in the lineaments of molecular biology. It is more that evolutionists will say in advance which evidence, if found, would refute them and force them to reconsider. (“Rabbit fossils in the pre-Cambrian layer” was, I seem to remember, the response of Prof. J.B.S. Haldane.) Try asking an “intelligent design” advocate to stipulate upfront what would constitute refutation of his world view and you will easily see the difference between the scientific method and the pseudoscientific one.

But that is just my opinion. And I certainly do not want it said that my side denies a hearing to the opposing one. In the spirit of compromise, then, I propose the following. First, let the school debating societies restage the wonderful set-piece real-life dramas of Oxford and Dayton, Tenn. Let time also be set aside, in our increasingly multiethnic and multicultural school system, for children to be taught the huge variety of creation stories, from the Hindu to the Muslim to the Australian Aboriginal. This is always interesting (and it can’t be, can it, that the Texas board holdouts think that only Genesis ought to be so honored?). Second, we can surely demand that the principle of “strengths and weaknesses” will be applied evenly. If any church in Texas receives a tax exemption, or if any religious institution is the beneficiary of any subvention from the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, we must be assured that it will devote a portion of its time to laying bare the “strengths and weaknesses” of the religious world view, and also to teaching the works of Voltaire, David Hume, Benedict de Spinoza, Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson. This is America. Let a hundred flowers bloom, and a thousand schools of thought contend. We may one day have cause to be grateful to the Texas Board of Education for lighting a candle that cannot be put out.

Of course, it would be simpler to just teach science in science class, but what the heck. 🙂

(hat tip: Why Evolution Is True)

Education: the lament of a current academic:

I keep telling myself that as long as I can hang on for about five more years, until the house is paid of and until I am vested with the state then I can quit and go back and get my PhD. Nothing would please me more than to walk in and tell the big boss to shove it up his ass and tell him how fucked up the hiring practices and salary practices are at the institution where I used to love to work. Unfortunately, these days, I find myself wondering if that is such a good idea. I’m thankful to have a job, and it is a pretty good job at that, but I cannot deny the fact that I am miserable. My greatest fear is that I will remain in a job that makes me miserable the majority of the time because of the lack of other options out there.

I can say that I like my department and that I like the vast majority of my students this semester; then again I am teaching abstract algebra, linear algebra and differential equations. The preparation is hard and time consuming, but the courses themselves are loads of fun, and many, in fact, most, of my students appear to be eager to learn. I wish it could always be like this. 🙂

March 29, 2009

## Snowy Post (29 March 2009)

Workout notes I am going to force myself to get in 3-4 hours total; maybe some of it will be outside in the snow.

Or maybe I’ll shoot for a quality 2-3 hours on the treadmill?

Posts of the day

Internet polls: One example that shows why they are all but meaningless. There was a poll in Texas which asked:

Texans need some wise advice. KTBX asks, How do you think science should be taught in Texas schools?.

Evolution only – 34.50%
Creationism only – 16.83%
Combination of both – 48.67%
Total Responses – 600

Of course, “evolution only” is the best answer as “creationism” is not a valid scientific theory. To those who don’t believe me: surf to the website of any biology department at any research university, or surf to the website of a research lab.

But I digress; the point is that the above poll was linked to by some science blogs.

Here is what happened:

Results: How do you think science should be taught in Texas schools?
Evolution only – 89.62%
Creationism only – 2.96%
Combination of both – 7.42%
Total Responses – 9126

It just goes to show what happens when people speak up, no?

Note: the blogger that I quoted (from Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub) is well aware of what went on; his post is “tongue in cheek”.

Though the Texas board did reject some of what the creationists wanted, they did get some rather idiotic amendments into what passed:

Superficially, those sound fine — of course we want students to analyze the scientific evidence! The problem is that the creationists are going to come back with a novel definition of ‘scientific’ evidence that treats Intelligent Design as a scientific hypothesis, and they’re going to demand textbooks that include a treatment of all kinds of nonsensical ‘theories’. ID is not scientific. It has no evidence in its favor (pointing out that we lack intermediate fossils showing the evolution of the lesser red-necked Argentinian swamp leech is not evidence that it was designed). But the Discovery Institute does have another bad textbook waiting in the wings for the next round of textbook-buying decisions in Texas.

There are other obvious problems with those additions. High school students are expect to study all sides of scientific evidence? Really? I’ve been in the high schools. Texas students must be truly brilliant if they can master the whole of the scientific literature in a semester-long grade school level introductory course to biology.

Texas students are going to study abiogenesis? Really? How much organic chemistry and biochemistry do they have under their belts before they begin this class? Perhaps this is just an opportunity to use the students’ ignorance of the basics to insert their own ridiculous (and ignorant) claims into the instruction.

Here is the Wall Street Journal article.

I’ll put in my two cents: students have trouble enough learning the basics of science. One can’t really judge the merits of a scientific debate until one learns the basics, and bills such as the above undermine the students ability to learn the basics. There is certainly no time to learn crackpottery.

The problem is that one has incompetent people in charge of telling the teachers what to teach.

On a related note It turns out that the “professional” creationists aren’t that bright; evidently they don’t understand things like how to code:

It’s terribly unfair. Not only are the paladins of evolution handsomer, wittier, more charming, and with a deeper grasp of the truth than the orc-like hordes of creationism, but even our ancillary skills are wielded with more effortless panache than our opponents’ primary talents. Here’s a beautiful example: Richard Dawkins, a mere biologist, wrote a clear, simple program in BASIC about thirty years ago that has had the Isaac Newton of Information Theory scratching his head in puzzlement. How did a program running a simple selection algorithm turn a random text string into the specific string “METHINKS IT IS LIKE A WEASEL” so quickly? He must have cheated! There must be some trick in the code! The poor bewildered ‘experts’ of Design Theory struggled to comprehend, and floundered trying to create a program of equal complexity.

As Ian Musgrave shows, the program is trivial, and even us biologists can whip one out in minutes. Once again, the ID camp shows themselves to be less a research group than a gaggle of stumblebum clowns, with the capacity to embarrass themselves with their own incompetence.

Here is a link which shows the code that Dawkins used; note that it is on a level that one would expect out of a freshman CS student.

Other topics

First Amendment: The Legal Satyricon talks about a college newspaper case: evidently a law professor thinks that a sex column for a college newspaper is inappropriate. The professor voicing her opinion isn’t the problem; she has free speech rights also. But one of the things about free speech is that the person who attempts to persuade may well fail, and if the person has power, they may well attempt to suppress the speech that they don’t like by other means.

Here is an example from my own life: some group of neo-nazis put out flyers which denounced me (while making false accusations). I didn’t like that; I voiced my displeasure (fine). I denounced them and what they did (fine). But had I gone to the city council and attempted to, say, make flyer distribution illegal, that would have been wrong.

Politics

It is no secret that I think that President Obama is doing good job. Also, I have respect for Paul Krugman, the Nobel Laureate economist. Well, Dr. Krugman and President Obama are at odds over what to do with the economy.

Krugman sees this as a time for a complete overhaul of our economy (and is calling for a scheme which would nationalize some banks) and has been a vocal critic of President Obama. In short, Krugman appears to think that the President is merely attempting to shore up a bad structure rather than to build a new one.

Krugman article:

Every once a while, … a critic emerges who is more than a chatterer–a critic with credibility whose views seem more than a little plausible and who manages to rankle those in power in more than passing ways. As the debate over the rescue of the financial system–the crucial step toward stabilizing the economy and returning the country to prosperity–unfolds, the man on our cover this week, Paul Krugman of The New York Times, has emerged as the kind of critic who, as Evan Thomas writes, appears disturbingly close to the mark when he expresses his ‘despair’ over the administration’s bailout plan. […]

There is little doubt that Krugman–Nobel laureate and Princeton professor–has be come the voice of the loyal opposition. What is striking about this development is that Obama’s most thoughtful critic is taking on the president from the left at a time when, as Jonathan Alter notes, so many others are reflexively arguing that the administration is trying too much too soon.

My two cents: Krugman may well be right on policy grounds, but there are also political realities to deal with, and President Obama is better situated to see what to do. Sure, democracy is frustrating and inefficient. But remember that it took President F. D. Roosevelt quite a long time to enact the reforms that he was to become known for; it wasn’t a straight line shot.

And remember this: we are NOT the Republicans. We don’t march in lock-step; if one of us (the liberals) thinks that the country is on the wrong path, we have the duty to speak out.

March 29, 2009

## Facebook yin/yang….do I really want to reconnect?

In the past month I joined facebook. I don’t regret it but it has reopened some period of my life; that has lead to some rather mixed feelings on my part.

Let me be clear on what I like about facebook: I like connecting with those that are currently a part of my life. For example, I find myself chatting more with my sister than I have before, and I really like that! I also have kept up a little better with those that I’ve met from the walking community (both racewalkers and distance walkers); I like that also.

I’ve also chatted a bit with my current political and professional friends as well as those who I know from another current area of my life; that is good too.

But in my personal information, I’ve shared my background and I’ve ended up meeting with some of my old Naval Academy classmates. That has been mixed bag for me, emotionally speaking.

At the outset, let me make it clear that I have a positive opinion about the place; it presents a wonderful opportunity for the right kind of person. Yes, the military training makes for a rough first year. But the idea is to prepare you “mentally, morally and physically” to become an officer in the Naval Service (e. g., Navy or Marine Corps) so it is supposed to be hard.

But the truth of the matter is that the Academy experience wasn’t a pleasant one for me; in fact I’ve spend much of my post Navy experience trying to forget that I ever went there. That isn’t a put down of the Academy but rather a frank admission that I never fit in there.

I spent most of my 4 years there being a social outcast; I didn’t fit in so I tried to, and my attempt simply failed. It just wasn’t “me”; “me” was your basic academic nerd who actually wanted to learn the mathematics, science and all that.

Part of the unpleasantness is that I was a bit overwhelmed when I showed up; it seemed as if I were the dumbest and most inept one there. I struggled mightily with the military stuff; drill (marching) confused me; I could never look good in my uniform (I am sort of Oscar-ish…Oscar from The Odd Couple) and I simply don’t think well on my feet. Being neat has always been tough for me and I suck with names; my first year I caught a ton of flack from the upper class.

I got a ton of demerits and spent a good deal of my Saturday nights marching them off.

Consequently my freshman grades were terrible by my standards (2.5-2.7) and that was the last time I had below 3.0 semester grades.

Though I mostly avoided demerits as an upperclassman, (one notable exception for wearing the wrong uniform) and my grades improved, I still didn’t fit in socially. I was one of the social outcasts.

Sure, I did make a few friends (e.g., from the Judo team) but I was always a bit off of the mainstream. And politically, I didn’t fit in at all. In the 1980 election, almost everyone there LOVED Ronald Reagan ( I thought that he was an idiot).

Don’t get me wrong; I derived some real benefits from my time there. I got a decent education; one that was broader than I might have otherwise obtained. I learned some discipline that enabled me to make it through my Ph. D. program. I had a decent amount of coursework…though the 4 year delay from my undergraduate days to the start of my Ph. D. program just about killed me. Not knowing the definition of “normal subgroup” when one enters a Ph. D. level course in algebra is a bad place to be; in fact I had forgotten most every bit of detailed technical knowledge that I had learned.

But I digress.

I didn’t start to fit in with people until I started my graduate school in mathematics; there I finally felt I was in with “like minded” people.

So, the bottom line is that reconnecting with classmates from my Annapolis days reminds me of a period of my life that I’d rather forget for good.

On the other hand, I did meet some people that I liked and have fond memories of, and I suppose that it is a good thing to occasionally listen to those who think differently than I do.

March 28, 2009 Posted by | Friends, Personal Issues | 2 Comments