27 February 2011 (AM)

Workout notes
First, 5 miles (5.1 actually) on the treadmill in 1 hour (58:40 for 5) walking fairly hard; 15 minutes easy, 25 minutes of 1-1, 20 of 2-1.
Then I met Lynn for a slower 8 mile walk on the East Peoria trail; there was some snow on the ground and it took us 2:28 to get to the place where the trail changed and back. We saw a few cardinals; though the pace was slow and leisurely it was good practice for walking with tired legs.


Ok, I know why he is doing this. But much of our economic trouble comes from policies which concentrate wealth at the very top.

I’ve heard the current situation described in the following way: “there is a plate of 12 cookies and in comes a CEO, a tea-party member and a union member. The CEO grabs 11 cookies for himself and then tells the tea-party member: “watch that union guy; he wants part of your cookie!”

More on this: Thom Hartman reads the infamous “99’er who is at the end of his rope” letter. I don’t know whether the letter is authentic or not; it sounds a bit like fiction written to make a valid point.

But it is hell for someone that age to try to get even a low-paying job.

Satire: oh noes! Gays are harming traditional marriage!

WASHINGTON—Reports continue to pour in from around the nation today of helpless Americans being forcibly taken from their marital unions after President Obama dropped the Defense of Marriage Act earlier this week, leaving the institution completely vulnerable to roving bands of homosexuals. “It was just awful—they smashed through our living room window, one of them said ‘I’ve had my eye on you, Roger,’ and then they dragged my husband off kicking and screaming,” said Cleveland-area homemaker Rita Ellington, one of the latest victims whose defenseless marriage was overrun by the hordes of battle-ready gays that had been clambering at the gates of matrimony since the DOMA went into effect in 1996. “Oh dear God, why did they remove the protection provided by this vital piece of legislation? My children! What will I tell my children?” A video communique was sent to the media late yesterday from what appears to be the as-yet unidentified leader of the gay marauders, who, adorned in terrifying warpaint, announced “Richard Dickson of Ames, Iowa. We’re coming for you next. Put on something nice.

(yes, I know…it is The Onion….)

A teacher laments that she doesn’t want to be a teacher anymore. I’ll post one of the parts that interested me the most:

As my class sizes increased, so did the needs of my students. Normally when I would teach something, I would have a handful of students who didn’t get it. I rarely had kids I couldn’t get to make progress. But as the classes got bigger, that began to change. More students with special needs were being mainstreamed into my classroom. I was getting kids in class who had been in America less than six months who spoke no English, with very little help or support. I crazily began to take all kinds of classes, do research on how to reach kids with autism, ADD, emotional disturbances, limited English proficiency—you name it, I studied the best ways to overcome disadvantages. I’ve always had a never-say-die attitude, so I worked my butt off to reach everyone in this increasingly diverse classroom with fewer and fewer resources. […]

Then the past few years a few of the buildings in our district didn’t meet their AYP (adequate yearly progress.) The district began to look for ways to help these building to succeed. The focus on test scores escalated to a crazy level. The teachers in one of the elementary buildings in my district were told they could no longer teach anything besides reading, math, and science because those were the subjects that were tested. Our building wasn’t ever told that specifically, but it was understood that we were to focus on practices that would improve our students’ test-taking skills.
The district decided to implement required core instructional materials that were mandated to everyone. Suddenly, the creativity of the job was being removed. They wanted everybody to teach the same materials, the same way. I’ve never been one to buck the system, so I began to wrack my brain for how to use these new materials and still keep the lessons interesting for my students.
At the same time, class sizes and special needs were growing. The behavior classroom was closed and its students were mainstreamed into the regular classroom. I tried to become an expert on dealing with anger issues. I tried to learn how to help fifth graders with severe disabilities, limited mobility, and cognitive levels of very young children, all in my regular classroom now filled with 30-35 students. My job became an even greater challenge than it had always been before, but still my attitude was to think “bring it on!” I just couldn’t fathom the idea that my natural teaching ability wasn’t exactly what was needed to solve any and all challenges that came my way. […]

for the first time, our school didn’t meet AYP because two few English Language Developing students in the entire school didn’t pass their reading benchmarks.
When I heard this, I instantly thought of the two English Language Learners in my class who hadn’t passed their reading tests last year and how unfair I thought it was that they even counted on our test scores when they came to our school in January and were absent at least twice a week from that point on. I was wondering how I could possibly have gotten them to benchmark level in three days a week for three months. I was thinking how if only those two students hadn’t counted on our scores, we would’ve met AYP as a school. When I mentioned it to my principal, she just said there are no excuses. We aren’t allowed to have any excuses. We have to get kids to the level they need to be no matter what the circumstances. I thought of the little boy I had with an IQ of 87 who could barely read. I thought of the little girl in a wheelchair who’d had 23 operations on tumors on her body in her eleven years, and the girl who moved from Mexico straight into my class and learned to speak English before my eyes, but couldn’t pass the state test. Somehow it doesn’t feel like making excuses to acknowledge that they had good reason not to pass their benchmarks.

There is the kicker: the last thing that we need is some clueless leader who says “oh, that is just an excuse”. The bottom line is that students show up to school starting with wide ranges of abilities and, like it or not, initial ability has a great dealt to do with performance. As far as “raising the bar and they will meet it”: ask yourself how well you’d do if you needed to, say, run a mile in under 5 minutes and bench press 400 pounds to keep your job. You wouldn’t be able to, period. Some things are impossible to do..and trying to educated a class of 30 or more students with a huge variance in abilities is all but impossible…for anyone.

Movies The King’s Speech: fiction, at least with regards to the relationship of Winston Churchill to “the Palace”.

Science The USDA is introducing an invasive species (wasps) to fight the emerald ash borer beetle:
This was done after studying the ash borer in China and determining that a type of wasp was effective at various stages of the beetle’s life; a study was done to determine if this wasp would cause harm to the environment and it appears that it won’t. Via Conservation Report:

Blue eyed-humans: blue eyes result from a relatively recent mutation:

Reese Witherspoon.
Associated Press

People with blue eyes have a single, common ancestor, according to new research.

A team of scientists has tracked down a genetic mutation that leads to blue eyes. The mutation occurred between 6,000 and 10,000 years ago. Before then, there were no blue eyes.

“Originally, we all had brown eyes,” said Hans Eiberg from the Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine at the University of Copenhagen.

The mutation affected the so-called OCA2 gene, which is involved in the production of melanin, the pigment that gives color to our hair, eyes and skin.

“A genetic mutation affecting the OCA2 gene in our chromosomes resulted in the creation of a ‘switch,’ which literally ‘turned off’ the ability to produce brown eyes,” Eiberg said.

The genetic switch is located in the gene adjacent to OCA2 and rather than completely turning off the gene, the switch limits its action, which reduces the production of melanin in the iris. In effect, the turned-down switch diluted brown eyes to blue.

Enjoy some non-standard woo:

February 27, 2011 Posted by | Barack Obama, biology, economics, economy, education, environment, nature, political/social, politics, politics/social, science, training, walking | Leave a comment

Why do ants walk a geodesic path back to their nest?

Here is why: they optimize in the following way: they leave a smell when they go out by various paths. The smell is strongest in the path that took the least amount of time to traverse. So that is the path they return on. For details, read Jerry Coyne’s blog.

Think of it as a calculus of variations problem which is solved by trial and error.

Oh yes…it isn’t because Jesus loves the little ants.

February 26, 2011 Posted by | creationism, nature, quackery, science, superstition | Leave a comment

26 February 2011

Workout notes 6 mile “run” on the treadmill in 1:03:30. Too damned slow, though my first 30 minutes were very easy. I used my home sport tech and the inclines wore me down.
Note: in the morning, I got a big cramp in my left calf; it is still just a bit sore.

Other notes This has been making the rounds: a 73 year old woman has worked up to a 150 pound bench press and a 5:14 marathon. She started late in life (late 50’s?).

If I could finally get this shoulder cleared up maybe I could work on my bench press. It is better; I can sleep the night sans pain and NSAIDS but it is still tender at times.

On my local running club board, some are concerned about the Boston Marathon Qualifying standards (basically, if your qualifying standard is X and you bet X by 10 minutes, you compete for entry against everyone who beat their standard by 10 minutes). Meh. But then you have some who are going off on the BAA for letting charity runners in or them giving “slots” to this group (running club) or that group.
Then some were upset that people can buy Boston Marathon gear (jackets, etc.).

A couple of remarks:
1. It is the BAA’s race, period. THEY decide who gets in. Frankly, I think that it is great that they reward their local clubs that help out with slots.

2. Don’t be so anal about things like jackets. I’ll demonstrate this with a point: the other day I was hiking with a friend when a local runner (formerly national class, and still pretty darned fast) came running by with a buddy. They waved. When they got out of earshot (they did so very quickly) I joked: “I always beat those guys in local races”. My friend said “suuuuuure, you do” and laughed.
Bottom line: when you go for a run, people can tell what you really are, no matter what attire you are wearing. So don’t sweat the jacket stuff.

Note: this lady is wearing a Boston Marathon jacket…

(note: clicking on each thumbnail takes you to the photo at the site). Anyway, SHE is wearing a Boston Marathon jacket; not sure if the tights are official. 🙂

February 26, 2011 Posted by | big butts, marathons, running, spandex, training | Leave a comment

25 February 2011

Workout notes
5 mile treadmill walk in 1:00:50; I did some 2-1 in the last 30 minutes which sped me up some. Then I did rotator cuff stuff.
Note: my shoulder felt fine last night and most of the day today; in terms of injuries it was a good, relatively pain free day.

Personal notes
We started with snow last night, but it is mostly gone; no shoveling needed. Then the women’s team had a rare afternoon game. We lost but the action on the court was rugged; there were lots of hard picks and checks. The ladies will need ice bags tonight!
Note: they are letting lots of kids teams in the game so next time I am bringing earplugs. Having dozens of girls screech EEEEEEEEEEEEEE during time-outs is just too much. 🙂

The current debate over social security is interesting. Many Democrats claim that social security is not adding to the deficit. Here is why: it is true that recently, social security started to pay out more than it took in payroll taxes. But over the past many years, more money was collected in social security taxes than was paid out; hence this excess money was called the “trust fund”. So the pay-outs from the trust fund plus what is coming in is enough to keep social security solvent for the next 25 years or so.

But there are those who argue that the “trust fund” is some sort of accounting fiction; this money isn’t there (and it really isn’t) because the excess collected was used just like regular taxes were used. Others said “yes, but those outlays were really IOU’s issued to the social security trust fund.”

So here is a discussion of the trust fund and what fact check says about it. Here is Robert Reich’s take (and he was a trustee):

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a Republican presidential hopeful, says in order to “save” Social Security the retirement age should be raised. The media are congratulating him for his putative “courage.” Deficit hawks are proclaiming Social Security one of the big entitlements that has to be cut in order to reduce the budget deficit.

This is all baloney.

In a former life I was a trustee of the Social Security trust fund. So let me set the record straight.

Social Security isn’t responsible for the federal deficit. Just the opposite. Until last year Social Security took in more payroll taxes than it paid out in benefits. It lent the surpluses to the rest of the government.

Now that Social Security has started to pay out more than it takes in, Social Security can simply collect what the rest of the government owes it. This will keep it fully solvent for the next 26 years.

Anyway, that is where the dispute is. What everyone agrees on is that social security now collects less than it pays out.
Of course, if the government “owes social security” then…well, the debt just went up.

Paul Krugman Explains that all of these public worker pension benefits are really delayed salaries that were negotiated to begin with.

Robert Reich again: the Wisconsin situation is really a shakedown of the middle class by the rich. The cliche gets it best: Republicans find it less odious to cut a 50,000 dollar a year salary by 10 percent than to raise taxes on the rich by 3 percent.

So that is what is going on up north. What about down south?
Here is a sample of southern Republicanism:

An audience member at a town hall hosted by Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA) on Tuesday asked the Tea Party congressman who was going to shoot President Barack Obama.

The unidentified town hall attendee’s question got a big laugh from the audience, reports Blake Aued of the Athens Banner-Herald.

But Broun didn’t exactly condemn the remark, according to the newspaper report.

“The thing is, I know there’s a lot of frustration with this president. We’re going to have an election next year,” Broun said in response to the question. “Hopefully, we’ll elect somebody that’s going to be a conservative, limited-government president that will take a smaller, who will sign a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare.”

Broun had asked the audience who had driven the farthest to be at the meeting and let the winner ask the first question, according to the newspaper. The reporter couldn’t hear the question himself, but Broun’s press secretary confirmed that the question was about when someone was going to shoot the President.
Late, Late Update: Witnesses tell TPM that Broun laughed along with the audience when he heard the question, but his office has issued a statement calling the the question by an elderly man “abhorrent.”

Note that the Congressman did NOT correct the questioner.

Religion Mano Singham continues on his interesting series of posts:

I have no reason to doubt Parson’s claim that the above books are philosophically more sound in their arguments for atheism than the current crop of atheist best sellers. But note that these are all heavy-duty philosophical books aimed at other philosophers, both religious and atheistic. It is a safe bet that most ordinary religious people have never even heard of these authors, let alone read their works. That is true for me (I have read one essay by Mackie and that’s about it) and I have been a serious atheist for some time.

The point of the books by Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, Dennett, Stenger, and others is that they are not targeted at philosophers of religion but are taking direct aim at ordinary religious believers and the bases of their beliefs. These people constitute almost the entirety of the religious populace and for them religion is not an abstract philosophy but requires a real god who acts in this world to influence actual history. This is why these authors have riled up the religious establishment in a very short time (new atheists books have been around only since 2004 when Harris published The End of Faith) in a way that atheist philosophers of religion haven’t, even though the latter have been around for much longer and, as Parsons says, may have made much more cogent arguments.

The fact that the works of sophisticated philosophers have had little impact on popular religious beliefs while those of the new atheists have is why I think that the strategy of the new atheists is the correct one.

I’ll add this: the war against superstition needs to be waged in public. The theologians will find ways to cling to their word-salad gods while claiming to be “believers”. From my point of view, that is unimportant. My interest is in deities that interact with this universe. If they don’t do that, why bother with them?

Some video rants:
The first is a “let ’em have it”. The second: well, the guy’s style is a bit “too much” but his words and ideas are right on. Note that he catches Fox News in a blatant lie (they reversed poll numbers)

February 26, 2011 Posted by | economics, economy, Fox News Lies Again, political/social, politics, politics/social, Republican, republican party, republicans, republicans political/social, republicans politics, shoulder rehabilitation, superstition, training, walking | Leave a comment

The very title of this post is a WIN

From PZ Myers’ blog:

Anthropocentrism: All of God’s Special Little Snowflakes
by Amy Peters

The whole article was fun. Oh sure, it was the mom bragging about her kid (what else is new?) but the point is that we have been conditioned to think of ourselves as being apart from the rest of the animal kingdom. Sure we are the dominant species in that our brains have enabled us to dominate the world in ways other animals haven’t. But we really haven’t been on the planet for that long.

But too many of us are so full of ourselves that we have made up stories of gods making it all just for us!

February 25, 2011 Posted by | atheism, religion | Leave a comment

24 February 2011 pm

Workout notes
AM: yoga with Ms. Vickie (and Lynn) It is getting better but my poses are still terrible.
PM: weights:
Squats: Smith 10 x 45, 10 x 135 (good depth), 6 x 185 (not quite as deep)
Squats: Free: 10 x 135 (medium depth)
Incline presses: 10 x 115, 10 x 125, 7 x 125 (touch the chest each rep)
curls: 3 sets of 15 x 20 lb. dumbbells
rows; 10 x 190, 10 x 200, 10 x 200 (Hammer machine)
pull downs: 2 sets of 15 x 120 (careful, shoulder friendly grip)
sit ups: 4 x 25 (1, 2, 3, 4 inclines)
ball hamstring exercises 15, 10, 10
Stretches, etc.

Right now the shoulder feels better.

Local A strong snowstorm is on the way, 5 to 8 inches expected. We are all going to die!!!!!
(ok, we are going to die, but it is unlikely to be anytime soon and unlikely to be due to this snowstorm…)

Today’s posting is light due to my post about this calculus problem: pulling a rope up a cliff. It turns out that this problem can be handled two different ways: in one way, one moves small bits of rope different distances. In the other way, one performs small movements of the amount of rope that is still hanging over the side. A change of variable shows that both ways are equivalent mathematically.

Religion Why do religious liberals hang on to religion? Here is one answer from Jerry Coyne (who quotes a Rabbi):

The upshot: all is well, for we can find Him by reading sacred texts, keeping our eyes open, observing rituals, and acting like God (presuming, of course, that we know how God acts). But the final paragraph is telling:

All of this might be a little overwhelming, I say. But start somewhere. The search for God is frustrating and difficult, and it is never done. But with God, our lives have meaning and purpose; without God, we are reduced to being no more than a tiny speck in a vast universe.

There’s Abrahamic religion in a nutshell. Because we don’t like the truth—which is that all of us are just specks—we make up a god.

That is part of it. My guess is that many hang onto it because it gives some sort of emotional help with getting through the rough patches of life; and yes the “metaphor” part can be useful. But I think that the above quote really nails the reason that there is a “philosophical quest for god”; the “this religion helps me with life” doesn’t really require that…or any god at all.

No, there is nothing wrong with taxing the rich. Taxing the rich at Ronald Reagan rates is NOT communism. Communism? Dragging the rich out of their homes, impaling them on poles and nationalizing their riches would be “communism”. We are talking about returning to Ronald Reagan tax rates.

Of course, Republicans think that ordinary people are the problem; the outrageous concentration of wealth at the very top doesn’t bother Republicans.

History for Republicans God’s own (ex) Senator is upset that liberals have a negative view of the Crusades:

If you were worried there wouldn’t be a 2012 candidate touting the pro-Crusades platform, then today is your lucky day!

“The idea that the Crusades and the fight of Christendom against Islam is somehow an aggression on our part is absolutely anti-historical,” former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) told a South Carolina audience yesterday. “And that is what the perception is by the American left who hates Christendom.”

Santorum’s defense of the Crusades came in Spartanburg, S.C. reports Andy Barr of Politico. South Carolina is an early and important GOP presidential primary state, and Santorum is considering a presidential run.

Referring to the “American left,” Santorum observed: “They hate Western civilization at the core. That’s the problem.” Sanoturm also suggested that American involvement in the Middle East is part of our “core American values.”

“What I’m talking about is onward American soldiers,” Santorum continued. “What we’re talking about are core American values. ‘All men are created equal’ — that’s a Christian value, but it’s an American value.”

Remember Mr. Santorum is a “credible” candidate for the GOP nomination. 🙂

Republicans in Congress

Terror babies! That’s right…the terrorists are raising kids in America to commit terror acts 15-20 years down the road….that sounds like a sound strategy. 🙂


February 25, 2011 Posted by | 2012 election, mathematics, political/social, politics, politics/social, religion, Republican, republican party, republicans, republicans politics, training, weight training, yoga | Leave a comment

I’ve got a reputation to uphold…

At least some people think this about me. So…to the other blogs:

Volleyball: European uniforms are often awesome!

There is more where that came from. 🙂

Yoga: I attended Saturday’s yoga for runners class; the attendees were, in general…let’s face it….mostly female, mostly younger (30s-40s), mostly very fit and clad in very tight spandex…and I was in the last row.

(click to see the full sized image at Girls in Yoga Pants)

Yep, I saw this a lot, but mostly in black running tights rather than gray yoga pants.

And while The Spandex Statement has lots of front shots, they will, on occasion, have a nice “business end shot” like this one:

(click on the image to go to The Spandex Statement, where you can get a large version by clicking on their image)

February 24, 2011 Posted by | big butts, spandex | Leave a comment

23 February 2011

Workout notes
I slept in. I am still a bit tired. But I worked out over lunch: 4 mile run on the treadmill; first mile very slow (11 minutes), then 10:30, then I alternated some 9:30-10:00 running with brief (100-200 meter) walking breaks and did enough to finish in 42:20. Then I walked 2 more miles (plus, mostly outer lane) and passed old people by the truckload (Bradley U, but the dried up old farts were there on lunch hour). Then I did 4 x 25 sit ups, stretches, etc.

Shoulder note
Last night I had some pain…not quite the old “wake me up” variety but the type that I noticed when I woke up to use the bathroom. I am wondering: headstand? down-dog? going down too far with the incline presses? slacking with the rotator cuff exercises? Not stretching enough?

Believe it or not, I side with the Mayor here. Sure, these police officers need to be kicked off of the force and face charges. But, I can see a way in which airing this video too soon might well make it harder to prosecute the offenders. Now if you are someone who has had court experience and know that my conclusion is false, feel free to tell me.

The Deputy Attorney General of Indiana seemed to think that it might be appropriate to fire on the Wisconsin protesters with live ammunition. He was fired. My guess is that some southern state will hire him. 🙂

Speaking of Wisconsin, leave it to the Republican media to lie distort the truth:

Beck And Co-Host Insinuate Wisconsin Teachers Have Done A Bad Job Because Of Purportedly Poor Student Reading Performance. From the February 23 edition of Beck’s radio show:

BECK: By the way, let’s ask the teachers this. There’s research out that shows that two-thirds of all eighth-graders — two-thirds of all eighth-graders cannot read.

PAT GRAY (co-host): Proficiently. Two-thirds.


BECK: Only 32 percent of Wisconsin public school eighth-graders earned proficient rating while another 2 percent earned advanced. Another 66 percent of Wisconsin eighth-graders earned ratings below proficient, 44 who earned a rating of basic and 22 who rated below basic. Well, you guys are sure doing your job, aren’t you now?

GRAY: Give ’em a raise. [Premiere Radio Networks, The Glenn Beck Program, 2/23/11]

Limbaugh: “If You Or I Failed At Our Jobs As Badly As” Wisconsin Teachers, “Not Only Would We Be Fired, We Wouldn’t Be Talking About Lifetime Pensions And Health Care Benefits.” From the February 22 edition of Limbaugh’s radio show:

LIMBAUGH: Now, if you or I failed at our jobs as badly as teachers in the public school system clearly have failed, not only would we be fired, we wouldn’t be talking about lifetime pensions and health care benefits paid for by somebody else. We might be put in jail for fraud for taking money under false pretenses.

“What are you talking about, Mr. Limbaugh?” This. Two-thirds of the eighth-graders in Wisconsin public schools cannot read proficiently. According to the U.S. Department of Education. Not according to me, not according to Sarah Palin, but according to the Obama administration. Two-thirds of the eighth-graders in Wisconsin public screw-els cannot read proficiently, despite the fact that Wisconsin spends more per pupil in its public schools than any other state in the Midwest.

In the National Assessment of Educational Progress Tests administered by the Department of Education in 2009 — that’s the last year available — only 32 percent of Wisconsin public school eighth-graders earned a proficient rating, while another 2 percent earned an advanced rating. The other 66 percent of Wisconsin public school eighth-graders earned ratings below proficient, including 44 percent who earned a rating of basic and 22 percent who earned a rating of below basic.

They’re not even being taught to read. [Premiere Radio Networks, The Rush Limbaugh Show, 2/22/11]

FACT: Wisconsin Eighth-Graders’ Reading Scores Are Above National Average

Wisconsin Public School Eighth-Graders’ 2009 Reading Scores Are Above National Averages. According to the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP):

* 78 percent of Wisconsin public school eighth-graders scored “at or above Basic in NAEP reading,” compared to 74 percent nationwide. [Page 64]

* 34 percent of Wisconsin public school eighth-graders scored “at or above Proficient in NAEP reading,” compared to 30 percent nationwide. [Page 65]

* 22 percent of Wisconsin public school eighth-graders scored “below Basic,” compared to 26 percent nationwide. [Page 66]

* Wisconsin public school eighth-graders’ average score was 266, compared to 262 nationwide. [Page 34] [The Nation’s Report Card, National Center for Education Statistics, March 2010]

Now, of course, our national level is not outstanding, but our national level is being dragged down…by states in which teachers don’t have collective bargaining rights:

In a blog post on Sunday, Angus Johnston, an American history professor at the City University of New York, describes the Dems’ pro-union tweets as flawed by outdated statistics and improper statistical analysis. Then he asks what would “good” data could tell us about the question of whether teachers unions provide any benefit to students.

After taking a harder look at the kind of data the Dems were touting as well as other student performance data, Johnston confirmed in a blog post Monday that Wisconsin does, indeed, rank near the top of the country on SAT/ACT scores. By contrast, Virginia is near the middle of the national rankings pack and the rest of the no-union states are near the bottom. The same relative rankings are true on another standard of student success: high school graduation.

Furthermore, Johnston had different takes on the data Grothman believes is evidence of the floundering Wisconsin public schools.

In fact, after looking at the very same data Grothman was citing, plus the SAT/ACT scores and student graduation rates, here’s what Johnston concluded:

“Yes, Wisconsin has great schools, with great outcomes. Yes, states without teachers’ unions lag behind. Yes, that lag persists even when you control for demographic variables…And yes, Virginia, (and Texas, Georgia, and North and South Carolina) unions do work.” Do read all of Johnston’s posts for an interesting take on the whole subject.

Note: I encourage people to read the whole linked article; the decline in reading scores in Wisconsin is discussed…as is the increase in non-native English speaking students.

How are people in Wisconsin responding? There is some bad poll data and some good data. I can recommend Nate Silver’s post on the topic. Upshot: there is some ambivalence; people don’t want union people to be overpaid but they do want them to retain the right to bargain; and it appears that the governor is in worse position.

Political/Social We’ve won another small victory: the Obama Justice Department will no longer enforce the Defense of Marriage Act as it was deemed unconstitutional. So, before too long, gays will be able to make themselves as miserable as the rest of us! 🙂

Really, I am to the left of the President on gay marriage (note: both Senator Kerry and President Bush supported civil unions, which is the official Obama position). Ironically, Mr. Cheney appears to be pro-gay marriage; it feels odd to agree with him on something.

Bad pun. Very bad.
epic fail photos - cos B WIN
see more funny videos

Religion This was from a year or so ago, but it is quick and to the point:

But people fear atheism. I’ll put it this way: when I hear “atheist”, I think of Richard Dawkins, Neal deGrasse Tyson, Jerry Coyne, someone in a science or mathematics department, etc.
Others associate atheism with stuff like this:

(to which I say “meh”…stupid but whatever floats your boat)

Anytime science comes up with a scary conclusion, people will resist believing it. Take climate change skeptics (please! 🙂 ).

Near the forum’s conclusion, Massachusetts Institute of Technology climate scientist Kerry Emanuel asked a panel of journalists why the media continues to cover anthropogenic climate change as a controversy or debate, when in fact it is a consensus among such organizations as the American Geophysical Union, American Institute of Physics, American Chemical Society, American Meteorological Association and the National Research Council, along with the national academies of more than two dozen countries.

“You haven’t persuaded the public,” replied Elizabeth Shogren of National Public Radio. Emanuel immediately countered, smiling and pointing at Shogren, “No, you haven’t.” Scattered applause followed in the audience of mostly scientists, with one heckler saying, “That’s right. Kerry said it.”

So why? Part of it that the average moron person knows nothing about science but thinks that they know more than they think that they do (“common sense”). Part of it is that they are used to being lied to by marketers, politicians, officials, etc. So why shouldn’t this be more of the same? And, the science reporting is absolutely awful; many times I get the impression that the journalist has little or no understanding of what they are writing about. Hence they tend to do thins like give the “crackpot view” in an effort to be “fair and balanced”.

Speaking of climate change: some not-so-hard things could be done right now with existing technologies:

Placing strict limits on a handful of common air pollutants could pay big dividends for efforts to limit climate change, improve public health and increase agricultural productivity, according to a new U.N. report.

Curbing emissions of black carbon, a component of soot, along with methane and tropospheric ozone, could cut projected climate warming by 0.5 degree Celsius, or about 0.9 degrees Fahrenheit, by 2070.

Such cuts could be made with existing technology, the report says, and would “have immediate and multiple benefits for human well-being.”

Possible strategies for reducing black carbon, methane and ozone include capturing methane produced by landfills and fossil fuel extraction, introducing cleaner-burning cookstoves, installing particulate filters on diesel engines and banning the practice of burning fields of agricultural waste.

The research shows that cutting black carbon and methane emissions would slow the rate of warming up until about 2040, while starting soon to cut emissions of carbon dioxide would only have an appreciable effect after 2040.

Science fun

What does our Secretary of Energy do in his spare time? He thinks about things like this:

Good to know that our Secretary of Energy, Steve Chu, is still able to unwind from a long day of bureaucracy by thinking about atom interferometry and the Principle of Equivalence.

Equivalence Principle and Gravitational Redshift

Michael A. Hohensee, Steven Chu, Achim Peters, Holger Mueller

We investigate leading order deviations from general relativity that violate the Einstein equivalence principle (EEP) in the gravitational standard model extension (SME). We show that redshift experiments based on matter waves and clock comparisons are equivalent to one another. Consideration of torsion balance tests, along with matter wave, microwave, optical, and M\”ossbauer clock tests yields comprehensive limits on spin-independent EEP-violating SME terms at the $10^{-6}$ level.

The Principle of Equivalence says that, if you’re in free fall, there’s no way of detecting the gravitational field around you in a local region of spacetime. (You’ve seen Inception, right?) Unlike electromagnetism, with gravity there’s no local “force” that can be detected by comparing what happens to particles of different charges. In other words, all particles feel the same “charge” as far as gravity is concerned; they all fall in the same way.

But..another Nobel Laureate thinks that his “clock mechanism” (from the oscillations of wave packets) isn’t really a suitable “clock”. Hence the debate….a HIGHLY INFORMED debate.

February 24, 2011 Posted by | Barack Obama, cosmology, economics, economy, education, Fox News Lies Again, humor, injury, liars, matter, moron, morons, nature, physics, political/social, politics, politics/social, Republican, republican party, republicans, republicans political/social, republicans politics, running, Rush Limbaugh, science, training, walking | Leave a comment

Why would anyone send me this video?

February 23, 2011 Posted by | big butts, human sexuality, humor | 4 Comments

22 February 2011 pm

Awesome Science Debate
Surf to Larry Moran’s blog to check in on a vigorous debate on the mechanisms of evolution. You’ll probably recognize some of the names in the comments. This is one of those instances in which I can more or less follow the main thread, but am unable to contribute anything.

The issue is roughly this: how much of a role does natural selection play in evolution? All parties agree that it is a major role. But what is the degree?

Some of the specific issues: some of the mutations that get fixed in a population have no visible effect (e. g., no effect on behavior or on the physical body); but there is a genetic change that the biochemists can see. Is this evolution? It is certainly not natural selection.
Another issue: take a trait like, say, the ability to roll one’s tongue. Some people have it, others don’t. This doesn’t have any evolutionary advantage now. But…remember that some traits are vestigial; that is, they were useful when they evolved but are no longer (e. g., our hair standing on end when excited or goose bumps when we get cold). So, when such a trait is investigated, is the null hypothesis that this trait was from natural selection (adaptation) until proven otherwise, or is it the other way around (“neutral” until proven otherwise).

This is good stuff, and much better than getting into a discussion with someone whose “knowledge” comes from a couple of “intelligent design” books.

More science Fish poop is helping us learn a bit more about the earth’s climate history. Really:

Seafloor sediment composed of ground up shells and coral also contains a significant amount of fish poop, according to new research published on February 21 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

This research shows that mineralization in fishes’ intestines composes around 14 percent of carbonate mud in the shallow seas of the Bahamas, sediment that is subsequently transformed into the limestone geologists use to reconstruct earth’s climate.

“Compositions of sediments are used very widely for trying to deduce past climatic and environmental conditions,” said Chris Perry, a sedimentologist at Manchester Metropolitan University and coauthor of the study. “This could completely change peoples’ thinking perhaps about the kind of pathways by which mud is produced.”
Because these crystals look the same as those produced by other marine organisms, Ridings was skeptical about their precise calculation of 14 percent, and noted that geologists have a great deal of work ahead of them to fully understand the carbonate record. Still, he added, this new knowledge that fish have been contributing to sediments over the past 100 million years shows that fish are an important and unrecognized source of carbonates.

Interesting stuff; more data is always coming in and models are always being tweaked.

Education Questions such as “what do we need to do to fix our public education systems” rarely have simple, “bumper sticker” caliber answers:

The national press and political class adore Michelle Rhee, who ran the D.C. public schools from 2007 until 2010. She’s appeared on the cover of Time and Newsweek, chatted on television with Oprah and David Gregory, and starred in Davis Guggenheim’s documentary Waiting for Superman and a 12-part series on PBS’ the NewsHour. This level of attention is unheard of for a schools chancellor of any size district, much less the 108th largest in the country.

For many, Rhee is the heroine in a morality play that draws on the power of the civil rights movement. In Washington, D.C., disadvantaged black and brown children are being robbed of an education, and Rhee has been battling the forces that were keeping them down: the teachers’ union. Whereas the union selfishly put adults first, Rhee puts kids first. The new organization she just founded, StudentsFirst, is hoping to raise $1 billion explicitly to counter the political influence of the unions. […]

Rhee’s message about education reform is very seductive because it’s simple and optimistic. Childhood poverty and economic school segregation, in Rhee’s world, are just “excuses” for teacher failure. If we could just get the unions to agree to stop protecting bad teachers and allow great teachers to be paid more, she says, we could make all the difference in education. The narrative is attractive because it indeed would be wonderful if poverty and segregation didn’t matter, and if heroic teachers could consistently overcome the odds for students whom everyone agrees deserve a better shot in life. […]

Most education researchers, though, recognize that Rhee’s simple vision of heroic teachers saving American education is a fantasy, and that her dramatic, often authoritarian, style is ill-suited for education. If the ability to fire bad teachers and pay great teachers more were the key missing ingredient in education reform, why haven’t charter schools, 88% of which are nonunionized and have that flexibility, lit the education world on fire? Why did the nation’s most comprehensive study of charter schools, conducted by Stanford University researchers and sponsored by pro-charter foundations, conclude that charters outperformed regular public schools only 17 percent of the time, and actually did significantly worse 37 percent of the time? Why don’t Southern states, which have weak teachers’ unions, or none at all, outperform other parts of the country? Rhee often noted that poor blacks in New York are two years ahead of poor blacks in Washington, which properly illustrates that demography is not destiny, but New York didn’t get ahead by firing bad teachers. Chancellor Joel Klein terminated only three teachers for incompetence between 2008 and 2010.

I’d recommend surfing to Slate and reading the rest of this article. One thing that I can say for sure: where genetics puts an upper bound on someone’s ability to learn (e. g., most of us will never be Stephen Hawking), many, many factors hamper kids before they even show up in the classroom. In fact, we start to see difference in the abilities between kids from poor and wealthy households at 2 years of age!

Growing up poor can suppress a child’s genetic potential to excel cognitively even before the age of 2, according to research from psychologists at The University of Texas at Austin.

Half of the gains that wealthier children show on tests of mental ability between 10 months and 2 years of age can be attributed to their genes, the study finds. But children from poorer families, who already lag behind their peers by that age, show almost no improvements that are driven by their genetic makeup.

The study of 750 sets of twins by Assistant Professor Elliot Tucker-Drob does not suggest that children from wealthier families are genetically superior or smarter. They simply have more opportunities to reach their potential.

These findings go to the heart of the age-old debate about whether “nature” or “nurture” is more important to a child’s development. They suggest the two work together and that the right environment can help children begin to reach their genetic potentials at a much earlier age than previously thought.

As far as Ms. Rhee herself, I have some questions as to her credibility:

For those who don’t know – Michelle Rhee based her “expertise” on a personal narrative. An Ollie North-like “I’ve been there” sort of claim that turns out to be as full of shit as Ollie North and most of the other ideologues who claim they and they alone have the magic to fix what ails us.

Rhee, who taught second and third grade at Harlem Park Elementary School in Baltimore from 1992-1995, claims in her resume

Over a two-year period, moved students scoring at the 13th percentile on national standardized tests to 90 percent of students scoring at the 90th percentile or higher.

Let’s marvel at that for a moment. She is basically claiming that given a class of kids who scored worse than about 90% of the kids taking the tests, in two years she was able to get those same kids performing BETTER than about 90% of the kids taking the tests. […]

Turns out a study done by the University of Maryland, stored in an online federal archive shows the school in question during that time period had – at best – “modest, uneven gains in various grade levels at the school in a review of results from the Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills.” That is the standardized test used to assess student performance. They looked at other tests as well. The study is solid. Read it for yourself.

As the story buried in today’s Washington Post Metro section notes:

There were no separate results for Rhee or any other Harlem Park teacher. The study also noted that many students at the struggling Baltimore school were not tested.

But the results were presented in enough detail to raise questions about whether any single class could have made strides of the magnitude Rhee depicted on her resume.

Rhee said she taught second grade for two years, then third grade in 1994-95. In that year, Rhee said, her class made a major leap in achievement.

The study found that third-graders overall at the school made gains that year in reading and math. But they finished nowhere near the 90th percentile. (emphasis added).

This is not to say that she did a bad job teaching; in fact the evidence suggests that she did a fine job:

Rhee was one of 4 teachers for that grade level. According to the data for the grades she taught:

The math scores for the same span suggest movement from the 37th percentile to the 53rd or 54th.

Basically, they were seeing a 15 percentile improvement, not an 80 percentile improvement. To be fair, 15 percentile point improvement is pretty damn good.

But that is no where near the improvement that she claimed; what she claimed is pretty near impossible. So, even if she made an honest mistake in fact, this sort of mistake raises questions on her judgment.

What Wisconsin is really about: this is a concerted effort for Republicans to break the back of the Democratic party:

Break the unions, and finish off the Democrats as a political force.

Speaking of the Republicans, here is a list as to who might be running. Note: since this article, Mr. Thune has announced that he won’t be running, and Mr. Huckabee and Ms. Palin have given “definite maybes”. This article gives a short run-down on the major players (biographical information, brief history, etc.).

February 23, 2011 Posted by | 2012 election, biology, education, environment, evolution, political/social, politics, politics/social, republican party, republicans, republicans political/social, republicans politics, science | Leave a comment