# blueollie

## 9 May 2010 early morning

Personal: I’ll try to walk a few miles after I type this and then call mom. Mom has dementia but seems to respond “in the moment” to calls.
Injury not much in my leg last night; shoulder remains slightly sore. Cutting back on swimming and staying away from bench presses seems to be working, for now.

I’ll let my internet friends take over for the posts (I’m showing their links and blog posts here):

Athletic Injury There was a time when I reacted like this (even if only internally) to an athletic injury, especially when things appeared to be going well. But now: I suppose that a combination of age (my performances simply aren’t very good) and knowing that, when it comes to sports and physical activities, an athletic injury now usually means that I’ll simply get involved in another activity (cycling, yoga, more swimming, lifting…even walking: I got into walking after an Achilles tendon injury from running). But oh yeah, I remember back in 1999, I hurt my Achilles tendon right when it appeared that I was in peak marathon running shape and was signed up for a marathon. I’ve eaten 4 marathon entry fees due to injury or sickness.

Racism
Brotherpeacemaker says this:

The black community is so complacent that we sit back and allow our children to be abused by law enforcers and security personnel. Black children and young adults go to jail for attempted murder for getting in fights with white children and young adults. We sit back and watch videos of young black girls are punched in the face by law enforcers for resisting an arrest for breaking a curfew. We will sit back and watch a police officer pull out his gun while standing over a young black man lying face down on the ground with his hands cuffed behind him and shoot the subdued black man in his back. The officer made the mistake of automatically reaching for his service pistol when confronting a black man instead of his taser. Why he felt he needed to use a taser on a subdued black man was never explained.

But nevertheless, high profile black people willfully ignore these kinds of happenings and stand ready to absolve the white community of any responsibility in our social condition. Shit like this is reasonable in a lot of people’s opinion considering the potential of antisocial behavior associated with people from the black community. And such reasoning in defense of racial disparity is in itself racist. And way too many black people have learned this support of racism simply too well.

So now we live in an age where the black man can be called the racist for pointing these kinds of thing out. The black man is the racist for talking about racism. And yet, we see one of our state legislatures pass a law that requires its law enforcers to somehow determine who is an illegal alien, and therefore who is responsible for the influx of crime and unemployment and illegal drugs and other manifestations of malfeasance, within that state’s borders. And if that’s not bad enough, a recent poll says that America is nearly split down the middle in support of and opposition to this law, with a slight majority in support. And so what, does that makes it okay or understandable or somewhat more acceptable? The Declaration of Independence said that all men are created equal and have unalienable rights. But because we tolerate racism, we can collectively convince ourselves that such obvious want for racial disparity is acceptable for the greater good.

People, if you believe that life is the same for those of us with darker skins, you are sadly mistaken.

Of course, if one gets in anything resembling an honest conversation, it tends to go something like this:

“I am for equality of opportunity but not for a guaranteed equality of outcome”. They might point out that, say, minorities, ON THE AVERAGE, do worse in school than Asians and Whites. (of course there are the racists who will never give the minorities who excel any credit at all (here and here) but I am NOT talking about these mediocre bigots here).

Here is what people who make the “equality of opportunity” argument don’t seem to get: it is true that individuals who are given an opportunity sometimes blow it. That is undeniable. But what we see is an entire class of people who achieve at a statistically significantly lower rate; there has to be something greater going on.

Sure, there are the IQ tests and minorities score lower on these ON THE AVERAGE (see this reference) but unless one wants to believe that such differences somehow appeared during a relatively brief period of human history (a couple of thousand years?) there have to be factors other than pure genetics acting; that is cold blooded reality. Genes do provide an upper bound on ability, but they don’t tell the whole story. For example, imagine a fetus which carries the genes to be a great athlete being carried by, say, a mother who is malnourished and breathing in pollutants.

On a different note, I also thank brotherpeacemaker for this cartoon.

Technology and Freedom
The FCC is allowing movie companies to remotely block your analogue input devices (to your TV) IF you watch new movies in high definition. Of course, it is just a matter of time before countermeasures are developed, but this kind of thing happens when TVs become more than just passive receptors.

Israel’s secretive nuclear activities may undergo unprecedented scrutiny next month, with a key meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency tentatively set to focus on the topic for the first time, according to documents shared Friday with The Associated Press.

A copy of the restricted provisional agenda of the IAEA’s June 7 board meeting lists Israeli nuclear capabilities as the eighth item – the first time that that the agency’s decision-making body is being asked to deal with the issue in its 52 years of existence.

[…]

Even if dropped from the final agenda, however, its inclusion in the May 7 draft made available to The AP is significant, reflecting the success of Islamic nations in giving concerns about Israel’s unacknowledged nuclear arsenal increased prominence.

The 35-nation IAEA board is the agency’s decision making body and can refer proliferation concerns to the UN Security Council – as it did with Iran in 2006 after Tehran resumed uranium enrichment, a potential pathway to nuclear weapons.

A decision to keep the item would be a slap in the face not only for Israel but also for Washington and its Western allies, which support the Jewish state and view Iran as the greatest nuclear threat to the Middle East.

Iran – and more recently Syria – have been the focus of past board meetings; Tehran for its refusal to freeze enrichment and for stonewalling IAEA efforts to probe alleged nuclear weapons experiments, and Damascus for blocking agency experts from revisiting a site struck by Israeli jets on suspicion it was a nearly finished plutonium producing reactor.

Iran and Syria are regular agenda items at board meetings. Elevating Israel to that status would detract from Western attempts to keep the heat on Tehran and Damascus and split the board even further – developing nations at board meetings are generally supportive of Iran and Syria and hostile to Israel.

That in turn could stifle recent resolve by the world’s five recognized nuclear-weapons powers – the U.S., Russia, Britain, France and China – to take a more active role in reaching the goal of a nuclear-free Middle East.

We’ll see how this all shakes out.

May 9, 2010

## Mid-Afternoon Remarks (7 May 2010)

(hat tip: Why Evolution Is True)

But, at my university, it is nowhere near this bad. Really, my students have been very polite.

May 7, 2010

## 5 May 2010 (noonish)

Workout notes I had an interesting 2700 yard swim; 500 pull, 250 (alt 3g/swim with fins), 5 x 50 (25 first, 25 swim), 250 (alt 3g/swim with fins), 5 x 50 (25 first, 25 free), then 4 x (100 paddle, 100 free, 100 pull).

We had the usual two (young man, woman in the blue suit), and two “new” women in bikinis.

Later, over lunch, I got in the rotator cuff series.

I haven’t slept well over the past two nights (Barbara has had cramps one night, then food poisoning last night) and the blood donation (double red cells) has affected me. It is as if I am out of shape.

Yes, blood donation does affect me; I am usually sub optimal for 5-6 weeks though the worst is over after about 2-3 weeks. The double red cells really does affect the endurance; that is why I donate in the “off season”.

Politics
Yes, BP has contributed to President Obama’s campaign but:

President Barack Obama is the biggest recipient of BP political action committee donations of any political candidate in the last 20 years, according to the Center for Responsive Politics and an analysis published Wednesday by Politico.

Obama’s take from the company whose drilling site is leaking tens of thousands of gallons of day into the Gulf of Mexico: \$77,051. To view a list of all of BP’s donations in the 2008 election cycle, click here.

BP Human Resources chief Dawn Bobbit gave Obama \$4,600 in the last election cycle. BP America Health and Safety Advisor Alfred Apodaca contributed \$500.

To be fair, the energy and natural resource sector wasn’t even among Obama’s top 20 contributors by industry for his 2008 presidential run. If anything, Obama appears to have favored nuclear power (his home state of Illinois is among the country’s largest users of nuclear energy, and two of his top advisers used to work for the nuclear energy giant Exelon).

But his massive take from the company responsible for an ever-growing oil spill off the Louisiana coast is sure to raise eyebrows among those who question the Administration’s response to the spill.

Just to keep things in perspective. As usual, the President should be judged by what he does in office. We’ll see.

Paul Krugman: on the grownups:

Atrios writes about this often, the persistent perception that conservative authority figures are the grownups, the people who know what really works, while the critics are pie-in-the-sky nuts. Yet for the past decade at least, the “grownups” have again and again proved utterly clueless: they told us that it was crazy to blame market manipulation for electricity shortages, to question the case for invading Iraq, to suggest that there was a housing bubble, to doubt that derivatives were making finance safer.

And yet they retain all of their arrogance and some of their prestige. Why?

Why? I think that conservatives don’t really judge policy by actual results but rather by how closely the policy aligns with their ideas. Here is an example of this:

The notion that the first thing to do is “secure the border” between the United States and Mexico — and only then worry about comprehensive immigration reform — falls somewhere between hopeful fantasy and cynical cop-out. It’s a good sound bite but would be a ridiculous policy. […]

Fact-based analysis is increasingly out of fashion, however, and so the border-first hallucination has become popular among politicians and pundits reacting to Arizona’s new “breathing while Latino” law. The measure, which has sparked angry protests nationwide, orders police to act on “reasonable suspicion” in identifying, arresting and jailing undocumented immigrants.

Anyone who thinks such extremism could be quelled if the federal government would just “secure the border” really ought to visit Arizona and take a look. Or at least consult a map. Or even just read up on what is happening at the border — which, according to Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, “has never been more secure.”

Border crossings by undocumented immigrants have declined sharply over the past decade. With more Border Patrol agents on duty than ever before, apprehensions of would-be immigrants along the 2,000-mile border have dropped from a peak of 1.8 million in fiscal 2000 to 556,000 in fiscal 2009. Some of the decrease might be the result of tougher border enforcement, but the weakness of the U.S. economy also could be a factor.

There has been much sound and fury about Mexico’s rampant drug violence spilling over into the United States — much of it wrong, at least as far as Arizona is concerned. Sen. John McCain, who should know better, said recently that failure to secure the border “has led to violence — the worst I have ever seen.” Gov. Jan Brewer said she signed the state’s outrageous new law because of “border-related violence and crime due to illegal immigration.” But law enforcement officials in border communities say this simply is not true.

Racism: the Harvard “racist” e-mail incident. I talked about this here. Here is a mathematician’s take on it:

A recent email by Harvard law student Stephanie Grace allegedly asserts, “I absolutely do not rule out the possibility that African Americans are, on average, genetically predisposed to be less intelligent.” According to the Harvard Crimson newspaper’s blog, this email was forwarded to black law student associations across the country.

Our outrage over the student’s political incorrectness aside, are African-Americans less intelligent than whites? As an African-American who graduated summa cum laude in mathematics with the second-highest grade point average in his class at Harvard, I would have to say, Yes. Because the hypocrisy on the part of black Americans is stunning and self-defeating: Black Harvard economics professor Roland Fryer has written a research paper stating that African-Americans are less intelligent than whites.

In “Testing for Racial Differences in the Mental Ability of Young Children,” Fryer writes that “the results of our analysis do not preclude a possible role for a genetic contribution to racial differences in intelligence for a number of reasons.” He goes on to give three arguments in favor of the “genetic story” that the difference in IQ between blacks and whites comes down to A, C, T, and G.

Instead of being excoriated by blacks, Fryer is celebrated, with black Harvard alumna Soledad O’Brien even interviewing Fryer for her CNN series, Black in America; she calls Fryer a “great guy.” Fryer’s family sold crack, and he personally sold marijuana, stole money from McDonald’s, and nearly murdered a white man. At a meeting organized by Harvard Law School professor Charles Ogletree about reducing the number of young black men in prison, the 1,000-person, mostly black audience convulsed with laughter when Fryer joked that he once thought of going into the pharmaceutical industry, street-side.

He is dead wrong (IMHO) when he writes this:

Should the Harvard law student be expelled for her stupid, offensive, and easily refuted views? Certainly.

No. People should use free speech to refute those views.

Bigotry. Remember the concept “reaction formation” from your psychology class? Here is a real life example:

The pictures on the Rentboy.com profile show a shirtless young man with delicate features, guileless eyes, and sun-kissed, hairless skin. The profile touts his “smooth, sweet, tight ass” and “perfectly built 8 inch cock (uncut)” and explains he is “sensual,” “wild,” and “up for anything” — as long you ask first. And as long as you pay.

On April 13, the “rent boy” (whom we’ll call Lucien) arrived at Miami International Airport on Iberian Airlines Flight 6123, after a ten-day, fully subsidized trip to Europe. He was soon followed out of customs by an old man with an atavistic mustache and a desperate blond comb-over, pushing an overburdened baggage cart.

That man was George Alan Rekers, of North Miami — the callboy’s client and, as it happens, one of America’s most prominent anti-gay activists. Rekers, a Baptist minister who is a leading scholar for the Christian right, left the terminal with his gay escort, looking a bit discomfited when a picture of the two was snapped with a hot-pink digital camera.

Reached by New Times before a trip to Bermuda, Rekers said he learned Lucien was a prostitute only midway through their vacation. “I had surgery,” Rekers said, “and I can’t lift luggage. That’s why I hired him.” (Medical problems didn’t stop him from pushing the tottering baggage cart through MIA.)

Yeah, right.

Well, I suppose there is yet another reason I’d never cut it as a socially conservative Christian Republican: my sex life and tastes are just too vanilla.

Here is a hilarious take on this.

Problems caused by religious superstition
Mano Singham takes a look at some of the silly things done to adhere to some rather silly religious laws:

I was at a conference recently and during one session a sign-up sheet was passed around. When it came to my row, the woman seated next to me gave me her business card and asked me to fill in her name and information on the sheet. I noted her long skirt and the fact that it was a Saturday and realized that she must be an observant Jew and that it was prohibited for her to ‘work’ on such a day and writing was presumably deemed to be work, something she confirmed to me later when we chatted at the end of the proceedings. I did as she requested, all the while silently marveling that a highly educated person would voluntarily conform to such absurd rules by an obviously petty god who has way too much time on his hands if he worries about things like this.

All religions expect their devoted followers to do all manner of silly things in order to show their devotion to a god who seems to care about the most petty things. But amongst the more populous religions, Judaism surely takes the lead in the knots that it can persuade its most loyal believers to tie themselves into. Judaism has more than its fair share of religious rituals that can make an outsider wonder how any rational person can think that their god wants them to submit themselves to such contortions just to please him. The anachronistic restrictions on clothes, the long hair and beards, the robes and head coverings, the incredibly complicated food rules, the prayer rituals with all that bobbing and weaving, seem to me to be bizarre. The strangeness of the rituals can cause problems, as in the case of a scare that resulted in a plane having to make an emergency landing because of fears generated when someone started practicing a complicated Jewish prayer ritual with boxes tied to his head and arm that seemed to the other passengers and crew as being inexplicable and, in these days of fear of terror, alarming.

But there are worse implications of such laws:

Five-year-old Jepheth Afum was brought to a hospital in Ghana last week. Doctors found that he was anemic and losing blood quickly.

They knew the only way to save him was to give him a blood transfusion, so they began the procedure. And what did his father do during all this?

….Wait! Before you respond, I should tell you his parents are Jehovah’s Witnesses. And JWs forbid blood transfusions…

[Father] Kwabena Afum and some members of Jehovah Witnesses besieged the theatre room in a bid to prevent them from carrying out their professional duties.

The police, upon hearing the story, rushed to the place to restore law and order and arrested the boy’s father in the process.

The father wanted to see his son die than for him to get a blood transfusion.

But the story gets even worse.

The boy got better.

So his father disowned him.

Note: I am NOT talking about people using their religion to challenge themselves to lead better lives. I think it is great if one’s religion spurs less selfishness and greater service to others. Frankly, some churches are where this takes place.

May 5, 2010

## 3 May 2010

Workout notes
3.1 mile walk (untimed), rotator cuff exercises, then 2650 yards: 1000 pull in 17:55, 10 x 100 on the 1:50 (again, no push offs), 5 x (3g/free alternating) with fins, 3 x 50 with paddles.

Later: I decided on a whim to give a double red cell donation; basically you don’t get as dehydrated but you get “out of shape” for a few weeks. Since my swimming is “no push off limited” and I am not going to be walking “fast” for a while, this was the perfect time.

I am not saying that I won’t walk a 5K here or there in the near future, but I won’t be in shape (in terms of injury recovery) to really put the hammer down for a couple of months, at the earliest.

Injury notes: shoulder is slightly sore at night; the knee was all but unnoticeable last night. The improvement has been dramatic; I am starting to forget to take my NASIDs.

Personal: evidently, I am not the only atheist that finds prayer, meditation and yoga to be useful.

Posts

Education Grade inflation? It is real. Here is one professor’s take on why:

I think it comes down to this: I was worn to a nub. I did not have the energy to withstand the onslaught of complaints that inevitably came my way when students did not like their C’s. It takes a lot more work to give a C or D rather than an A or B. You have to write many more comments on papers. You have to have many more unpleasant conversations with students. They feel entitled to their A or B, and similarly entitled to an explanation from you when they don’t receive the grade they desire. “I don’t understand why I got a C. I don’t think it’s fair. I worked so hard. Classmate X got an A and they hardly did any work at all,” they will complain. Students will also tell you that they would have done better on an assignment if you, the proffie, had done a better job teaching. “You should have ___ fill in the blank ____.” (It’s usually something you actually did, which they have forgotten about. Or something completely unreasonable, like videotaping and transcribing your lecture and posting everything on the class blog.) Conversations like these — whether in person or via email — take loads of time and energy. The denser the student is, the more rounds it takes. Students with an entitlement mentality don’t want to listen at all.

The reason for my grade inflation was, quite frankly, self-preservation. I was knackered. Exhausted. Burnt out. I no longer found half the conversational at all productive. I think that a lot of us are in the same self-preservation boat, just trying to stay afloat.

Being overwhelmed is the new norm. The state of overwhelmed-ness is another aspect of grade inflation. About mid-point this semester, I realized why I was so exhausted all of the time. I was talking with a friend about all of the issues I’d been dealing with in my classes. On the back of a paper place mat, I made a list.

Here’s the list. On top of grade complaints, in past couple of years, I have dealt with:

* Students with serious health issues such as morbid obesity, Crohn’s disease, Fibromyalgia and diabetes.
* Serious drug and alcohol addictions.
* Simple-minded students lacking basic skills who’d been carried along by the system as B students because they were “nice.” (But now needed a lot of my help.)
* Refugee students with English-as-a-second-language comprehension difficulties.
* Asperger’s students with impaired communication skills.
* Students who had recently lost a parent to cancer. (Mostly moms with breast cancer, sadly.)
* A whole group of students with various learning disabilities who required special accommodation.
* Bipolar students who stopped taking meds.
* Clinically depressed students who stopped taking their meds.
* Super moody students with serious eating disorders.
* The Internet addicts who routinely stayed up until 4 am.
* A bunch of really broken and insecure “mean girls” who glared, gossiped, passed notes and whispered in every class.
* Two pathological liars who absolutely fit the definition of sociopaths.
* A totally crazed adult student with fetal alcohol syndrome, just now enrolling in college at the age of 30.
* Students who routinely wept if you tried to point out how they could improve their work.
* Students in their mid-20’s, members of the National Guard, who returned broken from their experiences in Afghanistan, Iraq or Bosnia.
* A couple of utterly frazzled single moms juggling college, work AND kids (who obviously were having a tough time).

My friend was amazed by the length of the list. I had to assure him that I was not making any of it up. “I have documentation for all of it,” I added. He then remarked that my experience sounded somewhat similar to another friend of his — a high school teacher. Remove the veterans and the single moms, it was the same package.

When I started teaching college as a graduate student back in 1989, these issues were rare.

Yes; I started full time college teaching in 1991. But the percentage of people going to college has gone up. Hence the quality of the students has regressed to the mean; colleges are becoming the old high school.

Now my situation is a bit different; since I mostly teach calculus, the derivatives and integrals haven’t changed and it is easy to tell students that “you got number 2 wrong because the derivative of $e^x$ is not $xe^{x-1}$“.

Other topics

It is “better weather” time. So around here, it means the 24-7 drone of power mowers, edgers, and the like. Given that one of our neighbors has retired, he now thinks that the grass needs cutting a couple of times a week. That works doesn’t it: make it pretty outside but make it so noisy that it is impossible to enjoy it. Morons.

Science

I am not swimming in the Congo where they have a “king sized piranha”. Click the link to see this beast of the river.

Speaking of science: Watch the Republicans go after a scientist because they don’t like his conclusions on climate change:

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli “has demanded that the University of Virginia turn over documents related to a former UVa climatology professor,” reports the Charlottesville Daily Progress. The documents involve five federal grants received by Mann, who taught at the University of Virginia from 1999 to 2005.

“This really looks like a witch hunt, with a politician going after a researcher,” says Aaron Huertas of the Union of Concerned Scientists, a science advocacy group. “The people attacking Mann are sidelining discussion about climate science with personal attacks on scientists.”

“The attorney general’s office can neither confirm nor deny the existence or nonexistence of a pending investigation,” says Brian Gottstein, a spokesman for Cuccinelli, by e-mail. Cuccinelli made headlines recently by appealing an EPA finding that greenhouse gases endanger public health.

Mann is best known for a 1999 Nature study he co-authored finding average surface temperatures in the 20th century higher than past centuries, leaping dramatically upwards in a “hockey stick” shape, resembling an “L” lying on its back. Following 2005 Congressional hearings over the “hockey stick” results, a 2006 National Research Council report found the Mann paper’s conclusion, “has subsequently been supported by an array of evidence.”

Politics and things

Democrats: Al Franken, Amy Klobuchar (also of Minnesota), and Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa have introduced a bill to expand research and prevention efforts for eating disorders.

More education
Do charter schools work? Often: not any better than the regular schools:

But for all their support and cultural cachet, the majority of the 5,000 or so charter schools nationwide appear to be no better, and in many cases worse, than local public schools when measured by achievement on standardized tests, according to experts citing years of research. Last year one of the most comprehensive studies, by researchers from Stanford University, found that fewer than one-fifth of charter schools nationally offered a better education than comparable local schools, almost half offered an equivalent education and more than a third, 37 percent, were “significantly worse.”

Although “charter schools have become a rallying cry for education reformers,” the report, by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes, warned, “this study reveals in unmistakable terms that, in the aggregate, charter students are not faring as well” as students in traditional schools.

Researchers for this study and others pointed to a successful minority of charter schools — numbering perhaps in the hundreds — and these are the ones around which celebrities and philanthropists rally, energized by their narrowing of the achievement gap between poor minority students and white students.

But with the Obama administration offering the most favorable climate yet for charter schools, the challenge of reproducing high-flying schools is giving even some advocates pause. Academically ambitious leaders of the school choice movement have come to a hard recognition: raising student achievement for poor urban children — what the most fervent call a new civil rights campaign — is enormously difficult and often expensive.

I love it: let’s go by what the data says. Unfortunately, most of the arguments for this educational idea or that educational idea that I’ve heard have been backed up by bluster and not much else.

Speaking of backing up ideas:

(hat tip: Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub)

Speaking of “made up stuff”: I wonder if there is any validity to this:

The new book “The Secret Life of the Grown-Up Brain: The Surprising Talents of the Middle-Aged Mind,” by Barbara Strauch, has the answers, and the news is surprisingly upbeat. Sure, brains can get forgetful as they get old, but they can also get better with age, reports Ms. Strauch, who is also the health editor at The New York Times. Ms. Strauch, who previously tackled teenage brains in her book “The Primal Teen,” spoke with me this week about aging brains and the people who have them. Here’s our conversation:
Barbara Strauch
Q.

After exploring the teenage brain, why did you decide to write a book about grown-ups?
A.

Well, I have a middle-aged brain, for one thing. When I would go give talks about “The Primal Teen,” I’d be driven to the airport or back by a middle-aged person, and they’d turn to me and say: “You should do something about my brain. My brain is suddenly horrible. I can’t remember names.” That’s why I started looking into it. I had my own middle-aged issues like going into an elevator and seeing somebody and thinking, “Who are you?”
Q.

A.

Obviously, there are issues with short-term memory. There are declines in processing speed and in neurotransmitters, the chemicals in our brain. But as it turns out, modern middle age is from 40 to 65. During this long time in the middle, if we’re relatively healthy our brains may have a few issues, but on balance they’re better than ever during that period.
Q.

Do teenage brains and middle-aged brains have much in common?
A.

The thing the middle-aged brain shares with the teenage brain is that it’s still developing. It’s not some static blob that is going inexorably downhill. Scientists found that when they watched the brains of teenagers, the brains were expanding and growing and cutting back and shaping themselves, even when the kids are 25 years old. I think for many years scientists just left it at that. They thought that from 25 on, we just get “stupider.” But that’s not true. They’ve found that during this period, the new modern middle age, we’re better at all sorts of things than we were at 20.
Q.

So what kinds of things does a middle-aged brain do better than a younger brain?
A.

Inductive reasoning and problem solving — the logical use of your brain and actually getting to solutions. We get the gist of an argument better. We’re better at sizing up a situation and reaching a creative solution. They found social expertise peaks in middle age. That’s basically sorting out the world: are you a good guy or a bad guy? Harvard has studied how people make financial judgments. It peaks, and we get the best at it in middle age.

I can say this: when I was a graduate student in mathematics (1985-1991), I picked up new material much quicker than I can now. I concentrated better and learned nuanced content better. Then again, I was in an intellectually demanding atmosphere daily; now I’ve been subjected to 19 years of teaching mostly mind-numbingly dumbed down material aimed mostly at mediocre talent; it may well be that I am intellectually out of shape and that I’m suffering from brain atrophy. Perhaps it is different for others. Still, most of the really good mathematicians make their mark early and not in middle age.

Blogs
There appears to be a difference between liberal and conservative websites:

Many liberal blogs, it turns out, were created with platforms to host multiple authors and share attention with guest contributors. Conservative blogs, in contrast, often use technologies highlighting a single author–while consigning guests to the digital equivalent of a newspaper’s classified section. Those are some key findings of a forthcoming study by researchers from Harvard, Yale and Berkeley, “A Tale of Two Blogospheres,” which disputes several conventional views of political blogs (view a chart summarizing the comparisons).

The dominant academic literature posits an ideologically symmetrical blogosphere–an arena where liberals and conservatives practice similar writing, linking and mobilization tactics. The political and media establishment, meanwhile, tend to treat blogs as an isolated medium for political polarization. In this narrative, blogs are a digital refuge for the radical pacifists and tea party insurgents stuck at the margins of their own parties.

The first premise is wrong, according to the study’s findings, and the second misses the mark, which suggests consequences for politicos across the spectrum.

The study, conducted by Yochai Benkler, Aaron Shaw and Victoria Stodden and obtained before publication by The Nation, began with a content and technological analysis of 155 leading political blogs during two weeks of the 2008 presidential election.

One of the most striking findings is structural: liberal blogs provide audience participation options at triple the rate of conservative sites. That means visitors to progressive sites are more empowered to contribute entire posts to the “front page,” and more likely to have their contributions or comments highlighted before potentially hundreds of thousands of readers (see chart).

The popular site DailyKos, for example, has over 160,000 registered users. On a traditional media site, those people would be relegated to commenting at the bottom of articles. Yet on DailyKos’s platform, every registered user can write guest entries. Social voting allows the community to pick favorite guest posts, which are featured on the main page. That kind of deep audience production and interaction is one reason that Daily Kos’s traffic, which tops 4 million page views a week, rivals the sites of many newspapers. In the blogosphere study, this kind of amateur writing is distinguished as “secondary content,” in contrast to the “primary content” by bloggers who control the means of production. And on this score, again, the study found that liberals are more into amplifying voices from the crowd.

“The Left adopts more fluid and permeable boundaries between primary and secondary content,” the study concludes.

One odd conclusion:

As always, there is demography. The left skews younger, in this theory, and is simply more savvy about options online.

Fat chance. The authors note that first, political blog communities are generally older than other online audiences. You don’t even need Harvard for this nugget, just cruise the bar scene at any blog convention. Second, other research indicates that there are actually more Republicans online than Democrats (84 percent to 71 percent–who knew?). Third, and more to the point, it was Republicans who used the web for politics more in 2008 (68 percent to 53 percent, though these numbers vary depending on the polling).

May 4, 2010

## 30 April 2010 (PM)

Evening posts
Fun Here is how to give a good and a bad TED talk:

Religion: Mano Singham talks about some silliness:

[…]Two Muslim journalists in Malaysia, investigating reports that Muslims were being converted to Christianity, attended a Catholic mass, took communion, and then spat out the wafers. (I am not sure why they did the spitting part. Did they fear that if the ate it they might have accidentally become Christian, and thus risked being killed which is the punishment for apostasy in parts of the Islamic world?) Naturally, this created a tizzy in the Catholic Church hierarchy which actually believes that the wafers become the body of Jesus as a result of a ritual. Riots and Muslim-Catholic conflicts ensued. Oddly enough, William Donohue of the US Catholic League or, as I prefer to refer to him, the head of the Church of POOP (Perpetual Outrage to Obtain Publicity), did not seize this opportunity to whine about Catholics being victimized. Then there were Catholics who were upset over a crucifix artwork that seemed (to their sex-obsessed eyes) to display Jesus’s genitalia.

We also have Christians in Italy who were angry at the inclusion of a mosque in a nativity scene. And then we had Christians in the US throwing a fit because of the decision to remove crosses from an Army chapel in order to create a neutral environment for all religions to pray in, as required by US military regulations.

The Irish have taken a great step backward into medieval times by actually passing blasphemy laws, so that now “publishing or uttering matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters sacred by any religion, thereby intentionally causing outrage among a substantial number of adherents of that religion” is liable to fines of up to 22,000 euros. Jesus and Mo have something to say about it.

And there is the high school in Missouri that banned their band’s shirt that played on the evolution theme because the shirt upset people who dislike evolution.

Meanwhile that rich storehouse of unremitting goofiness known as Conservapedia has launched a project to rectify what they see as ‘liberal bias’ in the Bible! Not satisfied with insisting that science conform to the Bible, they now want the Bible to conform to their ideology. What a fun project!

Don’t religious people realize how silly all this makes them look?

Answer: “no”; if they did, they wouldn’t be religious in this way.

Science
In a previous post, I mentioned an arcticle about chimps and how they “relate” to death. Jerry Coyne warns us not to anthropomorphize:

This is a bit anthropomorphic to me, but doesn’t exceed the bounds of informed speculation. Indeed, the BBC News headline this description as “Chimps ‘feel death like humans’”, and of course it shows nothing of the sort. (The BBC link has a video of the death, which, unfortunately, you can’t access in the U.S. If you do have access to Current Biology, you can see two videos here, including a male attacking Pansy’s body.) UPDATE: The videos are now on YouTube and I’ve embedded them below.

What the BBC headline misses is the ineluctable fact that even if we observe behaviors in other species that are similar to our own, we cannot understand what is going on in the consciousness of chimps. Are they grieving? We won’t know until we can teach chimps to communicate in a sophisticated way with humans, or, more easily but less usefully, observe a similarity in brain activity between the two species evoked by the occurrence of a death.

Although many atheists see our knowledge of death as a blessing, making us realize that life is ephemeral and we should live it to the fullest, I see it as a curse. It takes a certain amount of courage to face the fact that one day we will lose everything we have. Few of us, I think, are enough like Socrates to accept our mortality with equanimity. Yes, our consciousness is gone when we die, and yes, we don’t agonize about our absence from the scene before we were born, but I for one would choose immortality or, barring that, at least merciful ignorance of my finitude.

There are also some cool videos at this post.

Racism: yes, a hotel guest requests “white waiters only”. A would be waiter is not amused.

Of course, the new Arizona law still is drawing critics of various types. This means no Mexican boxers (WBC decision)

Speaking of sports: you have to love the NFL. Being smart and having perspective is a bad thing:

On Saturday, the Tennessee Titans drafted Florida State safety Myron Rolle in the sixth round of the NFL Draft with the 207th overall pick.

Rolle, whom you previously knew as the Rhodes Scholar who spent his past season in Oxford studying for a graduate degree in medical anthropology, graduated in 2 1/2 years from Florida State, where he played safety for three years. Then he chose to skip his senior year to take advantage of the Rhodes Scholarship, an honor that only 32 men and women garner every year.

You’ve probably heard of a few of the alums from the Rhodes, guys like President Bill Clinton and former NBA great Bill Bradley.

What you may have heard and brushed off was this: Multiple NFL teams, scouts and executives questioned Rolle’s commitment to football because he made this decision.

Why?

Because the thinking goes — and we’re defining “thinking” broadly here since many of the scouts, coaches and executives making these comments would be pumping gas for a living without football — that Rolle is too smart, that his priorities in life don’t revolve entirely around a pigskin bouncing on a field.

Politics
Republicans: once again, taking credit for stuff that they opposed:

BOEHNER TAKES CREDIT FOR DEMOCRATIC HEALTH CARE ADVANCES…. House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) spoke to NPR’s Steve Inskeep this morning, and twice said Republicans would repeal the Affordable Care Act if given congressional majorities next year. (thanks to reader A.D.)

It led to an interesting exchange:

INSKEEP: As you know, Democrats are already pointing to things that are changing in America because of this bill. They will point to the fact that college seniors, who would have been kicked off their families’ insurance plans when they graduated, will get to stay on. Insurance companies are now saying they’re going to end the practice of “rescission,” where they take, or at least modify…

BOEHNER: Both of those ideas, by the way, came from Republicans, and are part of the common sense ideas that we ought to have in the law.

INSKEEP: Well, are you going to repeal those two specific things?

BOEHNER Uh, what I want to repeal are the other 158 mandates, commissions, boards that set up all the infrastructure for the government to take control of our health care system. [emphasis added]

We’ve seen a few instances lately in which Republican lawmakers try to take credit for provisions in the Affordable Care Act that they fought like hell to kill.

But Boehner is being especially shameless here. He is, after all, the one who characterized the new law as “Armageddon.” I guess the new line will need some caveats: “It’s Armageddon … except for those popular parts, which Republicans should get credit for, even though we voted against them.”

Speaking of Republicans: here is what the wealthy ones think. The Democrats ought to use this again and again.

President Obama: what has he done, so far? (a viral e-mail)

“Robert P. Watson, Ph.D. Coordinator of American Studies Lynn University” Email: xxx@xxx

I am always being asked to grade Obama’s presidency. In place of offering him a grade, I put together a list of his accomplishments thus far. I think you would agree that it is very impressive. His first six months have been even more active than FDRs or LBJs the two standards for such assessments. Yet, there is little media attention given to much of what he has done. Of late, the media is focusing almost exclusively on Obama’s critics, without holding them responsible for the uncivil, unconstructive tone of their disagreements or without holding the previous administration responsible for getting us in such a deep hole. The misinformation and venom that now passes for political reporting and civic debate is beyond description.

As such, there is a need to set the record straight. What most impresses me is the fact that Obama has accomplished so much not from a heavy-handed or top-down approach but from a style that has institutionalized efforts to reach across the aisle, encourage vigorous debate, and utilize town halls and panels of experts in the policy-making process. Beyond the accomplishments, the process is good for democracy and our democratic processes have been battered and bruised in recent years.

Let me know if I missed anything in the list (surely I did).
——————————————————————————–
1. Ordered all federal agencies to undertake a study and make recommendations for ways to cut spending
2. Ordered a review of all federal operations to identify and cut wasteful spending and practices
3. Instituted enforcement for equal pay for women
4. Beginning the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq
5. Families of fallen soldiers have expenses covered to be on hand when the body arrives at Dover AFB
6. Ended media blackout on war casualties; reporting full information
7. Ended media blackout on covering the return of fallen soldiers to Dover AFB; the media is now permitted to do so pending adherence to respectful rules and approval of fallen soldier’s family
8. The White House and federal government are respecting the Freedom of Information Act
9. Instructed all federal agencies to promote openness and transparency as much as possible
11. Limits on White House aides working for lobbyists after their tenure in the administration
12. Ended the previous stop-loss policy that kept soldiers in Iraq/Afghanistan longer than their enlistment date
13. Phasing out the expensive F-22 war plane and other outdated weapons systems, which weren’t even used or needed in Iraq/Afghanistan
14. Removed restrictions on embryonic stem-cell research
15. Federal support for stem-cell and new biomedical research
16. New federal funding for science and research labs
17. States are permitted to enact federal fuel efficiency standards above federal standards
18.. Increased infrastructure spending (roads, bridges, power plants) after years of neglect
20. New funds for school construction
21. The prison at Guantanamo Bay is being phased out
22. US Auto industry rescue plan
23. Housing rescue plan
24. \$789 billion economic stimulus plan
25. The public can meet with federal housing insurers to refinance (the new plan can be completed in one day) a mortgage if they are having trouble paying
26. US financial and banking rescue plan
27. The secret detention facilities in Eastern Europe and elsewhere are being closed
28. Ended the previous policy; the US now has a no torture policy and is in compliance with the Geneva Convention standards
29. Better body armor is now being provided to our troops
30. The missile defense program is being cut by \$1.4 billion in 2010
31. Restarted the nuclear nonproliferation talks and building back up the nuclear inspection infrastructure/protocols
32. Reengaged in the treaties/agreements to protect the Antarctic
33. Reengaged in the agreements/talks on global warming and greenhouse gas emissions
34. Visited more countries and met with more world leaders than any president in his first six months in office
35. Successful release of US captain held by Somali pirates; authorized the SEALS to do their job
36. US Navy increasing patrols off Somali coast
37. Attractive tax write-offs for those who buy hybrid automobiles
38. Cash for clunkers program offers vouchers to trade in fuel inefficient, polluting old cars for new cars; stimulated auto sales
39. Announced plans to purchase fuel efficient American-made fleet for the federal government
40. Expanded the SCHIP program to cover health care for 4 million more children
41. Signed national service legislation; expanded national youth service program
42. Instituted a new policy on Cuba, allowing Cuban families to return home to visit loved ones
43. Ended the previous policy of not regulating and labeling carbon dioxide emissions
44. Expanding vaccination programs
45. Immediate and efficient response to the floods in North Dakota and other natural disasters
46. Closed offshore tax safe havens
47. Negotiated deal with Swiss banks to permit US government to gain access to records of tax evaders and criminals
48. Ended the previous policy of offering tax benefits to corporations who outsource American jobs; the new policy is to promote in-sourcing to bring jobs back
49. Ended the previous practice of protecting credit card companies; in place of it are new consumer protections from credit card industry’s predatory practices
50. Energy producing plants must begin preparing to produce 15% of their energy from renewable sources
51. Lower drug costs for seniors
52. Ended the previous practice of forbidding Medicare from negotiating with drug manufacturers for cheaper drugs; the federal government is now realizing hundreds of millions in savings
53. Increasing pay and benefits for military personnel
54. Improved housing for military personnel
55. Initiating a new policy to promote federal hiring of military spouses
56. Improved conditions at Walter Reed Military Hospital and other military hospitals
57. Increasing student loans
58. Increasing opportunities in AmeriCorps program
59. Sent envoys to Middle East and other parts of the world that had been neglected for years; reengaging in multilateral and bilateral talks and diplomacy
60. Established a new cyber security office
61. Beginning the process of reforming and restructuring the military 20 years after the Cold War to a more modern fighting force; this includes new procurement policies, increasing size of military, new technology and cyber units and operations, etc.
62. Ended previous policy of awarding no-bid defense contracts
63. Ordered a review of hurricane and natural disaster preparedness
64. Established a National Performance Officer charged with saving the federal government money and making federal operations more efficient
65. Students struggling to make college loan payments can have their loans refinanced
66. Improving benefits for veterans
67. Many more press conferences and town halls and much more media access than previous administration
68. Instituted a new focus on mortgage fraud
69. The FDA is now regulating tobacco
70. Ended previous policy of cutting the FDA and circumventing FDA rules
71. Ended previous practice of having White House aides rewrite scientific and environmental rules, regulations, and reports
72. Authorized discussions with North Korea and private mission by Pres. Bill Clinton to secure the release of two Americans held in prisons
73. Authorized discussions with Myanmar and mission by Sen. Jim Web to secure the release of an American held captive
74. Making more loans available to small businesses
75. Established independent commission to make recommendations on slowing the costs of Medicare
76. Appointment of first Latina to the Supreme Court
77. Authorized construction/opening of additional health centers to care for veterans
78. Limited salaries of senior White House aides; cut to \$100,000
79. Renewed loan guarantees for Israel
80. Changed the failing/status quo military command in Afghanistan
81. Deployed additional troops to Afghanistan
82. New Afghan War policy that limits aerial bombing and prioritizes aid, development of infrastructure, diplomacy, and good government practices by Afghans
83. Announced the long-term development of a national energy grid with renewable sources and cleaner, efficient energy production
84. Returned money authorized for refurbishment of White House offices and private living quarters
85. Paid for redecoration of White House living quarters out of his own pocket
86. Held first Seder in White House
87. Attempting to reform the nation’s healthcare system which is the most expensive in the world yet leaves almost 50 million without health insurance and millions more under insured
88. Has put the ball in play for comprehensive immigration reform
89. Has announced his intention to push for energy reform
90. Has announced his intention to push for education reform

May 1, 2010

## AZ Truck driver forced to show birth certificate claims racial-profiling | Video Cafe

The shape of things to come? Sure looks like it. And this incident happened before Gov. Jan Brewer signed the SB1070 into law on Friday. Video and story from AzFamily.com. PHOENIX – A Valley man says he was pulled over Wednesday morning and questioned.

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Yes, I take this very personally. This is downright insulting.

April 30, 2010