Thursday, August 31, 2006

Relay for Life - Follow up

(Bumped to the top until the deadline ends. Scroll down for new posts.)

I returned just a while ago from my first Relay for Life, pausing only to shower before writing this post. I'd sleep, but surprisingly I'm not sleepy.

It was a very fun event. I might have had more fun if I'd taken the time to go to other teams' booths to participate in their fundraisers, but some of our members dropped out, so we were consistently either running the stand or walking the track. Still, it was an enjoyable event, and minus the ankle pain and the heavy layer of dew after 2AM, it was a great experience and something I'd gladly do again.

Two items of note:

First, thank you very much to those of you who contributed money towards the cause. Thanks to people like you, this event raised over $194,000 for the American Cancer Society. To think that events like this take place in over 4500 other locations throughout the year gives me great hope as to the future of cancer research and treatment.

Second, if you still want to help but didn't donate before, I've good news for you; you can still donate online to the ACS through my donations page until August 31. If you wish to help the cause, please don't hesitate to click on over and donate a couple of dollars. Remember, this is a tax deductible donation ($5 min.) to the American Cancer Society.

Again, a heartfelt thank you to those who sponsored my team and I, and I look forward to doing this again in the future.

Brave New World Redux

I've had bad employment experiences, but I think this would really get me steamed:
Fort Worth, Tex. — RadioShack Corp. notified about 400 workers by e-mail that they were being dismissed immediately as part of planned job cuts.

Employees at the Fort Worth headquarters got messages Tuesday morning saying: “The work force reduction notification is currently in progress. Unfortunately your
position is one that has been eliminated.”

Firings are like break-ups: In person, you're at least showing that person you respect them enough to say it to their face. By phone, you're at least being polite enough to let them hear it from your own voice. By email/letter? You might as well ask for their last paycheck back.

This reminds me of an incident a few years ago where a St. Louis restaurant closed and the employees didn't find out until they showed up for work the next day and there were signs on the restuarant doors. Ouch.

Planning, Before and After

WASHINGTON - The government doesn't have plans for treating people downwind from a nuclear attack for radiation exposure, a report released Thursday concludes.

The study by the Physicians for Social Responsibility also faults the Homeland Security Department for lacking communication plans to tell the public whether to evacuate or take shelter where they are after a nuclear blast.

A Homeland Security Department spokesman said the government has focused on preventing nuclear attacks and that the report "seems to lack a grasp of reality."

This actually doesn't bother me too much.

While planning for the aftermath of a disaster is important, I have always been critical of situations where more planning is done in dealing with the aftermath than in preventing the crisis in the first place. That the government has worked more on prevention is, in my opinion, far more responsible.

For two years while I was in high school, the school instituted a policy where photo ID badges were worn around the neck. This was instituted shortly after the massacre at the Columbine high school.

What was the reasoning from our school board and administrators? Was this policy going to protect students? Were people without badges to be promptly removed from the building? No, according to them, the badges were so that, in case someone did come in and start shooting up students, the bodies could be identified as quickly as possible.

Yes, that is exactly what they told us.

I don't need to say how stupid that is. Suffice it to say, I much prefer when crisis is averted rather than handled well.

Minority Report

When people talk about minority preferences, be certain you find out exactly what they mean. Why is this important?
Non-Hispanic whites are a now minority in four states and in Washington, D.C., according to data recently released by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The states are Texas (48.9% white), California (43.3%), New Mexico (42.8%), the District of Columbia (29.7%), and Hawaii (23%).

DC and Hawaii, eh? Should those places institute selective hiring practices for whites? Start some "all white" universities, and start "all white" scholarships?

Or would that be a bad idea?

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Expanding on the Tale

Well, the whole "Mr. Jones" thing was supposed to be a sort of thought experiment, but I guess it's not much of an experiment if only two people participate.

I was curious what kind of thoughts would emerge, mixing in a bit of fantasy with a bit of reality. Unsurprisingly, guys like Scott Adams are more successful at this kind of thing when they do it.

There were a lot of details that would have made the entire thing closer to the reality it was meant to represent, but just wouldn't have meshed well with the analogy in general.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Why do we spend like this?

According to the Belleville News-Democrat, Blagojevich's administration has recently settled a dispute with several unions, paying out over $1 million.

As I understand it, and correct me if I misread the article, the state was paying independent contractors to do certain jobs. I can only assume this was because they were cheaper or more efficient than the unions or state employees. For some reason, the state signed an agreement in 1993 with these unions to limit the number of independent contractors they would use. Citing the grievance, the administration agreed to a payout for lost wages and fees.

Of course, all I read was that we just paid twice for work done once.

Forget the unions; Illinois is deep enough in the financial hole as it is. I want the state to be paying for the lowest bidder whenever it can. If that means using independent contractors, then do it. Sweetheart deals like that have no place in the state with the highest financial debt in the country.

I can't blame all of this on Rod. This was a problem he inherited, and he probably didn't have much recourse. Still, this shouldn't have ever happened in the first place.

Sneaky Tissue Samples?

Well, not tissue, but DNA. A new UK law in the soon to go into effect would make it illegal to test someone's DNA without their permission.

The idea is being floated because, apparently, politicians are afraid that, after leaving their DNA all over the place, someone will pick it up and tell the world that he or she is prone to high blood pressure. Something like that.

In practice, it could keep employers and insurance companies from discriminating against someone based on undiscovered genetic conditions. Certainly not a bad thing. Still, I place it in the category of "strange, but most likely necessary in about 10-15 years."

Cool Science

How many times do I have to say it? Science is cool.

First, consider this article from Wired on Scary Science. Some interesting projects there. I'm not necessarily "scared" of these projects, but you hope that these guys take the proper precautions before leaping out there (which they usually do).

The next one is a New Scientist article about seabed bacteria that live in a lake of carbon dioxide. Bacteria that can survive high pressure, low temperatures, and need little to no oxygen for survival? Very interesting. I can only imagine the kind of metabolic pathways and protein structures those things have developed for survival.

Monday, August 28, 2006

The Tale of Mr. Jones

Imagine that you have a crotchety neighbor, Mr. Jones.  Mr. Jones is a very cranky man, and he has all sorts of complaints about you.  Your house is too close to his property line, your dog is always in his yard, your children are too loud when they play outside.  You can’t do anything about the house, but you do your best to work out the other issues with him.

Now imagine that Mr. Jones has chosen a course of action to satisfy his anger at you.  Everyday, when you pull into your driveway, Mr. Jones stands on his front porch and takes pot shots at you with his shotgun as you attempt to enter your front door.

Of course, nobody would put up with this for very long.  But Mr. Jones is a poor shot, so you let it go.  At least, until you caught some shot in the leg.  That was when you called the police.  In fact, you called the police everyday for nearly two weeks.

The first time they showed up, they just stood in the front yard and watched as Mr. Jones shot at you.  

The next time, they decided that you and Mr. Jones should sit down and talk.  After all, the only way to end this was to have you both work out your grievances and come to an equitable solution.  And after the talks, Mr. Jones has agreed to stop shooting at you.

His wife, however, made no such agreement.  So the next day, when you return home, Mrs. Jones is out on the porch, blasting away.  When the police show up, they try to talk to Mr. Jones about this, but he says, “Hey, you wanted me to stop shooting, so I did!  What do you want me to do about the wife?”  The police just try to get the Jones to talk to each other and agree to stop shooting.  However, with his wife refusing to cease, Mr. Jones decides it’s okay for him to start shooting again.

This time, however, they also decide they’ll shoot at your wife when she returns home, as well as your children as they walk back from the bus stop.

You call the police, but the process continues in the same way.  They keep shooting, the police just try to coax out promises to stop.  

You ask the neighbors to help, but all they offer are solutions and platitudes which seem silly and absurd.  “Are you addressing the root causes of his violence towards you?”  “If you’d just stop calling the police, they’d stop shooting at you.”  “If you can’t move your house, let him have part of your back yard, or maybe the room that’s closest to his property.”  “Mr. Jones is just jealous of your success.  If you’d just help him achieve the same, he would be too wealthy to care about shooting at you.”  

The police won’t help, the neighbors won’t listen . . . what are you to do?  

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Causation vs. Correlation Part II

Over at Hot Air, Allahpundit highlights a paper by a Northwestern law professor on statistics, he believes, show that exposure to pornography decreases the incidence of rape.

Here is the link to the paper itself.

Of course, the professor has to remind any who read the paper that correlation and causation are not the same things, but that doesn't stop him from assuming causation anyhow.

His theory is born from a statistical analysis: The incidence of rape has dropped by 87% since the 70s, while access to the internet (and thus pornography) has increased tremendously.

The strongest hand he plays is an analysis of 8 states, four with the greatest access to the internet and four with the least internet access. He then compares the rape statistics between the 1980 and 2000. Overall, states with the greatest net access in 2000 decreased from the 80s, while states with the least access in 2000 increased.

It's not perfect. Individual data from the states is inconsistent. Some of the states with the least access decreased, while some of the states with the most access increased. The data would have been much more useful if public vs. private access had been compared as well. People are unlikely to look at porn at work or the library (though, as I've shown, it does happy).

Unfortunately, the professor offers only his theory of porn access. He floats a few alternative theories, but just long enough to dismiss them out of hand.

I would love to see a paper that actually analyzes alternative theories. But, once again, it's just easier to assume what we want and go from there.

(Hm . . . does this mean that religion makes us rapists, too?)

This is Stupid

A recent article in the Chicago Sun-Times asks, "Does religion make us fat?"

Their evidence for the assertion is a statistical analysis that, of all religious groups, Baptists had the highest incidence of obesity, 27%.

The survey was conducted on 2500 individuals over 8 years. Not being a statistician, I can't really say whether or not that can be considered a "representative sampling." Still, let's deal with the facts as they stand.

First, the ever necessary reminder that causation and correlation are very different things. Just because A and B come together does not mean that A causes B, or vice versa. Of course, they'd never ask, "Does being fat make a person more religious?" But it's nice to dream. Hm . . . I wonder how many obese people are atheists?

In any event, they attempt to pin causation on the lack of dietary rules in Protestant Christianity. No smoking, no drinking, no drugs . . . but hey, binge your heart out on Ho-Ho's and Ding-Dongs, right? Well, no, not really.

My best explanation is that you have a group of people much less likely to tie their self-worth to their self-image. Nobody can completely disconnect the two, but the religious tend to be the most unfazed there.

But hey, why bother offering opposing theories? Let's just see the two numbers and assume causation. It's easier that way, right?

Now if you'll excuse me, I have a tub of "Parkay" to finish snacking on.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Nano Dangers

This online article from Popular Science discusses the safety issues many people have with nano-science as it has been developing.

Personally, I think that much of the controversy has been needless posturing. Yes, there are some realistic possibilities of dangers that do need to be accounted for, but we are not talking about technologies that are going to rob children, assault grandparents, and generally destroy the world as we know it.

If you couldn't guess, I don't buy into "Gray Goo" theories.

Actually, something that was interesting in their most recent issue was an article about new "nano-medicines," along with a short summary of some upcoming medical innovations. One that people want to see happen is a device, currently used on dogs, that is implanted in the host and releases controlled amounts of drugs. The release, apparently, is controlled by remote signal.

This seems like a bad idea to me. As one of my recent posts should remind you, there's always the potential for disaster with remotely controlled devices. The security on these things would have to be top-notch. I'm sure it's possible, though I must admit my knowledge of such matters is far too limited.

But imagine this scenario: Important Political Figure A has one of these devices installed. Assassin/Hacker B, miles and miles away, sends a signal to the device in A that suddenly releases a year's supply of meds into his blood stream. Most likely, the result is instant death.

Far fetched, yes, but something worth considering if such a device becomes available. I suppose with medical tech, it doesn't always pay to be an early adopter.

More Reliable Test for Prostate Cancer

Good news, everyone! It's a blood test!

To think that my father told me I'd have to go through "the exam" someday. Ha!

Musing the War on Terror

The pundits have had me pessimistic about the GWOT. Not that we'll lose, necessarily, but that everyone will lose.

First, as a bit of background, here's some of the reading I've been doing lately:

Captain Ed - An Illusory Partner For Peace
Ace - The One Conjecture
Belmont Club - The Three Conjectures
Jim Geraghty - Two must-read pieces on public opinion, voters, and the war on terror

You don't have to read it all, but they're all fantastic posts worth reading.

Let's look at Israel. As Ed notes, Israel is increasingly faced with an enemy that just seems irredeemable. Is the entirety of the Palestinian people this looney, or is that all we see? The clues keep saying the former, but we're desperately holding out hope that it's not the case.

What if their entire society is hell-bent on destroying Israel at any cost?

What number of "moderate Muslims" is enough to salvage them?

Does Israel have any choice beside forever enduring a campaign of terrorism of ever-increasing severity?

What if their choice does come down to survival through total war or extermination? Will we be able to admit it if that scenario arises? Would the world have the stomach to allow Israel to do what it must to survive?

These questions are all difficult, and I don't have any real answers. But applying them to the US and it's war on Islamic Jihad makes this all the more interesting.

In this, the Belmont Club raises a scenario I find way too frightening. Once Iran crosses the nuclear threshold, it's quite possible that rogue groups will get their hands on nukes. How far will America go to ensure that none of those bombs ever level an American city? If we have to do something morally repugnant, will we do so for our own survival? Will we have to sacrifice New York City (or any other metropolis) to the flames before we allow ourselves to go that far? Or will lay back and await death, comforted by the fact that we were at least morally better than our enemies?

None of these are comfortable questions, but they could be questions we'll have to answer in a future that comes increasingly nearer.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

SiteMeter Fun Redux

Ah, SiteMeter, if it weren't for you, what would I blog about?

Once again, I must share funny thoughts on SiteMeter stats.

Recently, I had a visitor arrive at the site, having searched Google for "phillipeno women." He ended up here because of my recent post on the Gay Panic defense.

The notable part is that this visitor was from Saudi Arabia. Riyadh, to be exact.

Hey buddy, does the Vice Squad know what you're up to? I mean, if being a non-muslim is a punishable offense, where does porn fall in there?

I'm telling you, if you guys would just loosen up on the whole "moral law" thing you could look at all the porn you want. I mean, look at what it did for America.

. . . I can't decide if this is funny anymore.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Story Time

Well, I hate doing this, but every so often I find it necessary to write blogposts on major life changes. Just to keep people updated. In this case, it's a significant background point.

For those who don't already know, I'm no longer a grad student at Northwestern. I left the program over, um, conflicts of interest with my research advisor. I wasn't happy with how it turned out, but it was probably for the best.

Instead of going straight for the PhD, I'm going to first work on my MS and then move back to a PhD program. Tomorrow, I start classes at the University of Missouri-St. Louis for their Biochemistry/Biotechnology MS program. Thankfully, I'll be teaching as well, which pays for my tuition and provides a decent stipend.

Hopefully, you readers are now more fully informed on where I'm writing from. Well, when I'm writing. The last week was spent in agonizing "TA orientation." This being the second time through it for me, believe me when I say that you're better off not knowing the details.

Real blogging to come this week. Stay tuned.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Brave New World

Do you like music? No, I mean, do you really like music? I mean, really like it?

This product may be for you.
I spent 5 full minutes wondering if this was real, then another 5 flabbergasted that it was real.

Troubles For Rod Blagojevich . . . Or Not

First, a few news links to get you started:
Governor testy with media 'sharks' questioning him about state hiring practices
Governor mum on response to last month's storms
Questionable hiring continued after workers fired
How special job applications were handled

For those unfamiliar with Illinois politics, the current governor is Rod Blagojevich, and he's had some trouble lately. His poor financial policies, the results of trying to be Political Santa, have left the state as the most in debt, period. Number one out of fifty. The way things look, some of that spending may have been meant to distract voters.

It seems that some elements and members of his administration are under investigation for corruption, including influence-peddling, kickbacks, and "questionable" hiring practices. The feds have already obtained some guilty pleas, it seems.

According to a recent column by Rich Miller, author of the CapitolFax blog (the column is unavailable online; I'll link it if I can ever find it), Stu Levine is among those pleading guilty. He was a Republican insider G-Rod reappointed during his term, and now it seems that Levine might end up connecting the dots back to the governor.

Miller wrote in his column that this is "big trouble" for the administration, but I'm skeptical. I'm willing to bet that specific charges would have to be leveled at Blagojevich before he was in trouble. Even if he is under investigation, most Illinois voters will either 1) not know, or 2) not care. As long as he's the one on the ballot with the "D" next to his name, he'll get their vote. Or, they'll be paid to give him their vote. In this state, same difference.

Here's the test, and it works if you live in Chicago or anywhere else: Ask a Liberal/Democrat you know who they would vote for if the choice was a corrupt Democrat or a Republican. I know what the choice is here, and it's why Illinois politics are as screwed up as they are.

Update
Welcome, Capitol Fax readers. I'm happy you found your way over here. I write about much more than IL politics (a subject I'm no expert on), so feel free to explore the rest of the site.

Update 2
Rich Miller's column is now available online. I highly recommend giving it a read.

Choosing Faith

A while back, Meera asked a question in the comments, and I always meant to answer it.  The question was, “How did you choose Christianity?”  It’s a question worth answering, and I should have gotten around to it sooner.  

Theologically speaking, I didn’t choose Christianity, it chose me.  While that answer is scripturally accurate, it’s a bit of a non-starter for this question.

I became a Christian when I was 13, so we’re not talking about someone at the prime of their thinking capacities.  I chose Christianity because it was very attractive; few other philosophical systems rely as strongly on the power of redemption.  How does Christianity become a starting point?  Well, in America, it’s part exposure and part culture.  Those can only take you so far, but they do factor in.  

However, the second part of the question becomes more important, “How do you choose Christianity over the many other systems of faith?”  First, that’s why I mentioned exposure before.  When I was 13, I didn’t exactly have what you would call a “thorough” understanding of other religions.  It just wasn’t there.

However, this is not to discount the value of faith as a journey.  I may not have known much about other religious systems when I was 13, but I’ve spent the last 10 years learning.  Honest faith is in a constant state of re-evaluation, examining beliefs and comparing them to the merits of other faiths as that information becomes available.

Nobody should be expected to know everything about every religion before they can choose one.  It’s not realistic.  There are so many religions out there, and so many variations on those religions, a man could spend a lifetime exploring each one and never know everything about them all.  

Yes, there is a measure of rationalization in this process.  Sometimes learning about other systems is done in a spirit of, “My faith is right, so I shall learn how this one is wrong.”  This isn’t unreasonable.  If you know your faith to be true, there is little need to constantly search for what is really true.  Of course, this must be balanced against the need for re-examining one’s faith.  Go too far in one direction, and your faith is unsteady and under attack from within and without.  Go the other direction, and you shelter yourself from the difficult questions, never achieving the growth that comes from having faith challenged.

I shall leave this answer as it is for now.  In the future, I may expand on some of what I’ve written here.  I hope, in the meantime, that this was at least somewhat satisfactory.  If nothing else, it’s at least something for Steve to get riled up about.  

Homeland Security Works

A few weeks ago, a group of 11 Egyptian students arrived in New York and were supposed to report to a program at Montana State University. None of them showed up, and so MSU alerted Homeland Security.

It seems they're all in custody now.

It's hard to say what happened there. Homeland Security says there is no reason to suspect a threat of terrorism. So why did they scatter as far and wide as they did instead of reporting to MSU?

What I do know is that this played out exactly as it should have. Forget the whole "profiling" complaint some might level about this instance, this was exactly what should have happened. Well, almost.

Ideally, INS (or is it ICE now?) would have been aware of the problem as well. Instead, it happens all the time that people come over on a student visa and then remain as long as they care to. I'm an advocate of increased border security, but I really wish Congress would fix the system as it stands rather than try to add in some bogus "guest worker" program. When you get a flat tire, is your solution to install a new radio?

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Phallic Joke Fodder

Yes, it's puerile and adolescent. But I still find penis jokes to be hysterical. Which is why this article about those "penis-enlarging" pills struck me as hilarious. Best line from the article:

Dr Mitchell has researched a recent outbreak of these attacks — known as "shrinking penis disease" — on the Indonesian island of Flores, where black magic is widely practised. In these instances, the sufferer believes he will die if his penis disappears. The last outbreak in a modern society occurred in Singapore in 1962, following a rumour that eating pork vaccinated against swine fever would cause shrinking penis disease.

"There were people rushing through the streets holding their penises … some of them using chopsticks," Dr Mitchell says. "As soon as they hit the hospital and started to relax, they came back to normal."
Quick jokes:
*Don't trip.
*I do not want to visit that neighborhood. Ever.
*I've been to some bad asian restaurants, but that is ridiculous.

Rice's Record Revolting?

Michael Rubin over at the NRO blog The Corner makes a post highlighting the US Secretary of State's recent "accomplishments" in foreign policy. It's a bit depressing to think of.

I realize the US can't respond to everything with 100 megatons of fiery negotiations, but reason seems to indicate that maybe, just maybe, rolling over and acting like a frightened puppy is not helping us out any.

Even with such a wussified approach, doves at home and abroad still think very little of this administration. I'd love to know what they're thinking.

Perseid metor showers tonight

I guess there are some quarters where watching the annual shower of the Perseid meteors is still popular.

Beautiful weather for it here, too. Almost feels like fall.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Proof I Can Accept

A post over at Moonbattery gives some irrefutable positive proof of global warming.

I'm sold.

Sessler v. Thompson

I was never a big fan of what G4 did to TechTV when it took over, but this recent exchange on Attack of the Show, G4's horrid incarnation of what used to be The Screensavers, was very interesting.

In this clip, Adam Sessler and Jack Thompson debate the link between video games and violence.

For those who don't know, Sessler is the host of G4's video game review show X-Play, while Thompson is a lawyer whose career has turned towards activism against violence in video games. His Wikipedia entry contains much more background.

I have three points to make about this:

When people like Thompson quote these psychological research reports about video games and violence, they often do so disingenuously. I'm not familiar with the specific reports that Thompson is citing, but many of these research documents do not report an increase in violent behavior after exposure to violent media, they report an increase in aggressive behavior. The difference is subtle but important, especially because "aggressive behavior" is often so broadly defined as to be meaningless for the Jack Thompsons of this world.

Additionally, even if there is a correlation of violent media to violent behavior, no causation has to be present. Millions of people play violent video games every day, and yet very few of them commit violent acts. Before video games existed, people still committed acts of violence. Even if video games are a cause, it is extremely unlikely that they are the only cause. Something else has to be wrong inside that persons head, meaning the best one could argue for is that video games were the proverbial "straw that broke the camel's back."

The best point to be made here is the statistical evidence: Since the 1970s, the rate of violence amongst youth has decreased. Every year, it has gone down. This means that even after video games were first becoming main stream, and even after they started to become "ultra-violent," the rate of youth violence continued to decline. If the Jack Thompsons of the world were correct, one would expect to see a massive increase once the era of Doom and Halo began.

I'm no expert, but I would say that the biggest factor behind violence in high schools is gang activity. Unless people like Thompson wants to argue that all of those gang-bangers would be morally upstanding honor students if they'd just put down the joystick, then I think they need to find a new dog to run.

There will always be people like Thompson, but I still find their appearances both amusing and infuriating.

Ladder Theory of Relationships

Is this old? Yes. Is it hilarious? I'll give that a qualified yes. I find it hysterical, but that might be my bitterness regarding the opposite sex talking.

Here's the link, but I must give a warning for some saucy language scattered throughout.

One of my favorite parts:
The attraction category is broken down further in the next section. This is a change from previous versions of the ladder theory that included looks here instead of attraction. I feel this is a more accurate depiction, as evidenced by experiment and peer review.

The last 10% was my effort to give women the benefit of the doubt. A common question men ask of women is "Tell me what you want in a man?", which is like asking how many guys she's slept with, an invitation to be lied to. Because she'll almost invariably answer with some combination of

  • sense of humor
  • intelligence
  • sensitivity
  • emotional stability
As far as I can tell this is mostly rubbish. But in an effort to be fair I have included this, since there seem to be a few rare cases of this. Just none that I have ever seen.
Everything I have ever seen in how women seek relationships seems to confirm this.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Insert Filler Here

Sorry for the lack of updates recently. My heart just hasn't been in blogging. Most of my freetime has been spent in other ways. Mostly video games. Surprise, surprise.

This should be rectified in the next few days, as the video games are beginning to bore me. (Now there is a surprise). In the meantime, enjoy this bumpersticker I came across:

"George W. Bush - Saving your a** whether you like it or not."

I don't care which side of the aisle you're on, that's funny.

Friday, August 04, 2006