Friday, August 31, 2007

When Anecdotes = Data

I realize the title above is never true, but I never enjoy hearing the horror stories that come from places like Canada or Britain, detailing the terrible failures resulting from the socialized medical systems there. The frequency with which I hear them is what makes them so tragic. Again, the plural of anecdote is not data, but they make great illustrations about the shortcomings of such systems.

Anyhow, Captain Ed has a post illustrating yet another disaster to be laid at the doorstep of socialized medicine, this time in Japan. It details the story of a woman who went into labor and was turned away by eight different hospitals. There was a ninth which was going to admit her, but the ambulance crashed on the way there and she miscarried. At that point, the hospital refused to admit her.

Be sure to read the entire thing. Ed rightly asks why, after seeing so many stories like these, anyone would still think that putting the government in sole command of the health care system would be beneficial to anyone. I wonder the same thing myself.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Is 45% a consensus?

I'm not sure what to do with this.

According to this article, a researcher examining 528 papers published from 1993-2003 in the ISI Web of Science database show that only 45% of the papers give at least implicit support of the "consensus" view that humans were having an effect on global climate change.

Feel free to read the article. The numbers are as surprising as they seem at first glance. My own question is whether or not this is a good measure. ISI Web of Science? Is Science included? Nature? I just don't know whether or not this is a decent standard of comparison.

Interesting if it is, and somewhat interesting even if it isn't.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

UMSL Student in Russia

I saw this on the local news a few nights ago, but they stated the student was a SLU student. I guess you can't win 'em all.

In any case, an UMSL student is being held in Russia on some rather strange charges. A Chilean national studying in the US, she was living in Russia for a year and bought some Soviet era medals as souvenirs, only to find out at customs on the way out that such was a crime. Since then, she's had a bit of a crazy ride on the way to charges actually being brought against her. Her trial is supposed to begin today.

Want to support her? I'm not entirely certain how. There's a couple of facebook groups/petitions, but I can't imagine what that will accomplish. I'd recommend calling the state department, or perhaps one of Missouri's senators, or even the governor, if you're feeling so inclined.

I'm wishing her the best outcome in this.

Monday, August 27, 2007


I hate to just dump links on you guys, but if you aren't a regular reader of Jay Nordlinger's column, Impromptus, I highly recommend you check out his latest offering.

Danger is relative

A newspaper article that recently showed up (I'm told it was from the Houston Chronicle, but I can't find it there anymore; this guy seems to have the article) asked what the "most dangerous idea in religion today" was, and gave the responses of five rather famous religious leaders, including the likes of Deepak Chopra and Rabbi Harold Kushner.

With the exception of Richard Land, all of the answers centered around the idea of extreme tolerance; it's dangerous to tell people their behavior is wrong, their religion is wrong, or attempting to convert anyone to your own faith. In other words, the underlying assumption in all of these is that there are many paths to God, none of them wrong, but attempting to claim that yours is the only path is itself wrong.

I find the premise of the article amusing, because this "today" thing is a bit of a stretch. Really, there's nothing new under the sun philosophically speaking, and that's especially true of religions founded millenia ago. Still, my own take? I'd have to give two answers.

If you're asking which idea is most dangerous physically, I'd agree with Dr. Land that violence in the name of God threatens us the most. There's a strong resurgence in the world of Islamic Imperialism, and its adherents are willing to go to any lengths to attack those they see as standing in the way of that. Whether that means gunning down a street full of civilians or suicide bombing a group of soldiers, these guys seek a theocracy by any means. Even more frightening, many in the world have become too frightened of appearing "intolerant" or "racist" to face the problem as it presents itself and opt to hide behind the skirts of a ticking clock. This problem isn't critical mass now, they must be reasoning, so I can get away with pushing it off to someone else to deal with. This vulnerability makes the problem far worse.

However, the most dangerous idea spiritually, the one most likely to hurt people when they face their maker, would be the very idea the religious leaders were defending, that there are many ways to God, that any and all expressions of religious belief, as long as they are sincere, will merit a man heaven.

I find such ideas to be a comforting thought if you'd rather not be serious about the matter, but reality is harsh. Some ideas are better than others, and when you have religious systems that present reality in ways fundamentally different from each other, both cannot be correct. Judaism teaches that Christians worship a false messiah . . . how could both possibly be on the same path to God? Islam teaches that Christians and Jews altered their scriptures and deny the truth Muhammad brought, which consigns them to Hell. How could these ideas all be leading to the same God?

I open the question up to you, readers. What do you consider the most dangerous idea in religion?

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Twilight Princess Redux

I already wrote about this game, but since I picked it up again, I thought I'd share some further thoughts. Of course, I'm referring to Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess.

As I said before, some of the new additions really help make up for the fact that the game plays almost identically to previous iterations plus a facelift. The addition of a giant ball-and-chain weapon, a staff that lets you control statutes, and a floating gear/skateboard are clever yet fun.

One of the things I appreciate is a couple of dungeons that are, well, different. One of the "dungeons" you run around in is an old mansion up in the mountains where a yeti couple live in two of the rooms. It's a nice change from your palette swapped, "underwater dungeon, swamp dungeon, mountain dungeon," etc.

However, most of them seem to follow the same old pattern that just isn't forgivable anymore. Most of these structures were supposed to be functional installations at one point or another. Why do their floor plans and security systems seem so crazy, then? Why did you hide keys all over the place, and how has that giant monster survived being in the deepest room of the dungeon if it's been locked for 1000 years?

Even the non-dungeon aspects seem to violate reason. There's no reason at this point that they can't provide a world that seems populated. Yet, the world of Zelda is filled with distractions and shops which are situated in places that seem, well, a tad inconvenient for the casual user. For example, who opens a fishing hole in a location you can only reach by jumping off a waterfall?

I'm still having fun playing this game, but Nintendo really needs to get its act together in terms of game design next time around. The plot devices are starting to wear (will Zelda and Link fight Ganondorf into eternity?), and the general design of the world seems way too unnatural. There's no excuse for this anymore.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Politically Incorrect Science

I'm sure you can think of some example of what the title describes. There was that Yale (or was it Princeton? I can't recall) President who was ousted after suggesting that differences in academic aptitude might be based in gender. Or, how about any research which suggests that global warming is non-existent, inconsequential, or not anthropogenic? What about that researcher who did studies on the brains of "gay" sheep?

I bring it up because of an article in the New York Times regarding Dr. Bailey, a Northwestern scientist who was nearly driven from his field for a book suggesting that transgendered people are driven by pyschological, not biological, imperatives.

You can get all the details yourself from the article. I find it an interesting if unsurprising look, yet again, about what goes wrong when politics and science cross paths. Some people are so committed to their pet theories and ideas that when someone even attempts to examine it, they're prone to acts of lunacy and derangement. It gets worse if the examination finds the pet theory to be in error.

Of course, sometimes it can go in another direction. Sometimes you can get "science" that is so blatantly political that you can't help but wonder what kind of mental gymnastics those researchers had to do to get the data to fit their conclusion. I recall, not too long ago, a study by some group in California purportedly showing that people become Republicans (or conservatives) because they suffered inferiority complexes as children, or something to that effect. I may have written about it at the time, but I just don't feel like dredging the archives for that now.

This is significant to me, because I'm currently taking a course on plant biotechnology, and my own career goals involve research of a similarly controversial nature. If politics is allowed to derail science in such a manner, then what hope do we have of conducting legitimate inquiry into the questions we have? We must be bold enough to ask those questions, regardless of consequence, and we must support our colleagues when they're challenged on political grounds. Where the science contradicts our ideas, as long as it is sound, we must be brave enough to change our thinking to correlate to reality, and not hope that reality will mold itself around our ideas.

Hat tip: Ace

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

It's only a compromise if both sides lose

Here's an interesting story: A Dutch, Catholic bishop as asked that people refer to God as 'Allah' in order to "ease relations" with muslims.

The bishop argues that God doesn't care what he's called, so why not pick a name that puts everyone at ease? To an extent he's right, although considering the number of names that God has given himself, I'm not sure we can just choose what to call him anyhow.

However, it's a really, really dumb way of "easing relations."

I agree with the letter writer in the article. In Islam's entire history, small compromises like those turned into big ones, and they always go in one direction. Or have the Dutch Catholics simply accepted that subjugation is inevitable?

One other note in the article that is glossed over. They note that the leader of an organization for ex-muslims was assaulted by "two Moroccans and a Somali." In other words, other muslims. What they also don't mention is that Muhammad commanded that anyone who left Islam should be killed, so things of this nature shouldn't be unexepected. At least, they wouldn't be if people had any idea what was going on.

They also mention a "populist" politician in the Netherlands who recently compared the Qu'ran to Mein Kampf, intimating that it's a poor comparison. I've never read it myself, but considering its popularity in the Middle East, it's not something I'd rule out.

On a final note, I have to agree with Ace's take on this.

Battle of the Science Departments

Here's a rare personal update from your favorite blogger. Okay, whenever you're done laughing, we'll continue. Good?


After a long summer of looking, I'm finally "employed." I'll be a teaching assistant at the university again. Not exactly what I'd been hoping for, but they're paying my tuition. Actually, it's an even better deal than last time.

Last year I taught for the Chemistry department, this year for the Biology department. They'll be paying for my tuition, but also for my out-of-state fees (Chemistry didn't). They'll be paying me twice what the Chem department paid me. On top of that, they allow me to count my teaching hours towards full-time student status (Chemistry didn't). It's quite the advantage.

I'll be teaching a senior/graduate level lab course. Biotech stuff, yada yada yada. We'll see how boring of a lecturer I can be.

My major problem is that my Wednesdays are ridiculous. I'll have class from 4-5:15, and then teach from 5:30-10. *Blech* I have 15 minutes to prepare for class and consume whatever food I can scrape together. Then I get to ride the Metrolink back to IL? I'm starting to wonder whether you need a permit to carry a stun gun.

Oh, and the professor is in Mexico the first week, so I'll be covering his section as well. That's my fall semester. Good to know, eh?

Thursday, August 09, 2007

August Link Dump

Meh. I haven't had much to blog about recently, so once again I'm just pawning some links off as a "post." I guess this is an "entertain yourself" kind of week.

Video Games
I've been playing the N64 version of Paper Mario, which recently became available for download on the Wii Shop Channel. I didn't think it appropriate to write a review for a 6 year old game, so this isn't a real review, especially since I've already given my thoughts on other entries in the series. This one's closer to the Gamecube version. Did you like that? Then you'll enjoy this one. If you have a Wii, go ahead and download it, it's worth the $10.

Proving once again why he is one of my favorite bloggers, Dafyyd ab Hugh has a splendid post up on Big Lizards connecting congressional pork to national security, as part of his effort to outline a "big picture" theme for Republican presidential candidates. It's not that anything he says is so new that no one could think of it, but I admire him for being able to connect ideas the way he does. He's a thinker, and one I envy. Go read the post.

Thanks to Scott Adams, I was led to this online comic, Basic Instructions. It reminds me of a comic I used to read in the River Front Times, though which one I can't recall anymore. Still, it's quite hilarious, and I highly recommend you add it to your regular reading list.

I'll be back when I have something to blog about.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

The End of Harry Potter

Well, I finally read it:

Spoiler-ific thoughts in the comments, since I still don't know how to do "below the fold" things.

Friday, August 03, 2007


I'm not exactly what you would call an "ambitious" blogger. I started this partly as an outlet for my opinions, partly to practice my writing. It was never about fame, glory, or money.

I bring this up because one of the bloggers I regularly read has something interesting on his page.

Captain Ed wrote yesterday about a university research study showing that laser printers could be responsible for unsafe levels of particulate emissions. He didn't dwell long on the science, but fretted that it could mean trouble once the more litigious among us get ahold of the news.

I find myself jealous because Ed was contacted by Hewlett-Packard and asked for a chance to publicly respond to the study . . . on his blog. That's cool.

Of course, many of the other bloggers I read make occasional appearances on Fox News, so it's not like this kind of exposure is unusual. Again, I didn't start blogging so I could get that kind of recognition, but how neat would that be?