Saturday, November 13, 2010
Modernizing Exorcism (where Devil involved in an extraordinary sort of way)
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Janet, You're Doing a Heck of a Job
Monday, May 05, 2008
When the Music Stops
Banks and brokers do not make loans, they make money by setting up loans which are immediately sold to investment banks on an “as is” basis. Why would you expect a bank get fussy about risk if they are not planning to take any? The big investment banks like Bear Sterns make money by securitizing the loans by pooling them and issuing shares in the pool. Why would you expect them to worry about the details of the loans in the pool if the securities will all be rated by the rating agencies? It is all in the prospectus. The rating agencies make money by attaching a rating, AAA, to the securities, called CDOs. The rating agencies of course rely on the fact that the risk, if any, is spread over the thousands of loans in the pool. They are not expected to look at all the thousands of loan files.
Actually the ratings are not all AAA, since there are traunches. This means that the interests in the pool divided up among different seniorities of CDOs. The senior traunch gets paid first and is the AAA part. The lower traunches take later and may be lower ratings. The lowest traunch is the equity traunch, which gets the highest rate of interest if there is any left after the senior traunches get theirs. The lower traunches know all along that they have more risk than the senior, or else why would they be paid more if there is any?
Naturally, all the players know that if the system comes to a sudden stop, before you can unload the mortgages on the next tier, you can get stuck with a little risk. But, as Chuck Prince, the former CEO of Citigroup, said, “As long as the music is playing, you’ve got to get up and dance.”
Now where is the crime in all that?
Friday, April 18, 2008
Fear Downer Salmon Slipping Into Food Supply
Industry backers pointed out that no one has proved conclusively that antibiotics like flumequine and oxolinic acid increase antibiotic resistance in people, and that there have been no reported cases of people going blind from the colorant used. Further, they noted that it was just another of those false internet rumors that growers were using cattle prods in attempts to reactivate salmon found floating on the surface in the pens. They stressed that any such efforts would certainly have been filmed by PETA and put on You Tube by now. Most importantly, they stressed that they had been vetted by the F.D.A., which tested 40 samples of the 114,320 net tons of salmon imported from Chile in 2007. None tested positive for malachite green, oxolinic acid, flumequine, Ivermectin, fluoroquinolones or drug residues.
Nonetheless, the pen muckraking New York Times published a distasteful expose of the problems March 27, stirring up Safeway to decide to stop buying from Marine Harvest, its main supplier of salmon and associated drugs, saying that the virus for infectious salmon anemia was affecting size, and thus quality and taste. There is no word yet from Costco, the other largest Marine Harvest customer. While the Bush administration generally prefers to leave such matters to the free market, the United States Food and Drug Administration sprung into action, saying it was planning an inspection trip to assess Chile’s overall controls on its farmed salmon.
Saturday, April 12, 2008
It is 11 pm and the phone is ringing
Bill, campaigning in Booneville, Indiana, Thursday, said his wife may have forgotten the details because she was 60, forgetful, and tired. He added that reporters, when they are 60, “they’ll forget something when they’re tired at 11 o’clock at night, too.” He went on to say “A lot of the way this whole campaign has been covered has amused me. . . .there was a lot of fulminating because Hillary, one time late at night when she was exhausted, misstated — and immediately apologized for it — what happened to her in Bosnia in 1995. Did y’all see all that? Oh, they blew it up.”
It did not help that both the landing and the series of misspokes occurred in the daytime and Hillary did not apologize until March 24. ``I did make a mistake in talking about it the last time, and recently,'' Clinton told reporters in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. ``I made a mistake. I have a different memory. That happens. I'm human. For some people that's a revelation.'' Later, she called the issue a ``minor blip,'' according to the Daily News. ``I say a lot of things -- millions of words a day -- so if I misspoke, that was just a misstatement.''
The Clinton campaign was not happy that the issue, coverage of which had died down, was reactivated by Bill, and issued a news release. “Senator Clinton appreciates her husband standing up for her, but this was her mistake and she takes responsibility for it,” the statement said. And for his part, Bill, asked if he regretted his earlier comments, said, “I regret that there appears to be a double-standard about misstatements.”
Wednesday, April 09, 2008
The Princess and the Pea Brains
Fortunately, that is now all settled. The inquest jury, after 6 months of hearings and 278 witnesses, concluded the princess died as the result of negligent driving, to wit: “caused or contributed to, by the speed and manner of the driver of the Mercedes and the speed and manner of the following vehicles”. This concluded a series of official investigations costing an estimated $20 million. No evidence of a murder conspiracy was developed.
Tuesday, April 08, 2008
Monty Hall Strategy Shows McCain Heavily Favored
Now the cognitive dissonance part has to do with which of three colors of M&Ms monkeys prefer. I will leave you to the Tierney article for that, as my concern here is with a problem (albeit possibly related), how people choose between the three current presidential candidates. But first I will let Mr. Tierney explain how the Monty deal works, as I still don’t believe it.
“He shows you three closed doors, … If you open the one with the car, you win it. You start by picking a door, but before it’s opened Monty will always open another door to reveal a goat. Then he’ll let you open either remaining door. Suppose you start by picking Door 1, and Monty opens Door 3 to reveal a goat. Now what should you do? Stick with Door 1 or switch to Door 2? This answer goes against our intuition that, with two unopened doors left, the odds are 50-50 that the car is behind one of them. But when you stick with Door 1, you’ll win only if your original choice was correct, which happens only 1 in 3 times on average. If you switch, you’ll win whenever your original choice was wrong, which happens 2 out of 3 times.”
You can prove this to yourself by playing the game on the NYT web site.
Monday, April 07, 2008
Redwoods - The Dark Side
Under the 1978 California Solar Shade Control Act, it is a crime to let your trees cast a shadow on your neighbor’s rooftop solar panels. That is just what Carolynn Bissett (no, not that one) did to her neighbor Mark Vargas with her eight redwoods (a k a Tree No. 1, Tree No. 2, etc.). In the judgment of the California legislature, redwoods may be somewhat green, but solar panels are greener.
Last December Bissett was convicted in the first prosecution under the Solar Shade Act. The judge found that Trees 4, 5, and 6 were not shading the panels when the panels were installed, but instituted their shading post panel, in contravention of the Act. The judge therefore sentenced all three to be pruned. Trees 1, 2, and 3 were already shading the area, so their shade was there first, thus prima facie they were acquitted, as were trees 7 and 8 which were not involved in the shading at all. As an indication of how tricky this can be, since not only do trees grow, but the sun moves around, the judge deferred adjudication of the adequacy of the pruning of tree 6 (shown left) until the winter solstice. At that point, December 21st, the sun will be lowest in the sky and tree 6 involved in casting the maximum shadow.
Saturday, April 05, 2008
Dr. Griffin was reacting to a meeting last month at Stanford where 50 space experts gathered to discuss the long range space program. Louis Freidman, founder of the Planetary Society and a host of the meeting, noted that we will have a new president and Congress next year that may not be “wedded to the vision for space exploration” put forth by the current president, and that interest was high in a workshop that might offer alternatives to the Bush plan.
What Dr. Freidman was ignoring is the fact that the Bush plan already has alternatives. A NASA insider, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak about the program, revealed that one version envisioned a landing module which would separate from a mother ship, transferring several astronauts to the moon surface while another remained in orbit. Depending upon the circumstances, the surfaced astronauts would either return to the ship, or, in the “Katrina” alternative, remain on the moon to establish a permanent colony. Either situation would clearly be mission accomplished. “We could be there a hundred years” he noted.
President Bush is not concerned about any interim administration, since even two terms of Democrats will expire before the anticipated landing date. At that point, Laura Bush, who has been sleeping with the president throughout the planning process, and will be a shoo-in candidate by then, will be ready to go on day one.
Saturday, April 28, 2007
Breck Girl Feels Pretty Maligned
In the first place, the Breckster would not pay that for a haircut. It was paid out of campaign funds, so it was a free haircut. That is a big difference. Even for the contributors, it comes out to less than one cent per. In the second place, he has decided to reimburse the campaign to show foreigners what America is all about. As he put it, people want to come to America “because people like me can come from nowhere, the son of a mill worker…and now be running for president and pay $400 for a haircut.”
He added, “People around the world look at us and say, ‘That’s what we want. We want that kind of chance.’ ”
Sunday, April 08, 2007
Giuliani Promises Twofer With Threefer
It seems likely that Judith’s scope will exceed that of Nancy Reagan, whose astrology staff primarily vetted Ronnie’s schedule for extraterrestrial conflicts. Likewise with Rosalynn Carter, the first wife to attend cabinet meetings, but who didn’t say much. Hillary may have been the second first wife to attend, but primarily stuck to overhauling the nation’s health care system. This would apparently make Judith the third wife.
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
Climate Control - The Earth Spins
Now the House Committee on Oversight and Governmental Reform has released documents showing that the WHCEQ chief of staff, Philip A. Cooney, made hundreds of changes to government climate reports to, as the NYT put it, “play up uncertainty of a human role in global warming or play down evidence of such a role.” Big deal. Mr. Cooney said that the editing was just part of the normal White House review process.
Mr. Cooney has a strong background in climate control. Before joining the White House he was the “climate team leader” for the American Petroleum Institute, the main industry lobby. He also has no scientific background, so he was unbiased, basing his editing and recommendations on the “most authoritative and current views of the state of scientific knowledge”. During the March 2007 congressional hearing, Cooney conceded his role in altering reports to downplay the adverse effects of man-made emissions on the planet's climate, but said his past work opposing restrictions on heat-trapping gases for the oil industry had no influence on his work for the administration. "My sole loyalty was to the President and advancing the policies of his administration."
Mr. Cooney left the Bush administration in 2005 and went to work for Exxon Mobil, two days after the first reports on his editing came out in the NYT, but the White House made it clear that his resignation had nothing to do with the disclosures.
Wikipedia Note: In March 2002, Myron Ebell, director of global warming at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, wrote a memo to Mr. Cooney, that was later obtained by Greenpeace, explaining how they were going to deal with the publication of the Climate Action Report 2002 by attacking Christine Todd Whitman, adding that he was helping to "drive a wedge between the President and those in the Administration who think they are serving the president's best interests by publishing this rubbish."
Saturday, March 24, 2007
Booster Boo Ban Boo Hoo
"I don't know why people think it's acceptable to boo in the first place," WIAA Executive Director Mike Colbrese said. "It's a pretty novel concept to me." He added that "this is still in the draft stages; We want ...all of our nine districts (to) have the same policies. I think there are a lot more positive ways to generate school spirit than by being negative." The association already prohibits any negative commentary about officiating before, during or after any interscholastic activity or athletic event. "Constructive criticism or comments are always welcomed," the organization's handbook states, "and should be made available through the proper channels (verbally or in writing) directly to the person(s) involved and/or their immediate supervisors." Booing the ref’s call is not, however, considered “constructive criticism”, at least when not through proper channels.
Not everyone thinks the boo ban is a good idea. "They're kidding, right?" asked Rainier Beach High School boys basketball coach Mike Bethea. “If they won't let people boo at a basketball game, what's next?" Fortunately, The Seattle P.I. has a feature with the on line story called “Sound Off” where readers can offer their opinions. Unfortunately, not all have been within the proposed rules. Fortunately, there is also a button following each comment labeled “Report Violations”. Among the 179 comments: “boo”; and particularly grievous- “BOOOO-OOOOOO-OOOOOOO!!!!
Thursday, March 15, 2007
Principals of Target Selection
You see, under the political spoils system every new president fires all the U.S. Attorneys and appoints his own supporters, generally choosing among recommendations from big contributors. The term is four years, and, customarily, if your guy gets reelected, the ride is for eight. The “idea” would therefore involve firing 93 supporters in midstream and replacing them with 93 other supporters. You know about horses and streams.
D. Kyle replied in March 2005, suggesting that they instead just “target” a limited number of U.S. Attorneys to “mitigate the shock to the system that would result from an across-the-board firing” and provided a proposed “strikeout” list. In a continuous stream of email messages between the White House and the Justice Department over the next two years, the list evolved, with targets added and deleted. A list of seven was finally approved, along with a five step blueprint for carrying out the executive action. The targets were advised in December 2006, while Alberto Gonzales and the White House communications office called the senators in the affected states. While Al thereby gained knowledge of who the targets were, he made it clear in his press conference Tuesday that he had no direct knowledge of how the targets were selected. Al also acknowledged “that mistakes were made here”, but no one knows what he meant, exactly. Dan Bartlett, President Bush’s counselor, also made it clear that “the White House did not play a role in the seven U.S. attorneys.”
The next day President Bush took time out of his busy schedule in Mexico to say he was “frankly not happy about” the way it was handled, but defended the removals as “customary practice”, adding “I’ve heard those allegations about political decision making. It’s just not true.”
Monday, March 12, 2007
Hunting Blind in the Texas Legislature
State Rep. Edmund Kuempel to the rescue. He has introduced a bill that will exempt blind people from the usual prohibition on hunting with laser sights. "This opens up the fun of hunting to additional people, and I think that's great," Kuempel said. A laser sight projects a visible dot on the spot where a bullet will hit, allowing the sighted person to give more accurate instructions about which way to move the muzzle (and without standing right in the way of the recoil). As an added benefit, the bill also allows blind hunters to use an otherwise prohibited spotlight. That tends to freeze the deer in place, allowing time to respond to the verbal instructions.
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has until January 1, 2008, to come up with rules defining “legally blind” and what kind of proof the hunter will have to carry to justify his laser sight. It is tricky. You could end up with an awful lot of “visually impaired” hunters. You also don’t want to create a cottage industry of blind people hiring themselves out as gun bearers.
Friday, March 09, 2007
Have a Beer, Save a Bear
The Service has provided guidance regarding what the two should discuss while in Norway and Russia. One memo from agency director H. Dale Hall says they “will not be speaking on or responding to questions about climate change, polar bears and sea ice….” A second memo from Mr. Hall says Mr. Perham “understands the administration’s position on climate change, polar bears and sea ice and will not be speaking on or responding to those issues.”
Mr. Hall stressed that it has been a longstanding practice to require strict adherence to a set agenda. While no agenda has yet been established for the polar bear meeting, it presumably will focus on humans avoiding being eaten by polar bears rather than polar bears per se or other no-nos like sea ice or climate change. If a polar bear is after you, you really don’t care why.
The meeting in Norway apparently does have an agenda, as Tina Kreisher, spokeswoman for the Interior Department, parent of the Service, said that climate was “not the subject of the agenda”. She did note that Mrs. Hahn would be free to talk about climate change “over a beer”. There are polar bears in Norway, and they could apparently also be discussed over a beer, but the meeting is about conserving Arctic animals in general, so there will be no reason to get hung up on just one animal.
Wednesday, March 07, 2007
Don't Touch That Remote
Asked in an interview why he had asked no sacrifice from the American people, President Bush responded: “Well, you know, I think a lot of people are in this fight. I mean, they sacrifice peace of mind when they see the terrible images of violence on TV every night.”
Thursday, March 01, 2007
Challenge to Evolution as Jewish Religion
Warren Chisum, R. Panhandle, chairman of the Texas House Appropriations Committee, circulated a memo to all 149 other Texas Representatives, pointing out that “indisputable evidence – long hidden but now available to everyone – demonstrates conclusively that the so-called secular evolution science is the Big Bang 15 billion-year alternate ‘creation scenario’ of the Pharisee Religion…. This scenario is derived concept-for-concept from Rabbinic writings on the mystic ‘holy book’ kabbala dating back at least two millennia.”
The memo directed inquiries to the “non-moving Earth and anti-evolution web page” of the Fair Education Foundation website. That site notes that the earth is stationary, as per the bible, and contrary theories are due to thinkers such as “Kabbalist physicist Albert Einstein”.
The memo was sent to Mr. Chisum by the president of FEF, at the request of a Georgia legislator, Ben Bridges, a “long time friend and supporter” of FEF, who had distributed the memo to the Georgia legislature. In his cover letter on the memo, Mr. Chisum said he greatly appreciated Mr. Bridges “information on this important topic.”
Well, there was a big fuss, as the Jews don’t want to be held responsible for evolution, and the memo was condemned by the Anti-Defamation League. Mr. Chisum apologized, and noted that while he had read the memo, nobody asked him to edit it. Apparently some of his best friends are Jewish, and he said he had “engaged” one Mr. Wolens to intercede on his behalf. Mr. Wolens, a lawyer whose wife is the mayor of Dallas, noted that he had always found Mr. Chisum to be respectful to people of the Jewish faith.
There has been no reaction from the Bush administration regarding funding of the evolution religion, but it is possible that in the future it may have to be handled through the White House Office of Faith Based Initiatives.
Monday, February 12, 2007
Pac up your troubles in your old kit-bag
Lobbyists continue of course to be the main conduit of campaign contributions. The process of gathering checks from client PACs and presenting them in one impressive bundle, called, understandably, “bundling”, is not affected by the new rules, and Congresspersons continue to be duly appreciative for this vital service. But what good is all that warm feeling if the lobbyist can’t mingle with the lawmaker? Mingling in pleasant surroundings is where all the important issues are discussed. And you can't really mingle without the surroundings. So who is going to pay for the surroundings?
If you guessed “political action committee” but didn’t specify whose, zero credit. It is not the PAC of the lobbyist, or the PAC of his client. If you said “the lawmaker’s PAC”, you may have a future in the field. You see, the lobbyist cannot legally pay for the surroundings, nor can the lawmaker use campaign funds for it. But there are no restrictions on the lawmaker’s PAC. Nor are there restrictions on donations to that PAC by the PACs of the lobbyist or his clients. How are you doing with 2 plus 2 so far?
Right. The lawmaker picks the trip or event, and specifies a corporate PAC donation sufficient to cover the cost. And of course it wouldn’t be much of a fund raiser if the lawmaker didn’t agree to go along. This time of year hunting and skiing trips are in vogue, but it doesn’t have to be a big deal. Representative Mary Bono of California has invited lobbyists to join her at a Who concert in D.C., and for a $2500 contribution you can join Representative Eric Cantor at the Starbucks near his office for a Tazo Chai Crème Frappuccino, courtesy his PAC.
Also important is transportation. Lawmakers can no longer fly on corporate private jets at a discounted rate, but the corporation can donate to the lawmaker’s PAC, which can then reimburse the corporation for the full cost of the flight.
Senator Lindsey Graham, R South Carolina, invites lobbyists to join him on fundraising hunting trips, which he considers an “innocuous fact of life”. “If you are not going to have publicly financed elections and you are getting your support from private individuals … I don’t see any problem with having events where private individuals who give you money can talk to you.”
One often overlooked benefit of the new system is that now, after covering the pleasures of the lawmaker, there is usually enough left of the contribution for his campaign fund to wet its beak a little.
Oh, and you remembered the second line to the title, "and smile, smile, smile". But did you remember the first verse of this WWI classic?
Private Perks is a funny little codger
With a smile a funny smile.
Five feet none, he’s an artful little dodger
With a smile a funny smile.
Flush or broke he’ll have his little joke,
He can’t be suppress’d.
All the other fellows have to grin
When he gets this off his chest, Hi!
Wednesday, February 07, 2007
An expert noted that those of PT’s flock believe that homosexuality is sinful behavior and that if you control the behavior enough, heterosexual attractions will return. Still, the megachurch oversight board recommended to Pastor Ted that he take up secular work.
Hey Mohammed, Got Change for a C Note?
Another day older and deeper in debt.
At that rate it would take 23 days to load 363 tons of $100 bills. How do you expect anybody to keep track of that? L. Paul Bremer III abolished the Iraqi government and disbanded the army, and found that the banks had closed when Saddam left town. “We had to pay Iraqis in cash” L.Paul told a House committee Tuesday. “Delay would have been demoralizing and unfair to millions of Iraqi families.”
Rep. Waxman now wants to know what happened to that $12 billion in cash after the Bush administration flew pallets of the shrink wrapped $100 bills into Iraq on C-130 cargo planes. Rep. Davis, the ranking Republican on Waxman’s House Oversight and Government Reform Committee noted that it was just an oversight and that “self-righteous finger-wagging” isn’t helping, noting that L. Paul took charge of a “country with, basically, no government.”
And no way to make change, either. You wonder what would have happened if we put L. Paul in charge of New Orleans, and Brownie in Bagdad.
Friday, February 02, 2007
Genographic Project Recalls General Custer
The parts of the Y chromosome that are universal evolved while everybody stayed, and shuffled, if you will, in the same geographic area. After a group moved off, it became isolated, so that when a mutation occurred thereafter, it became a distinct marker for that group. Basically, if you find a marker, say, in a North American indigenous group (“Indians”) that is the same as a group across the Bering Strait in Asia, you figure that’s where they came from. That’s because you can walk from Africa to Asia, but if you head west instead of east when you hit Asia, you are going to be lucky if you even get to England. Go east, of course, and you hit the land bridge. The idea is to trace the redskins back to yellow, and then on to black (for some reason having to do with vitamin D, the ones that turned west turned white).
However, nearly every tribe in North America is refusing to give DNA for study, not wanting anyone to prove that “native Americans” really came from somewhere else. There are a number of reasons for this, some dating back to an earlier study with the Havasupai Tribe, which believes that the Grand Canyon is humanity’s birthplace. Researchers got the DNA for a diabetes study, which was OK, but then used it to assert that the tribe’s ancestors came from Asia. These attacks on religious fact never go down very well, even if they are only theories.
There is also the fear that such studies will jeopardize land rights and benefits based upon the idea that their people have lived there since the beginning of time. Dr. David Barrett of the Alaska Area Institutional Review Board, sponsored by the federal Indian Health Service, says their health service might be lost if they turn out to really be Siberian. And there is also the implied put down. Maurice Foxx, a Mashpee Wampanoag, and chairman of the Massachusetts Commission on Indian Affairs, says “What the scientists are trying to prove is that we’re the same as the Pilgrims except we came over several thousand years before.
Currently the gathering of DNA in North America is halted, pending agreement by Dr. Barrett’s Alaska board that the consent form that all volunteers must sign fully advises of the risks, such as the possible loss of health services and privacy, and, presumably, of hurt feelings.
PETA Attempts to Queer Gay Sheep Experiments
There are a lot of complaints, some over the killing of the gay sheep to examine their brains, and some for fear the doctor is working on a cure. PETA outed the researchers in an open letter to set the record straight: "To put it simply, these experimenters are cutting open and killing sheep simply because they are gay. These experiments carry the insidious implication that homosexuality in humans can be cured". Marina Navratilova, the gay tennis star allied with PETA doesn’t like either aspect, and writes that the research “can only be surmised as an attempt to develop a prenatal treatment” for sexual preference. Shalin Gala, the PETA representative organizing the sheep campaign, claimed that altering sexual orientation was the “natural implication” of the research.
They may be on to something. The Seattle Times reported that the researchers have zeroed in on differences in the brain at birth, and hope to engineer the birth of gay rams by altering conditions in the womb. The New Scientist reported that “the difference was in a particular region of the hypothalamus - the preoptic nucleus. The region is generally almost twice as large in rams as in ewes. But in gay rams its size was almost identical to that in "straight" females” and further that the differences are almost identical to those identified by the neuroscientist Simon LeVay in his studies of the brains of gay men.
The researchers have a $2.8 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to develop a test which can determine the likelihood of a ram being female-oriented before it is sold as a stud, thereby avoiding an abomination.
Monday, January 29, 2007
Age of Grand Canyon Settled on High
Ham points out that the Grand Canyon was created in a matter of days (presumably 40 days and 40 nights) by the floodwaters of Noah’s ark fame, and that the creatures on the ark included the dinosaurs, including Tyrannosaurus Rex. He says that Noah was a real man, and with Rex on board, who can doubt him?
There is some controversy. Tom Vail’s book about the Grand Canyon, on sale at the National Park Service book store at the canyon, says the canyon is only 4,500 years old, although it agrees that it was formed by Noah’s flood. The book was approved by the Bush administration for sale at the park in 2003. After it got a bad review by a geology professor, the head of the Geologic Resources Division of the Park Service asked headquarters to remove the book, saying it is a religious doctrine, not science. But when the park superintendent attempted to remove it, he was overruled by NPS headquarters, which announced that it would do a “high level policy review” and reach a decision by February 2004. To date, while there is no record of any such review, the Bush administration is sticking with the initial approval. The NPS no longer offers any official estimate for the age of the canyon, but it has blocked publication of park ranger guidance which denied any scientific basis for creationism, and approved the posting of plaques bearing Psalm verses at the overlooks.
So how long ago did God create the canyon, anyway? We are going with the 4,500 years rather than the 6,000 years. The NPS is clearly more official than the Creation Museum, and anyway, you can look it up, right there at the canyon.
Clearly the president is not coming to ask for a vote on the additional troops for Iraq, but if there is a vote, you would never have expected it. As Rummy so aptly put it, some things are just unknowable: "I would not say that the future is necessarily less predictable than the past. I think the past was not predictable when it started.”
Friday, January 26, 2007
You From Detroit?
In 2003 the Supreme Court said it was all right to consider race, if it was just one among many factors, and if you didn’t give points for it (white rules, under which white basketball players get extra points for a basket, are presumably illegal under this ruling). After that colleges adopted “holistic” review, accepting minorities which failed to meet the standards applied to whites, but being careful not to assign extra points. That no longer works in Michigan. “We know from colleagues in Texas and California that if we can’t take race into account, we’re at a competitive disadvantage,” said Julie Peterson, a spokeswoman for the University of Michigan.” Editor's note: the "competition" is not, of course, for below standard students per se, but for "diversity", a crucial academic goal, for which you may need below standard students to reach.
Wayne State University has adopted a new admissions policy which will look to “a set of broader diversity concerns that go to socioeconomic status.” The new factors omit any mention of race, and instead include having overcome substantial obstacles, such as prejudice and discrimination; being multilingual; and residence in Detroit or on an Indian reservation. However, the law school dean, Frank Wu, is concerned that their good faith efforts to comply with Proposition 2 may face a legal challenge: “There’s a new fight building,” Mr. Wu said, “and that’s going to be whether the mere fact that you’re striving for diversity means you’re somehow trying to get around the ban and find proxies, or pretexts, for race, and that that’s impermissible. It’s ironic, but in some quarters our effort to adopt a new policy to comply with Prop 2 has been interpreted as an effort to circumvent it.”
Wednesday, January 10, 2007
Mesopotamia Surge Redux
The Sunnis and the Shiites don’t consider each other to be true Muslims, and thus, if not technically infidels, are close enough for government work. Now the traditional way of dealing with infidels is of course to kill them. This has in fact worked pretty well for the other religions throughout history, even though it is not generally considered P.C. currently (with the possible exceptions of Ireland and the Levant). Even for those exceptions it could be argued that outside interference has prevented the inhabitants from working things out in the traditional manner.
Indeed, outside influence has been a problem for Mesopotamia all along. In the 14th century the Black Sheep Turkmen took control, but later lost it to a surge by the White Sheep Turkmen. The Black Sheep have had a bad reputation ever since. In the 16th century the Ottoman Empire took over. The Turks, regardless of sheep preference, generally followed the practice of keeping the Abu and Ali followers from resolving the Muhammad descent question by carefully arranging massacres and hangings. The British continued the practice when they took over after the Great War, imposing a monarchy and drawing the maps without reference to the religious preferences. Unrest and killings dragged along for several years until the big British surge (massacre) in 1920 brought relative peace. Then, as now, there were critics. T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia) wrote in the London Times August 22, 1920:
The people of England have been led in Mesopotamia into a trap from which it will be hard to escape with dignity and honour. They have been tricked into it by a steady withholding of information. . . Things have been far worse than we have been told, our administration more bloody and inefficient than the public knows. It is a disgrace to our imperial record, and may soon be too inflamed for any ordinary cure. We are to-day not far from a disaster.
Our government is worse than the old Turkish system. They kept fourteen thousand local conscripts embodied, and killed a yearly average of two hundred Arabs in maintaining peace. We keep ninety thousand men, with aeroplanes, armoured cars, gunboats, and armoured trains. We have killed about ten thousand Arabs in this rising this summer. . . . A Minister in the House of Lords said that we must have so many troops because the local people will not enlist. . . We have not reached the limit of our military commitments. Four weeks ago the staff in Mesopotamia drew up a memorandum asking for four more divisions. . . . If the North-West Frontier cannot be further denuded, where is the balance to come from? Meanwhile, our unfortunate troops, Indian and British, under hard conditions of climate and supply, are policing an immense area, paying dearly every day in lives for the wilfully wrong policy. . . .
Tuesday, January 02, 2007
Snow Globe Enigma
“Snow globes, regardless of size and amount of liquid inside, even with documentation, are prohibited in your carry-on.”
You see, not only can’t the screener tell if you are trying to sneak on more than 3 ounces, it is almost impossible to zip up a one quart plastic bag with the globe in it. This also avoids the problem of the globes with manger scenes, with no plastic reindeer or menorah, which clearly wouldn’t be kosher.
While we are on the subject of carry-on rules, it would be good to update the post of May 16 on carry on service animals: “Fear of Flying? Take Your Duck”, specifically the monkey rules, which are, of course, designed to prevent a terrorist from attempting to board with a monkey carrying prohibited items. Here is that rule:
“When the handler and the monkey go through the W.T.M.D. and the W.T.M.D. alarms, both the handler and the monkey must undergo additional screening…. [Security officers] have been trained not to touch the monkey during the screening process.… [T]he inspection process may require that the handler take off the monkey’s diaper as part of the visual inspection.”
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
Chabad Trees Airport Over Menorah Omission
The holiday trees are back up in the Seattle-Tacoma airport. They were taken down last week when Chabad-Lubavitch, the Jewish Orthodox educational group, threatened to sue unless the airport added the menorah. The airport authorities said they didn’t want to get started with covering all the religions, and so wanted a purely secular holiday tree. The draft of the lawsuit complaint claimed irreparable damage if there was no menorah by December 15, when Hanukkah begins at sundown.
The lead plaintiff, Elazar Bogomilsky, a Chabad rabbi, stressed that he never said to take the trees down: “By no means did we want to take away any religious symbols or trees from any other culture.” Unfortunately Chabad published its email address on its web site, and if you think the Grinch got heat… Well, Rabbi Bogomilsky et al said they never intended to file the lawsuit, and joined in the request to restore the trees. So they are back, “just lights and snowflakes and holiday trees” said the airport director.
Makes you wonder if Chabad has heard that Wal-Mart is wishing people a Merry Christmas again. But anyway, the tragedy here, of course, is not being familiar with the plastic reindeer rule. See blog of April 25 etc. The airport could have stuck in a menorah as long as they added something like Frosty the snowman, or, of course, a plastic reindeer pulling Santa’s sleigh. It wouldn’t have hurt to carve that symbol on the tree, either.
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
Transgender Community Frustrated
New York City’s Board of Health has withdrawn its proposal to allow people to determine their own sex on their birth certificate. This on the heels of its ground breaking actions against smoking, and lately against trans fats. The proposal was intended to reduce sex discrimination. Not the old fashioned and somewhat dated kind, against women, but rather the more cutting edge kind, against people who choose to live as members of the opposite sex, opposite of what they are physically, that is (ones who have actually been cut were not affected by this change). You don’t hear much about that, since it can be kind of hard to tell if the discrimatee is correspondently dressed, but apparently that is a problem in New York City.
The Board had anticipated and addressed the problem of people switching back and forth, Willy-Nelly, so to speak, by requiring that a doctor verify that the gender preference was permanent. It was not specified how the doctor was to make the determination, since there was no required physical change, but the thought was there. Permanent ink on the birth certificate would be one idea.
However, as usual when fiddling with peoples prejudices, there came a big fuss. Hospitals wondered how they could determine who to put in a bed next to someone who was still satisfied with their original designation. You probably did not know that nurses checked your birth certificate to determine your gender, but then you may not have been following the latest improvements in your right to privacy. And of course the penal authorities were concerned about whom to jail with whom if sex was just a matter of preference. What if someone changed their mind while incarcerated? Is the change effective immediately, or only when the change is formally entered on the birth certificate? Is there a free trial period?
“This is something we hadn’t fully thought through, frankly,” said Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, the city’s health commissioner. “What the birth certificate shows does have implications beyond just what the birth certificate shows.” The good doctor said the board thought that most jurisdictions had similar rules in deference to the transgender community. “We felt going into it that it was fairly standard,” he said, “but as we looked into it we discovered that it was implicit, not explicit.”
Transgender advocates were not placated, feeling that the city caved to people that feared interacting with men who live as women and women who live as men. “I fear that because of the public attention, they lacked the courage to give the proposed amendment the consideration it deserved” said Shannon Minter, a board member and lawyer for the Transgender Law and Policy Institute.
The approach had promised to be a powerful tool in fighting discrimination of all kinds. Suppose you could change your race on your birth certificate? Better yet, your age?
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
Vote is in. Tendencies no sin.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, at their semiannual meeting Tuesday, passed several measures supportive of gay men and lesbians. First, they welcome gays into the Church. Second, they affirm that “homosexual inclinations”, while inherently disordered, are not sinful. Gay sexual activity is, of course, still sinful, as is most sex, including heterosexual fooling around within marriage if, as universally practiced, it involves artificial contraception. It should be noted that the Bishops, by casting the same stone at two birds, gay and ungay sex, refused to discriminate against homosexuals. The Archbishop of Kansas City said that neither type of sinner should receive Holy Communion.
The document stated that artificial contraception introduces a “false note” into a marriage. The chairman of the doctrine committee said that the committee did not consult with any gay men or lesbians about the document (at least as far as they knew), or with any married people, gay or ungay.
Neither sinner group seemed to appreciate the gesture. The president of Dignity USA, an advocacy group for gay Catholics, said “At some point the bishops have to realize that they speak in willful ignorance about what homosexuality is and about sexuality in general”. There was no challenge to the apparent over-statement. On the married front, the president of Catholics for a Free Choice noted that “almost no one is looking to the bishops for guidance on contraception, sexuality and law making.”
Thursday, November 09, 2006
Shallow End of Gene Pool
All this conflict between science and religion can actually be traced back to the fool things scientists are always doing. They are either busy proving something that everybody already knows, or worse, something that doesn’t make any sense. Take this latest thing, proof that Neanderthals are in the gene pool. Who doesn’t know that? The big surprise was that only 30% of people worldwide carry the gene.
The gene in question is the one that regulates brain size, called microcephalin. Now if you know your Latin, you know micro means small and cephalin means brain. The old version emerged over a million years ago, and made small brains, which, when you think about it, makes sense. Then the gene underwent a significant change about the time the modern form of human migrated into Europe, some 40,000 years ago. Some 70% of the humans got the new version, while the Neanderthals, and 30% of the humans, were stuck with the small brains. The pure line of Neanderthals went extinct over the next 10,000 years.
Now it has long been suspected that there was fooling around between the camps, so to speak. The scientists are now debating just how much there might have been. The report published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science suggested that matings between Neanderthals and modern humans caused the mutation in the gene, leading to bigger brains. Dr. Lahn, the senior editor of the report, cautioned that the interbreeding may not have been widespread, and could have been rare, or even a single event. See, first they demonstrate the obvious, and then make some dumb statement like that. He obviously wasn’t one of the guys in high school, when we were all out drinking beer and looking for action. Imagine if there had been a Neanderthal high school in the area.
This lack of real world experience reminds you of this business of the proof of the Poincaré conjecture. If you are into topology, you know that this is the idea that a rabbit is the same as a sphere, because it doesn’t have any holes in it. Now that had been proved earlier for rabbits in space of more than three dimensions, but it took Grisha Perelman to prove it for three-dimensional space. This was pretty exciting, and now a bunch of mathematicians who have never seen a rabbit are busy polishing up Grisha’s proof, as Grisha promptly disappeared. I think you are beginning to get the idea.
Thursday, October 26, 2006
A Strategy By Any Other Name
In a long awaited shift in White House strategy, Tony Snow announced Monday that POTUS will no longer use the rallying cry "Stay the Course". Tony (snow boy), recently recruited from Fox News to give the press secretary spin a new center of gravity, is beginning to take hold. The situation in Iraq clearly requires a change in slogan, since continuing to say "stay the course" gave the impression that the administration was not aware that many of its backers had tired of it. As Foxy put it "It left the wrong impression of what was going on and allowed critics to say 'Well, here's an administration that's just embarked upon a policy and not looking at what the situation is,' when, in fact, it's just the opposite."
The change in the slogan demonstrates that the president is not inflexible as he continues to pursue mission accomplished in Iraq. There was no announcement regarding "cut and run", which will continue to apply to the Democrats, as well as "homosexual agenda". Still, such a major marketing change this close to the election required a lot of cojones, particularly without a suitable replacement strong and virile description of our strong and virile Iraq policy. Generally you don't like to change horses’ names in the middle of the stream.