Wednesday, November 30, 2005


Baby Limbo Release Expected

On another Vatican front, an international theological commission may advise Pope Benedict to revise the Church view that babies who die before they can be baptized go to limbo, or to at least stop talking about it. Baptism is required for heaven admission, so it is a difficult situation. Last October Pope John Paul asked the commission, then headed by the current Pope, to come up with "a more coherent and enlightened way" of describing the fate of such innocents. A report is expected soon.

Any change will presumably be retroactive.


Drunkenness, Prison May Excuse Transitory Homosexual Tendencies

The Vatican document released Tuesday provided an exception to its ban on ordaining homosexuals as priests. Signed by Cardinal Zenon Brocholewski (pictured), the document stated that while they would not fool around with those with "deep-seated" tendencies, those with "transitory" tendencies could be ordained provided they were "overcome" for at least 3 years. In a Vatican Radio interview, the Cardinal gave several examples of what could be considered "transitory":

"For example, some curiosity during adolescence or accidental circumstances in a state of drunkenness, or particular circumstances like someone who was in prison for many years."

It was not clear whether that meant the candidate had to be out of prison for 3 years, or whether overcoming could take place during detention.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005


China, Wal-Mart, Hurting Every American

An evil Colossus astride the land. Nay, two of them. We are not talking about the Bush administation, we are talking about the evil of charging prices that are too low. You know about Wal-Mart and how our politicians (bless their hearts) are pressuring it to raise its prices to avoid hurting the little guy. But you may not have realized that China is actually worse, and that our politicians are rising to the cause. Sure, it is a little more complicated, but bear with me, and you will see that not only is China hurting the little guy with low prices, it is also punishing him with low interest rates.

China has fixed its exchange rate so that the yuan (that is the Chinese shekel, and at $.21 the shekel better watch out too) is severly undervalued. That means that the price we pay for Chinese goods is too low, so we buy too much. That is why China sells 6 times as much to us as we to it. And not only that, the dollars pile up in China, where there is nothing to do with them except buy US Treasuries, which supports the price of the bond, which keeps interest rates too low. Not going too fast for you am I, Matilda? This economics stuff is a lot like evolution. Got to be an invisible hand in there somewhere. Or a pony.

Anyway, American manufactures are irked. Senator Charles E. Schumer (that E. wouldn't be Esterhaus, would it?) says that China's refusal to float the yuan, thereby raising prices, "hurts every American". He has a bill that will put a tariff on Chinese goods. That may help the consumer, but some doubt it will fix the whole problem. China, like Wal-Mart, has the advantage of cheap labor.

Of course, the Bush administration opposes the move, saying that it would jeopardize trade and hurt consumers. Hey, you think we were born yesterday on a turnip truck? Democrats like Mr. Chuck are the ones for protecting us little guys.

As for Wal-Mart, what do we do, Chucky? Charging for membership hasn't stopped Sam's from hurting us. Hey, what if we charge a tax at the front door, just like for China. That'll fixum.


Mosquito Outclasses Zit Lamp, Classical Music As Teen Repellent

It has been said that teenagers are God's punishment for enjoying sex. Now, whether you do or don't, there is a new device for preventing the results from gathering around your home or business. The Mosquito emits a high frequency pulsing sound that can be heard by most teenagers but rarely by anyone older. The sound is highly irritating to teens, leading quickly to their dispersal. Sort of like the stuff you spray on furniture to keep the cat off.

Tests showed the device to be 50% more effective than classical music, and faster than the zit lamp, which casts a blue light which accentuates pimples, whiteheads and other teen blemishes. The device can be ordered for a well worth it £495 + VAT.

Saturday, November 26, 2005


No State Official Left Behind

Let's see how your acuity stacks up against that of the various state school officials. In order to get federal funds, schools must increase the percentage of students demonstrating proficiency each year, and have to get to 100% by 2014. Now here is the acuity part. You, the state, not only get to define what "proficiency" is, i.e. the number of correct answers required, but you also get to make up the test.

Did you pass? Most states did. For example, Tennessee proficiency this year was in the high 80s in both math and reading, for both fourth and eighth grades. Two bits says they will increase that every year, and reach 100% on schedule. Well, yes, there is a slight fly in the ointment, NAEP. That is the National Assessment of Education Progress given by the feds. It doesn't count, of course (states' rights you know), its only purpose is to let policy makers see how things are going, or should we say, what is going on.

Turns out the NAEP scores are a bit lower than the state test results. How about mid 20s for Tennessee, and Texas around 30% instead of where the state test put it in the 80s? Margaret Spellings (pictured), U.S. Secretary of Education, and a former Assistant to President Bush who helped draft the No Child Left Behind Act, says the comparison will "shine a light", but declines to criticize. "We're not going to sit up in Washington and look at all those moving parts [left to the states]." She did have a suggestion. The Assessment classifies students as "advanced", "proficient", and "basic", the later meaning sort of partial mastery of the requirements. Many score below basic, but that is not considered an "achievement level". When the results were released, Ms. Spellings urged reporters to compare the state "proficiency" percentages to the federal "basic" percentages. That helped, but it was clear that the feds need to recognize a lower "achievement level", perhaps "sub-basic" to really clear up the problem.

Some officials liked that idea, but most didn't think any comparison was helpful. A spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Education agreed that the fed basic "is comparable to our proficient", and added "nobody here would say we have a perfect test". But the Alabama spokesman, where 83% became 22%, said any comparison is not fair. "Making comparisons to the NAEP becomes very difficult without giving the impression that some states are not measuring up to the others or to the nation." The Georgia spokesman, where 83% became 24%, explained that "Kids know the federal test doesn't really count".

Not every state official passed. The South Carolina state test was so rigorous that some scores were below those on the NAEP. Naturally, state legislators are demanding the necessary adjustments. While the previous misjudgment should make it easy to show the year to year improvement required, the legislators need to be careful. You wouldn't want to show all the improvement in one year.

Friday, November 25, 2005


I'm Baaaaack . . .

Michael “you’re doing a heckofa job, Brownie” Brown, of FEMA fame, is starting a disaster preparedness consulting firm. He said officials need to "take inventory" of what's going on in a disaster to be able to answer questions to avoid appearing unaware of how serious a situation is. He noted that disasters can be bad.

Thursday, November 24, 2005


Camden Not Taking It Any More

How would you feel if your city was ranked for the second year in a row the most dangerous city in America, just because you had a few more murders, rapes, robberies, etc. than the runner up? Right. And this year Camden is fighting back with a rally with gospel songs, dances, and speeches against those "meaningless and insulting" crime rankings which scare off development. And they have a task force, a sheet of talking points, and a trolley tour to view a cleaned up street corner and the first library built in 100 years, among other attractions. And, they are below quota on murders this year, so unless they can pick up the pace over the holidays, they don't look like a threepeat (they only came in third in 2002). Go, Detroit!

Wednesday, November 23, 2005


Katrina Stirs Cabin Fever Fears

If you've every been stuck in a hotel room for more than a couple of days, you will appreciate the way FEMA is helping the Katrina evacuees get into a better situation. Last week the agency announced it would stop paying hotel bills December 1 and would also block cities from signing leases on what the folks move into. Of course FEMA will continue to pay the rent, it just wants people to have the pride of ownership that comes from finding an apartment on their own, and signing their own leases. Houston, for example, had been treating people like college students, moving around 400 people a day from hotels to government financed housing with one year leases. Pretty demeaning.

Update: there was a bit of a fuss over the 15 day notice, so now the evacuees get more time, depending on where they evacuated to. If you are one of the 35,000 in hotels in TX, GA, FL, AL, CA, TN, AR, or NV, you get until January 7. If, however, you are one of the 3,700 in a hotels in a state not listed, you have to improve your living facility by December 15. And WAIT, THERE'S MORE! The cities can sign leases after all, at least until the hotel program is ended. At this writing, it is not clear whether that is January 7 for everybody, or is still December 15 for those "other states". It depends on what the meaning of the word "is" is.

"We are not kicking people out into the streets," said the FEMA director, announcing the extended timetable. "We want families in decent housing". You can really appreciate that if you remember the average hotel is charging $59 a night. He did not address why the deadline depended upon what state you were staying in, but an unnamed source said some were not offering American Plan.

Sunday, November 20, 2005


Katrina "Trinkle Down" Works!

On November 10 we reported what a hard time Russ Hayward and one Mr. Davis were having getting more money out of FEMA. Russ, have you checked your breath? Over in Jackson, where, 160 miles from the coast, Katrina hardly got in a lick, FEMA and the Red Cross gave out $62 million of aid. For most recipients the only damage was spoiled food in the freezer. Full disclosure: due to a power outage I lost food in my freezer (even some steaks), and got nothing from FEMA, but no grudge.

FEMA sent aid to thousands of county residents, including 7,622 checks for $2,000 for emergency assistance. A FEMA official telephoned Larry Fisher, director of the county emergency department, to find out why the county had only reported 50 uninhabitable homes, and about 4,000 with any damage at all. The FEMA official told Fisher he would have to increase his number, but Fisher had photographs proving the non-extent of the damage, and told the official "I am not going to change my figures up to yours. You want to start investigating, by all means do so". FEMA officials said they were not aware of the conversation. A FEMA spokeswoman said "Do you slow down [assistance] to dot every single i and cross every single t?" The executive director of the area chapter of the Red Cross pointed out that there was really no way to immediately determine the extent of the damage without going out and driving around.

According to the NYT, a Ms. Alexander got a call from her cousin that the Red Cross was giving out money but when she got there the crowd was so big she chose not to wait. And back home, she called the charity's toll free number and got $900. She had no damage other than spoiled food. "I was blessed", she said.

Meanwhile, over in Iberia Parish, west of New Orleans where only three mobile homes had any damage, FEMA handed out 404 $2000 checks. While there has been some criticism, it is clear that the "trinkle down" theory is working. Everywhere there were reports that the checks were immediately cashed and spent on items like jewelry, firearms, DVD movies and electronics. Why should this boost to the local economies depend on Katrina's arbitrary path?

Thursday, November 17, 2005


A Bridge Too Far Out

Congressional Republicans somehow got the idea that the $442 million earmarked for Alaska's two remote "bridges to nowhere" were undermining their image of fiscal austerity, as well as their efforts to cut spending on social programs like Medicaid and food stamps. To straighten this out, they eliminated the requirement that the money be spent on those specific bridges. The $443 million will now go to Alaska with no strings attached. They can spend it on whatever transportation projects they want, including, of course, the bridges. Alaska's representatives had earlier defeated an effort to shift the bridge money to hurricane relief, by Senator Ted Stevens threatening to resign. He felt the money was vital to spur economic development on Gravina Island and Knik (most of the 50 people there are underemployed). That was a risk the republicans just couldn't take, as there was always the remote possibility of his being replaced by a Democrat. Ted is unhappy, but has agreed to stay. This successful strategy caused some Democrats to urge their Ted to threaten to resign if cuts were made on spending for the poor, but a spokeswoman said "Teddy isn't ready."

This move appeared to give the Republicans a two-fer. If Alaska now decides to spend on something more useful, it will show how careful the Pubs are with the taxpayers' money. And, it is delegating to the states a decision previously federal.

Fiscal conservatives celebrated their victory. Best of all, the 6,000 other pet projects earmarked in the $286 billion highway bill were not affected.


FDA Trots Out Galileo Defense Again

Dr. Galson, acting director of the FDA's drug center, said last year that he decided on non-approvable for the morning after pill Plan B because a only 29 of 585 participants in a supporting study were between the ages of 14 and 16, and none were under 14. The issue was whether teenagers might be more likely to engage in sex if they knew an emergency contraceptive was available. In the study, teens laughed off that suggestion. Dr. Galson said that younger teens might act differently than older ones. He suggested to the company that approval could be gained if another study included more young adolescents, or if the sale was kept "behind the counter", available without a prescription only to women 16 and over.

The company, Barr, elected to go behind the counter due to the huge expense of the suggested second study. Think about it. How much would they have to pay you to hang around playgrounds asking 12 or 13 year old girls whether they would be more likely to engage in sex if the pill was available? But anyway, the FDA, after thinking about it for another year, said the application would be delayed indefinitely while it thought about it some more.

When the GAO report issued last week pointed out that it was "unusual" for the agency to suggest a means for approval and then later take it back, the agency said "unusual, persmusal", stating that it was an everyday practice going back over 400 years, again referencing the Galileo trial. In that earlier situation, after looking over some instruments of torture, Galileo copped a plea under which he could go free if he did "abjure, curse and detest" his work. A lot of us do that, of course, but Leo didn't have what you call a regular job. Be that as it may, the inquisition later changed its mind, convicted him of "grave suspicion of heresy", and sentenced him to an indefinite delay of freedom.


Study Reveals Smoking May Be Good For You

A study presented last month at a conference of the American Society of Reproductive Medicine revealed that nicotine somehow screws up the tails of sperm, making fertilization more difficult. Chronic smokers were 75% less likely to make a woman pregnant than nonsmokers. "Chronic" was defined as smoking 4 or more cigarettes a day. The researchers noted differences between heavy and light smokers, so couples trying to conceive were advised to reduce smoking or confine it to afterward.

Dr. Esterhaus Newman, noted author of "Just Say No" and who was not involved in the study, cautioned against relying on this method for birth control, and criticized the study for a failure to control for societal pressures, as smoking is no longer cool and may inhibit successful hitting upon.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005


FDA Cites Blog Defending Decision on Next-Day Pill

A report by the Government Accountability Office concluded that the FDA rejection of the application for the morning-after pill "plan B" to be sold over the counter was unusual in several respects. The FDA denied that it was unusual for top agency officials to be involved, or that it was unprecedented for them to ignore the recommendation of an independent advisory committee as well as that of their own scientific review staff. The agency noted that they were following practices honored for over 400 years, and cited this Blog's discussion of the Galileo proceedings. It is unprecedented for a federal agency to place such reliance on a newly established Blog, and quite an honor.

A spokeswoman for the FDA, also following established administration practice, immediately questioned the "integrity" of the investigative process that resulted in such "partial" conclusions. It is assumed she meant that the conclusions were "partial" because the role of the former head of the agency, Mark McClellan, could not be uncovered. The agency told the investigators that all of his email and written correspondence on the subject had been deleted or thrown out.

Monday, November 14, 2005


Galileo - Gaps in His Theories Challenged

I didn't see much foolish in the papers this morning except the attack on Walmart, so let's clarify a little history. Galileo Galilei lived from 1564 to 1642, a very unsettling time for the Church. In England they kept switching monarchs back and forth from Catholics to Protestants, and every time they did, everyone had to switch or march off to Tyborn. The Pope had to go so far as to issue a BULL that OKed the assassination of the Queen, so you can see there were some pretty hard feelings all around.

Today we like to think that the authorities at the time were ignorant, trying to surpress science as contrary to their beliefs. Contraire. Many were acquaintances, and even friends of Galileo, had looked through his telescope, and acknowledged he was on the right track. He was even buddies with the Pope. The problem was that these guys were responsible for keeping order among the faithful, and all this business about the earth going around the sun was tearing things up. Galileo was a big booster of Nick Copernicus' theories, and you know what happened to him.

So a group of his friends went to him. "Leo, we understand about Nick's deal, and we accept that, but let us tell you about our problem. We have priests in places that are barely hanging on. They aren't an educated bunch, but they can read, and we have told them the earth is the center of the universe. Now if you will just keep this stuff about the sun and planets among us insiders, we can all get along. OK Leo?" Leo let on like he understood, but it wasn't long before he was back insisting that the earth moved, and worse, around the sun. Finally, they solved the problem by demanding that Leo provide "more adequate" proof of his theories before publishing. There were gaps and errors in Leo's theories, and there were things not fully explained. He was finally nailed with a proof for which he had no answer: "If there are other planets, since God makes nothing in vain, they must be inhabited; but how can their inhabitants be descended from Adam and Eve?"

This argument would not be such a killer today, of course, since we have space travel.

Saturday, November 12, 2005


Intelligent Design vs Evolution - National Debate Continues

It is the policy of this blog to never comment on matters of religion or politics, lest someone be offended. The following quotes, from the sources indicated, are provided merely so those who rely on this site as a primary news source are current on the views of major players in this national debate.

Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Benedict XVI said that far from being a product of chance the created world is an "intelligent project" that reflects a divine origin. The pope made the remarks at a general audience at the Vatican Nov. 9, commenting about Psalm 136, which gives thanks for creation. The pope quoted St. Basil the Great, who in the fourth century warned that some people, "fooled by the atheism that they carry inside them, imagine the universe deprived of direction and order, as if at the mercy of chance." Speaking extemporaneously to the crowd in St. Peter's Square, the pope said St. Basil's words had "surprising relevance" today. "How many people are there today who, fooled by atheism, think and try to demonstrate that it would be scientific to think that everything is without direction and order," he said.

New York Times Op Ed by Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama

SCIENCE has always fascinated me. As a child in Tibet, I was keenly curious about how things worked.... At one point I became particularly intrigued by an old telescope, with which I would study the heavens. One night while looking at the moon I realized that there were shadows on its surface. I corralled my two main tutors to show them, because this was contrary to the ancient version of cosmology I had been taught, which held that the moon was a heavenly body that emitted its own light.
But through my telescope the moon was clearly just a barren rock, pocked with craters. If the author of that fourth-century treatise were writing today, I'm sure he would write the chapter on cosmology differently.
If science proves some belief of Buddhism wrong, then Buddhism will have to change. In my view, science and Buddhism share a search for the truth and for understanding reality. By learning from science about aspects of reality where its understanding may be more advanced, I believe that Buddhism enriches its own worldview....

As noted, there will be no sendup on either position. I have been accused of having a sardonic wit ever since high school, but never of carrying coals to Newcastle.

Friday, November 11, 2005


Hey, Let's Be Careful In Here!

Alfred E. Neuman, an unsuccessful candidate for president in 1968 and 2004, is rumored to be on the short list for Agency Czar, a new top layer for the recently combined agencies FEMA, CDC, and FDA. He ran for President with the slogan, "You could do worse, and always have!" He has dusted off the slogan in his bid for the Czar post.

Fred, Esterhaus to his friends, believes that the agencies should be more politicized. A strict constructionist, he has argued that the agencies should be limited to performing the functions specifically assigned to them in the Constitution. "While as a practical matter these agencies have for the most part observed those limitations, I feel there should be a greater effort to communicate this to the public so they would stop filing all those lawsuits."

Fred closeness with the administration is evidenced by his receipt of a Christmas card every year from Bush pere, even though he has never reciprocated.


Got Your Flu Shot Yet? What, Me Worry?

A top official offered assurances yesterday about any flu vaccine shortage if there is one. Dr. Julie L. Gerberding, director of the CDC, said the good news was that flu is off to a slow start this year, giving more time to get vaccine "out there". While the CDC "suspects" that more people will want a shot this year, her agency had no data to support that, she said. Further, the agency doesn't know where the current shortages are and won't until it collects more information, by which time she expects there won't be any, shortages that is. And anyway, because most vaccine is in private hands, "there's not a lot we can do to solve the national problem" she said.

I don't know about you, but I feel better. There is more good news than the lucky slow start by the flu. First, the Doctor reported that she told her own mother not to worry and to just wait and get her shot when its available. That is comforting. Second, the CDC is not part of FEMA. Third, President Bush has told her "You are doing a heckofa job, Dingy." Fourth, she says Bush's proposal to spend $7.1 billion for a possible pandemic of the bird type will help manufacters expand and prevent shortages of the regular type "in the long run". Fifth, I already got my shot.


Substitute for Overcooked Broccoli Discovered

Scientists today announced discovery of a hormone that reduces the desire to eat. Mice taking it eat half as much, and lose weight. It is not yet known how it makes the mouse feel, however, and it was observed that "a drug that produced weight loss by making people throw up might not be a good idea". And not really a new idea either, I guess.

The hormone, named obestatin (what else?) prompts the brain to send out a signal that says "eat less". I suggested to Kathy that it might be a substitute for some of her vigilence, and got back "more likely a substitute for common sense". She is right, of course; nobody really eats because they are hungry.

These scientists, bless their hearts for trying, would, if they got out more, know that there are three main reasons why overweight people eat:

1. It is meal time.
2. Need something to do.
3. The item looks good.

A fourth reason, of growing importance to the health conscious, is trying to eat more of what is good for you, on top of the regular stuff. You can get away with that with broccoli, particularly if it is cooked like George H. W. Bush's and my mother cooked it, but it is not going to fly with those new Mars Cocovia chocolate bars ("eat two a day for maximum benefit").

Dr. Hsueh observed that the existence of obestatin indicated that controlling food intake must be important for survival. How many times have I heard that? Dr. Leibel, noted that the same gene produced a sister hormone, ghrelin, which had the opposite effect, so it was like driving with one foot on the brake and one on the gas. "One might wonder, why would you do this?" he said. "Why design a system like this?" Moreover, it was revealed that obestatin had only been tested in normal mice, not fat ones, so further study was necessary.

Thursday, November 10, 2005


Farm Issues Bust Trade Talks

The hope of a global trade pack this year collapsed due to the refusal of the Europeans to significantly lower tariffs on farm products. Since poor countries are excluded from agricultural markets in rich countries, they are not willing to let in the excess banks, insurance and lawyers from rich countries.

The French are the primary culprits in this lose-lose situation, as they use a different means to much the same end as does the US. France collects taxes on imported food, raising the cost of the products in that country. This raises the income of farmers. The receipt of the tariffs lowers the taxes that would otherwise be required in France. At the same time, since lower income people spend a greater portion of their income on food than do the rich, a lower percentage of the overall tax burden is borne by the rich. In the US we do this by direct payments to farmers and cutting taxes on the rich. So while we are all trying to accomplish the same thing, the French approach is much more obvious to poor countries and causes trouble. Au Contraire, it is less obvious to the poor people in France, confining rioting to other causes.

It is hard for us to understand why the French are so bull headed about doing things our way. Why just on Tuesday the Bush administration succeed in pressuring China to limit its clothing exports to the US. C'est la vie'


Muhammad Ali Surprise Medal of Freedom Winner

Floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee, Muhammad Ali exchanged boxing jabs with President Bush during the Medal of Freedom awards yesterday. There had been no previous speculation that Ali was involved in Bush's Iraq agenda.


Lawyers Assist in Katrina Relief

Russ Hayward, a panther fan, is a little irritated. The $2,358 check that arrived 38 days after Katrina nailed his trailer came without explanation, and only after he had spent it did a letter arrive advising it was for rental help. Now FEMA won't give him any more, so he and 12 other plaintiffs have joined a class action against FEMA. You know how most of the time you get a check in the mail the explanation is on the stub? Well, that wasn't possible here because the checks were sent by the Treasury Department and the explanations by FEMA. Further, FEMA was in charge of coordinating the effort to get them in the same envelope.

The NYT reported today that the case is likely to be one of many filed in the coming months, as civil rights lawyers are "providing legal assistance" throughout the Gulf Coast regarding housing, employment, voting rights, education, and environmental issues. A class action is a way of combining the claims of many plaintiffs in order to support adequate lawyer fees, either because each individual claim is likely to be small, or because you want a famous lawyer. While these suits will greatly increase the cost of Katrina, fortunately for the taxpayer it will all come out of the deficit, and can be passed on to future generations. For some, this has raised questions of why you had to be involved in a hurricane to get your share.

With all the FEMA rules it can be difficult to get your share even if you were involved. Take the case of Mr. Davis and his 12 siblings, as reported in the NYT. Several lived on and off in their mother's home, but FEMA only allows one assistance payment per house, and his brother already got it. The good news is that this could make a class action just within the family.


Oracle Settlement Boon to Shareholders

A creative solution to a tough legal problem was proferred in the Oracle settlement. The CEO of Oracle, Larry Ellison, was sued by a group of stockholders who claimed his sale of $900 million of company stock, shortly before the company missed earnings targets, was improper.

This was a derivitive suit, which requires a little explanation. That is where some lawyers file a suit on behalf of the company, seeking payment of damages to the company. This is allowed because the company, left to its own resorts, might not choose to sue the CEO, who is in control of the company and therefor doing the choosing. In the usual outcome, the defendent pays some money to the company and the company pays some money to the lawyers. There is nothing for the shareholders, of course, which distinguishes it from a class action, where there is almost nothing, but that is another story. The shareholders just take pleasure in the increase of the cash in the company.

In the Oracle case, the lawyers (on behalf of the company) settled for Ellison to make a $100 million gift to charity and for the company to pay the lawyers $24 million in fees for helping the company out in the matter. The company saved all the time and suffering involved in the lawsuit, as well as having its CEO distracted. The shareholders got the usual deal, taking pleasure in the public relations boost to their company because of the personal donations by the CEO. This is a win win situation, because cash would pleasure the stockholder only as to his relative share, whereas the glow from the charitable gift can be shared in full by all.

Unfortunately, there was some misunderstanding, and the judge said he thought the $24 million was a typo, or some kind of a joke, and refused to approve the settlement. While the company could still be relieved of the burdens of litigation if the suit was dropped, the shareholders would be bereft of glow, so the terms will have to be tweaked.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005


Constructivist Math All The Rage

There is something to this new new math, even more than what has the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics all acquiver. The basic idea is that kids do better figuring out how to do math by themselves, and all that stuff about multiplication tables, long division, and assorted algorithms is just "drill and kill", rote memorization that just makes math boring. You have to admit that doing a math problem without knowing your "times tables" would be pretty exciting!

The old new math meant well, but was largely defeated when the students figured out that you could do it the old way as long as you called everything "sets". Same deal with functions. I was really flummoxed by f(x) until someone whispered it was just "y".

Instead of multiplication tables, you let students figure out how many apples are in 9 stacks of 8 apples each by counting them. And it works! It isn't long before even a slow student realizes how hard it is to stack apples, and that there has to be a better way. This clever device not only gets the parent involved, covertly slipping the student the tables, but incentivizes the student to learn them, and all without the use of precious time at school. And back at school, that student will win the stacker-counter bees every time.

Naturally there is resistence. People hate change. According to the NYT, Joe Hoover was upset when he took his 6th grader to McDonald's for lunch and she couldn't compute the correct change from a $20 bill. What he fails to understand is that constuctivist math applies the subject to the real world, where generally there wouldn't be enough change to worry about. And anyway, the article noted that the school has begun to supplement constructivist classes with lessons in computation, and nearly 300 students are now in remedial classes. And with a nod to Joe's view, I always called that "arithmetic" and found 9x9=81 sort of soul satisfying, in a squarish sort of way.

One cautionary note. Just because the old math gets boring for the teachers doesn't mean it is boring for the students, most of whom have never multiplied before. At least in my day.


Farm Program Huge Success

Thanks to the US farm subsidy program, our corn production is again the envy of the world. A brief history of the program will show how important intelligent design can be as a program evolves. Full disclosure, I have a farm and benefit from these programs, but not nearly as much as I should.

Back some years you were paid not to produce. This changed to paying you whether you produced or not. Finally we got to paying you according to the acres you have in production, based on what you should have produced at the price you should have received. Not only that, but you aren't paid directly any more, you are just loaned money at the beginning of the season, and later told you don't have to pay it back. This apparently gives the government a tax deduction, reducing the cost of the program. Several large accounting firms are now saying that the farmer, as long as he objects to the program and continues to intend to pay it back, doesn't have to pay taxes on it either. It is a win win, and it is easy to see why some commentators say that we have reached the pinnacle, that evolution is dead.

There are a few problems of course. Some of the mountains of corn can't be covered with tarps because there is nothing to attach them to. If it rains, the value of the corn may decrease 30%. How that will affect the "price" of the unsold corn is not clear. Also, there are all those complaints from foreigners. They don't have piles of corn because where they are people eat it all. Foreigners are very slow learners. Way back when, Adam Smith demonstrated that free markets just don't produce surpluses. He was talking about pins, not corn, but the principle is the same. We could have a surplus of pins too, if we could get the government involved.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005


Bush Extends Canal Work

On a foreign trip, a stop by Panama gives President Bush a respite from street riots and angry demonstations. According to the NYT, Bush spent an "intent" half hour inside the control tower at the Miraflores Locks, where he opened the lock for the ship Sirios, and later advised a group of Panamanian leaders:

"Things have changed since the canal was first built, and there needs to be a continued appraisal of the canal to make sure that it's used. It is in our nations's interest that this canal be modernized."

The stump speech was received with more grace than it had been in New Orleans, even though the lighting was not as good.


Expedition to Study Manchu Prolificness

At least 1.6 million Chinese men carry the Manchu Y chromosome of one founding grandfather. The NYT Science Times reported:

Because the founder of the lineage lived some 500 years ago, according to calculations based on the rate of genetic change, he may have been Giocangga, who died in 1582, the grandfather of the Manchu leader Nurhaci.

A team of elderly scientists will be departing for Northern China in the next few weeks, in an attempt to determine what it was that Giocangga was taking.


Correction - Apology Due

There were red faces today in Congress regarding the widely reported email attributed to Brownie, the former FEMA director, purportedly responding to a report of the deeping Katrina disaster. The email, said to blow off the hurricane, was short: "Thanks for the update. Anything specific I need to do or tweak?"

Today it was learned that the message was his out of the office auto-response.

Monday, November 07, 2005


Open Your Emails

My mother always told me to open my emails before reading them. You sometimes can't see the entire message in the preview pane or in auto preview. She also used to quote Thumper, who said "if you are not going to read it, don't reply".

Here is a quote from on Friday.

Two days after Katrina hit, Marty Bahamonde, one of the only FEMA employees in New Orleans, wrote to Brown that "the situation is past critical" and listed problems including many people near death and food and water running out at the Superdome.

Brown's entire response was: "Thanks for the update. Anything specific I need to do or tweak?"


The Dangers of Being Overly Sensitive

And all these guys were trying to do is to be sensitive and avoid an embarrassing situation. How so? Well, by corporate law you can take whatever you want (if you are the CEO) as long as you get the board to approve it. You think it should be a crime to glom $400 million for your troubles even with board approval? Watch out, there is no stopping point on that slippery slope. Pretty soon you’ll have the FBI is questioning some poor slob laboring at the oars laying off low level employees and only making $8 or $10 million a year. It is important to consider the reasons behind a law.

But this is not an easy law to comply with. Put yourself in the CEO’s shoes. Suppose, considering what you have accomplished, you are clearly entitled to $400 or $500 million and whatever little creature comforts the company can provide for your New York apartment. The directors are all your buddies, sure, but most of them have not been as successful as you. There is old Sam who has never made over $17 million a year in his life. And Brownie, who is doing a heck of a job, but whose board won’t spring for his wife’s birthday party, and he can’t afford it on his $2 million salary. You are kind of sorry you put Brownie on the board, but at least it does keep you in touch with the concerns of the common man. So, are you going to walk into a board meeting and just ask Sam and Brownie and the rest to sign off on your $400 mil? Come on, you didn’t get where you are today being insensitive. Worse, it is embarrassing.

So to avoid embarrassment, you divide things up a little, spread things around, you know. Everybody really knows, but you don’t rub their nose in it. Unfortunately, your efforts to avoid being boorish can lead to even more embarrassing situations.

Sunday, November 06, 2005


Don't Like Martinis? Cocovia Next Best Thing

When Miles Monroe awoke 200 years into the future, he discovered that everything that was once thought to be bad for you, such as smoking, was now believed to be good for you. Ice cream and candy bars were by then health foods. For smoking, you will have to wait 170 more years, so if you do, consider cryogenic sleep.

But there is good news right here in 2005. Remember how delighted we were when it was discovered that a little snuggle with the grape is good for the heart? And the olive in the martini is just as good for you as the gin? Well, chocolate lovers, the guilt is gone! It's the flavanols, stupid. And those plant sterols aren't chopped liver either. So eat two bars daily (for the "maximum benefit") of Mars Cocovia and you will improve blood flow, lower blood pressure, and help prevent heart disease. And here is the best part. Substitute those for Snickers, and you won't even get fatter. We acknowledge our debt to Woody Allen's "Sleeper", and the promise of more good news to come about "bad" things, with his famous closing line:

Death is one of the few things that can be done as easily lying down. The difference between sex and death is that with death you can do it alone and no one is going to make fun of you.


Katrina Stirs Bird Flu Fears

So you think it is easy being a corporate executive? Pity the poor CEO of Roche, the sole manufacturer of Tamiflu,now heralded as the “first line of defense” against a world wide epidemic of bird flu. The Bush administration, trying to recover from an image of total incompetence, has announced a plan to spend billions to stockpile Tamiflu. Roche is doing everything it can to prevent anyone else from manufacturing the drug, even though it cannot supply this new worldwide demand.

You would think that a CEO that suppressed production of a life saving drug, risking the death of millions, would have a little trouble sleeping at night. He probably would, if that was all there was to the story. However, there is a lot more, or perhaps, a lot less, to the story.

Tamiflu hasn’t been much of a winner for Roche. It’s expensive, and is no panacea. We are told it has to be taken in the first few days of symptoms, and even then it may only reduce the duration of illness a day or two. Consequently, the only market has been for those that can’t get or can’t take the vaccine, plus some stockpiling by individuals, just in case. For the CEO of Roche there are several more factors. First, there is no epidemic, and if there is one in the future, it might not be bird flu. Second, Tamiflu might not work at all against bird flu. If it works at all, there is no reason to expect it to be more effective than it is against regular flu. Third, companies and other governments are going ahead and producing Tamiflu despite your patent.

That changes the picture. You are not risking millions of deaths. You are standing by to watch a loser turn into a huge transfer of taxpayer money right into your treasury, and you didn’t even create the situation. Your real challenge is how to spin the facts. You can’t let on about the real situation or the tap may be turned off. But as it stands, you look pretty bad. On the other hand, if you play it just right, maybe the taxpayers will consider those billions a cost of the recovery from Katrina.

It's a tough job, but somebody has to do it.

Friday, November 04, 2005


Intelligent Falling Compared

It is not the purpose here to explain in detail the new theory of Intelligent Falling that refutes gravity as it is currently taught in our schools. For details see the full article in The Onion. Suffice to say that "falling" is believed to be inherent in the concept of "down" as it exists in the mind of a superior intelligence. Think about it.

The "law" of gravity is clearly open to challenge. We don't even have a "theory" or "hypothesis" of gravity, much less a law. The efforts of Newton, modified by Einstein, merely explain the effects of gravity, and offer nothing as to what it is, or how it works. They left that open to Lisa Randall and Raman Sundrum, an Indian guy she runs with. Their version of string theory came about as an effort to explain why gravity is such a weak force, the weakest of the natural forces. Right off, that shows how much she knows. Being so young and cute, she has yet to grasp the concepts of "sag" or "ouch". Dr. Randle is pictured to the left.

Be that as it may, in her model the universe may consist of a three dimensional "brane", imbedded in higher dimensions. Gravity is really on this other brane, separated from us by a fifth dimension, so when it gets here it is really weak. For ease of understanding, the fifth dimension is called the "bulk". Dr. Lisa, who is 43 and single and looks like Jodi Foster, allowed as how "It's not completely obvious what gravity is, fundamentally, or what dimensions are, fundamentally". Science Times (NYT).

Referring to the attack on her models by scientists with the Evangelical Center for Faith Based Reasoning, Laura Bush allowed as how there may be an element of sexism involved.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005


Memory Over 65 - Go Fish

NYT Science Times - A new study of people 65 and older showed those that ate fish once a week showed a 10% slower rate of cognative decline per year compared with those that ate no fish. And eating fish twice or more a week linked to a 13% slower decline. That was the equivalent of being 3 or 4 years younger. What's not to like?

The reason is not clear to the co-author of the study. "It could be the omega-3 fatty acids are the protective dietary component", Dr. Morris said, "or it could be that the fish meals are replaceing other meals ...higher in saturated fat and lower in polyunsaturated fat." The study did not consider the extent to which the participants' wives were nagging them about their diet. I get white fish once and salmon once, every week, and it does feel like I am getting slower slower.


Silly String Ban Spreads

Tacoma has joined the national movement to ban silly string and beach balls at various events. That is the stuff people squirt from aerosol cans onto your hair and mail box. It is feared the ban will spread to the Burien - Normandy Park area. The mayor of the later, our classmate John Wiltse, has declined comment (actually, didn't answer emails to his official box). We will keep you up to date on this on the Reunion page.

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