Blogvation

Okay, now that I got those two posts below out, I'm going into dramatically reduced blogging mode (alright, I was already there) until January 2 when I am back at work.  It is just too hard to blog with dial-up.  And, as of Christmas day, I'm going to be pretty busy playing the new Nintendo Wii that David (and me) are getting for Christmas.  Merry Christmas, should it apply, and should it not, a generic “Happy Holidays.”

Duke Lacrosse and media coverage

I'd really been meaning to do a thorough Duke Lacrosse posting this week, but just ran out of time in the rush of things to get done before leaving town.  After watching today's coverage of the news that Nifong had dropped the rape charge, I've got to take a minute and write something, though.  Nifong basically had to drop the rape charge after it was revealed that DNA testing from months ago had in fact identified the semen of five men on the victim, none of whom were Duke Lacrosse players.  And, just has bad, Nifong had, unconstitutionally, in fact, kept this information from the press until now.  After dropping the rape charge, the defendants are still up on charges of kidnapping and sexual assault, which do not rest on the physical evidence to the same degree.  I was incredulous to hear national news reports saying this morning that this could, perhaps, strengthen the case.  That proposition is just absurd and outrageous.  These two latter charges depend quite considerably upon the testimony of the alleged victim, who has now completely impeached her own credibility in saying she's not actually sure she was raped.  Yet, the national media just go with their ludicrous, “he said, she said” frame and pretend as if there is actually a legitimate case for Nifong left to prosecute.  There is not.  Anybody who has followed this case and simply watched a half dozen Law and Order episodes should now enough by now to know that there is absolutely no way that these players could be convicted of this crime and that they are almost certainly innocent of the charges against them.  But, the news is almost always too timid to actually call things as they are– be it politics or a high-profile legal case. 

I'll end with a snippet from today's Charlotte Observer editorial (via KC Johnson, who writes an amazing blog covering the case):

The paper?s editorial board notes that the dismissal of the rape charge ?came, conveniently, after the discovery that Mr. Nifong might have asked a DNA lab to selectively report its findings.? It concludes, ?This latest twist leads you to conclude either (a) Mr. Nifong has been misled by an uncertain or unreliable witness; (b) he is incompetent; (c) he skillfully manipulated a case charged with racial and class overtones in an election year where he faced a challenge; or, (d) all of the above.?

(d) would seem like the correct answer.

Happy Festivus!

Today is Festivus, the anti-Christmas holiday created by Frank Constanza on a classic Seinfeld episode back in 1997.  Rather than celebrate with peace, goodwill, and a tree, the centerpiece of Festivus is a bare aluminum pole and festivus activities include the “feats of strength” and “airing of grievances.”  I just read in the paper, that a Wisconsin company is now actually selling Festivus poles that you can buy.  The perfect gift for any Seinfeld fan. 

I read in another article (which I cannot find now– dial-up internet connection for the holidays) that a politician was proudly displaying his Festivus pole, but felt compelled to take it down after Michael Richard's racist rant.  This is an extraordinary and abuurd example of the lengths that politicians will go to in order to avoid contreversy and offending constitutents.  By his reasoning, perpaps I should burn my Seinfeld DVD's so my students don't get upset.  No, politicians should not try and offend their consitutents, but if they are this afraid of doing so, you really have to wonder about just what they are made of. 

Whiny conservatives

Slate's William Saletan recently ran a column on the 10 best stories from his Human Nature column in 2006.  Despite being a big fan of Saletan's writing, I apparently had missed out on this story:  Whiny kids are more likely to grow up to be conservative

The research, in the latest Journal of Research into Personality,
does not exactly say that Dick Cheney, the Vice President, must
therefore have been the most tiresome wimp in school. Or that Al Gore
won the school popularity contest. But it comes close. “The whiny kids
tended to grow up conservative, and turned into rigid young adults who
hewed closely to traditional gender roles and were uncomfortable with
ambiguity,” the professor found after selecting 90 children for his
experiment and following their development over two decades to
adulthood.

“The confident kids turned out liberal and were still hanging loose,
turning into bright, non-conforming adults with wide interests. The
girls were still outgoing, but the young men tended to turn
introspective.” Conservatives point out that the pool of children
around Berkeley in San Francisco may not be scientifically
representative of America.Jeff Greenberg, a social psychologist at the
University of Arizona, said: “I found [the study] to be biased, shoddy
work, poor science at best.”

The columnist Jonah Goldberg said: “If one or two of the whinier
kids turn out to be conservative, it might have more to do with the
fact that their parents are whiny conservatives. Heck, if I lived in
Berkeley, I might be whiny, too.”

Not having actually read the study, I really don't know how valid it is.  Of course the liberal in me would like to believe it.  On the downside, if it is true, my son David is basically doomed to grow up conservative.

What kind of shampoo was that?

A rather odd story in yesterday's Science Times that seemed more like something out of News of the Weird.  The woman was admitted to the hospital for treatment of poisoning with insecticides.  But, every time she would improve from the treatment, she would get worse again.  Turned out, the primary contamination was in her hair and it was not until they shaved her head that she made a nice recovery.  So, what happened?

Now her doctors wondered, How did her hair become impregnated with
insecticide in quantities to bring her to the brink of death? This was
no casual exposure. She denied a suicide
attempt ? swallowing would have been more direct. Nor could it have
been attempted murder ? there are easier ways to administer poisons
more covertly.

The answer came from the patient when she fully
awakened. She remembered exactly what she had done before becoming ill:
her usual activities, except that she had gotten her hair shampooed by
a neighbor.

The neighbor, when contacted, was willing to bring
in the shampoo. Chagrined, she showed up shortly, bringing two
containers. One held shampoo. The other, a similar jug, contained an
organophosphate insecticide. Both receptacles were the same size, the
labels old and blurred.

I must have used the wrong one, she said, when told that her friend was just recovering from insecticide poisoning.

I've not used a lot of pesticide in my day, but the stuff I have did not exactly smell like shampoo.  I wonder what brand that woman normally uses.

You can go home again

I've probably been to at least half a dozen Duke basketball games in Cameron with my dad since moving back to the area in 2002.  Tonight's game was different, though.  In all the previous games, we have sat in the upper-level section– a very different environment from the bleachers surround the court where I proudly spent four years as a Cameron Crazy.  Since the Duke students were out on break, our tickets were general admission for what is usually the student section (a good number of Duke students did seem to be still around in the section, too).  At first I felt weird and out-of-place, being a thirty-something guy down in the student section, and wishing I could sit down and see instead of standing and peeking around people to see the action.  As the game wore on, and turned out to be a close and exciting contest (though, one would hope for an easier victory against Kent State's Golden Flashes), I felt like the clock had been turned back 13 years or so.  There I was yelling the cheers, and even jumping up and down with the students.  Nice to know that I have not completely become an old fogey.  

How many deaths in Iraq is too many?

That's the provocative question posed by my friends Bill Boettcher and Mike Cobb in their research.  They hit the big time today, page A2 of the Washington Post in Shankar Vedantam's Depatment of Human Behavior column.  Having grown up reading the Post every day (and still doing so on-line) and being a fan of Vedantam's column, I am officially jealous (just don't tell Cobb).  Anyway, here are the highlights of the column:

William Boettcher and Michael Cobb have a question for you: What is the
exact number of U.S. troops you are willing to see die in Iraq?…

For one thing, most people don't keep close track of the death toll in
an ongoing war. When Boettcher and Cobb conducted a national poll in
September and asked people how many troops had died to that point in
Iraq, nearly two-thirds of Americans were off by more than 20 percent.
The current U.S. death toll in Iraq is a little more than 2,900.

The column than addresses a bit of an academic debate between Boettcher and Cobb and two Duke professors, Christopher Gelpi and Peter Feaver (who, not that any one cares, was my adviser for a single semester at Duke).  For me, my pals win the argument.  Here's the key summary:

Boettcher thinks partisan loyalties play a powerful role in shaping how people think about casualties.

“Casualty
unacceptability is only somewhat related to the number of actual
casualties,” Boettcher and Cobb said in a joint e-mail. “If you oppose
the war, dislike President Bush, are a Democrat, would like to increase
troops, would like to decrease troops etc… you may find casualties
unacceptable without having any knowledge of the actual number.”

Getting rid of men on women’s basketball teams

I meant to post this last week, but ran out of time.  Anyway, from a recent News & Observer:

The women's basketball team at UNC-Chapel Hill might have to cut Scott Maynor.

Maynor,
a 5-11 junior from Greensboro, was dripping with sweat Wednesday
afternoon after practicing two hours against Ivory Latta and the
powerful Tar Heels. Many women's collegiate teams, especially in
basketball, bring in male students for practice. Coaches think
practicing against men — usually taller, faster and stronger — helps
their teams.

But the NCAA Committee on Women's Athletics thinks
this violates the intent of Title IX, the 1972 federal legislation
requiring equality in education. Earlier this month, the committee
released a recommendation that the NCAA ban male practice players in
all women's sports.

“It's taking away opportunities from female
student-athletes,” said Patrick Nero, commissioner of the America East
Conference and a committee member. “How are they to get better if
they're sitting in practice?

“It's one thing to not be playing in
a game because they haven't reached that level yet, but for them to sit
through an entire practice while men run up and down with their
teammates? We just think it's really against the spirit of Title IX.”

It has been popular for many years for the elite women's basketball teams to use men to practice against. It is simply the best way to simulate the level of competition that you will face in games.  But, this was the first I had heard about anybody having a problem with it.  After reading the paragraphs above, I was inclined to agree with the NCAA, thinking that certainly if the non-starting women are just sitting in practice, it really is doing them a disservice.  Turns out, though, to make their case, the NCAA is bending the facts.  At least at UNC, and presumably elsewhere, this is definitely not the case:

UNC has so many practice players that every varsity athlete
participates in each activity, even those Heels who don't get to play
often.

The committee “said some of the girls might not get as
much playing time and that baffles me,” said Maynor, the UNC junior.
“All the girls get the same playing time as Ivory.”

So, the women's bench players still get just as much practice time.  They won't be getting in the games much whether or not men are a part of their practices.  So, what exactly is the problem then?

A Christian nation?

One of the most annoying things to me when teaching American government is the number of students who refer to this as a Christian nation and somehow believe that Jefferson and Madison were akin to modern-day evangelicals.  Not exactly.  Anyway, Cal Thomas, a conservative columnist whom I normally find to be little more than a blithering idiot, somehow had this incredibly good post on the topic:

The prophet
Isaiah wrote: “Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket; they are
regarded as dust on the scales…Before Him all the nations are as
nothing; they are regarded by Him as worthless and less than nothing.”
(Isaiah 40:15-16). That doesn't leave a lot of wiggle room for those
who claim America is a “Christian nation.”

What does that mean? That we are all Christian? Of course not, because all are not.

Declaring America as special, or uniquely Christian, or more favored
by God than, say, Canada, or Mexico, or even Iran, is a form of
idolatry.

It also reflects an unbiblical view that God's Kingdom and the
United States have a kind of “special relationship,” the theological
equivalent of the “special relationship” that has existed between the
U.S. and Britain. A lot of Scripture has to be twisted to reach such a
conclusion.

Only individuals can be Christian, not countries, and those who
think otherwise are in danger of breaking the Commandment, “Thou shalt
not have no other gods before me.”

So, not only is it extraordinarily bad history to make the argument that America is a Christian nation– it's bad Christianity, too.

You get what you pay for?

Good article this week about the cost of private Higher Education that basically sums up all that's wrong with America and just how gullible people are.  Here's the lede:

COLLEGEVILLE, Pa. ? John Strassburger, the president of Ursinus
College, a small liberal arts institution here in the eastern
Pennsylvania countryside, vividly remembers the day that the chairman
of the board of trustees told him the college was losing applicants
because of its tuition.

It was too low.

So early in 2000 the board voted to raise
tuition and fees 17.6 percent, to $23,460 (and to include a laptop for
every incoming student to help soften the blow). Then it waited to see
what would happen.

Ursinus received nearly 200 more applications
than the year before. Within four years the size of the freshman class
had risen 35 percent, to 454 students. Applicants had apparently
concluded that if the college cost more, it must be better.

Basically, people just foolishly assume that more expensive must equal better, even when there's no empirical reality to back up that assumption.  Sure, the more expensive tickets at a football game put you down low at the 50 yard line and the cheapest put you in the end-zone nosebleed seats, but quite often in life, differences in price have little relation to differences in quality.  Anybody who thinks that the education at Ursinus approaches that at Harvard because their tuition charges are now almost identical, deserves to get ripped off (and surely is not smart enough to get into Harvard). 

Reading this reminded me of one of my all-time favorite books, Influence by Robert Cialdini.  There's a chapter which deals extensively with how people are hopelessly biased thinkers when it comes to price and quite often simply fail to behave rationally.  The book is filled with useful psychological principles that I still think about almost every day (and I have not read it since my undergraduate days– at least 12 years ago).  It is also incredibly readable.  Looking for something good to read over the holidays, you could do a lot worse.

Canadian Health Care

So, as I suspected, I did hear from my friend Big Steve about the problems with Canadian health care.  I'm not really surprised, while Canada is well-known for providing health care for all its citizens, they really do not do a particularly good job of it.  Of course, whenever people in this country oppose universal health insurance, they just say, “look at all the problem in Canada.”  As Steve points out,

“Socialized medicine is a great thing, just not the Canadian brand.  The Europeans do it much better.  Here, it varies by province, although a private second tier is largely opposed throughout the country, despite the Europeans being fine with that.  Quebec sucks at health care? despite the high taxes, ?long waits, hospitals that are nice for generating new forms of bacteria, etc… better to be poor here than in the US, better to be in the US if you are a
prof with good insurance.”  (given Steve's occupation, you can figure out the source of his bitterness).

The larger point, though, is that most Western European natures do a much better job at national health care policy.  People in Europe– France actually has what many consider to be the best overall health care system– get better care for less money, and they all get it.  To say that we should not have national coverage just because Canada does a pretty poor job with theirs is an entirely specious argument.  It is roughly the equivalent of telling somebody they should not upgrade their old computer to one with a faster processor and more memory because HP computers tend to have reliability problems.  But, nobody's preventing them from getting a Dell.

“Bald, fat, short, and ugly male, 53, seeks short-sighted woman”

The funniest thing I have heard in a while was this NPR story about a new book, They Call Me Naughty Lola, which features personal ads from the London Review of Books.  Absolutely hilarious.  If you don't want to listen to the whole story (probably only about 5 minutes) you can read some of the highlights at the NPR website linked above.  Here's a sampling of my favorites:

Unashamed triumphalist male for the past 46 years. Will I bore you? Probably. Do I care? Probably not.

I like my women the way I like my kebab. Found by surprise after a
drunken night out, and covered in too much tahini. Before long I'll
have discarded you on the pavement of life, but until then you're the
perfect complement to a perfect evening. Man, 32. Rarely produces
winning metaphors.

Romance is dead. So is my mother. Man, 42, inherited wealth.

Blah blah, whatever. Indifferent woman. Go ahead and write. Box no. 3253. Like I care.

Enjoy.

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