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

“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.

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.”