Archive for October 5th, 2008
Absolutely terrific story here. Go read it—you’ll be glad you did.
Interesting article. I remember when Senator Roman Hruska (R-Neb), known as “the defender of the strong” for his untiring efforts to help big business fight irritating legal and regulatory requirements designed to protect consumers, defended mediocrity in office—not for himself, though that would have been justified, but on behalf of a mediocre Supreme Court nominee. From Wikipedia:
Hruska is best remembered in American political history for a 1970 speech he made to the Senate urging them to confirm the nomination of G. Harrold Carswell to the Supreme Court. Responding to criticism that Carswell had been a mediocre judge, Hruska claimed that:
- “Even if he were mediocre, there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers. They are entitled to a little representation, aren’t they, and a little chance? We can’t have all Brandeises, Frankfurters and Cardozos.”
This speech was criticized by many, and Carswell was eventually defeated.
Challenging the idea that children live in a color or gender blind world, a new study from The University of Texas at Austin reveals most elementary-school-age children are aware there has been no female, African-American, or Hispanic President of the United States. And, many of the children attribute the lack of representation to discrimination. Rebecca Bigler, professor of psychology, and a team of researchers at the university and the University of Kansas have published their findings in the October issue of the journal Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy.
During 2006, more than a year before Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama entered the presidential race, the researchers interviewed 205 children between the ages of five and 10 about their knowledge, attitudes and beliefs about the similarities among U.S. presidents. In three studies, children from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds answered questions about the absence of female, African-American and Hispanic presidents.
The researchers found most children are …
Interesting budget guidelines here. It calls itself a “budget calculator,” but the figures it produces can (initially) only be guidelines, since your actual obligatory payments probably do not currently match the guideline figures. To do an actual budget calculation, I recommend this (free) Excel workbook.
The puppet-masters did not have to come from outer space: they’re here among us.
A good example is the lancet fluke, is a leaf-shaped parasitic flatworm, Dicrocoelium dendriticum. It lives in and feeds on the liver of cattle. Its eggs inhabit the dung and are ingested by snails. The eggs hatch, cause the snail some serioius problems, and the snail sheds the larvae in its slime, which is then eaten by ants for the moisture. And then, as recounted here:
Along comes an ant, host number three. It swallows a slime ball teeming with hundreds of baby lancet flukes. Most flukes just hang out in the abdomen, but one or two “scouts” locate and high jack the ant’s command center: nerves below the throat that control the ant’s movements. The scouts then perform parasitic voodoo on the ant’s nervous system.
As night approaches, an infected ant climbs up a blade of grass—instead of heading back to its colony. As the air cools, the ant clamps down on the tip of a grass blade and waits to be eaten by a cow or other grazer. If the ant should sit the whole night without being eaten, the flukes let the ant loosen its grip on the grass—if the ant were to bake in the morning sun’s heat, the parasites would die along with the ant.
The ant scurries to the ground and behaves like a normal insect again. But when night falls, the flukes command the ant to again climb a blade of grass. When a grazing cow eats the ant, the flukes settle in the cow’s small intestine.
Then they worm their way to the cow’s liver, where they live out their lives as adults.
And humans may be subject to another kind of parasitic mind control, from a different parasite.
… Given that the parasite alters behaviour, infection on this scale could lead to sizable differences in the general personalities of people of different nationalities. This is exactly what Lafferty found. …
Read the full post here for a full explanation of the personality changes.
Not unexpected, but still a thorough endorsement by the editors of the New Yorker. It begins:
Never in living memory has an election been more critical than the one fast approaching—that’s the quadrennial cliché, as expected as the balloons and the bombast. And yet when has it ever felt so urgently true? When have so many Americans had so clear a sense that a Presidency has—at the levels of competence, vision, and integrity—undermined the country and its ideals?
The incumbent Administration has distinguished itself for the ages. The Presidency of George W. Bush is the worst since Reconstruction, so there is no mystery about why the Republican Party—which has held dominion over the executive branch of the federal government for the past eight years and the legislative branch for most of that time—has little desire to defend its record, domestic or foreign. The only speaker at the Convention in St. Paul who uttered more than a sentence or two in support of the President was his wife, Laura. Meanwhile, the nominee, John McCain, played the part of a vaudeville illusionist, asking to be regarded as an apostle of change after years of embracing the essentials of the Bush agenda with ever-increasing ardor.
The Republican disaster begins at home. Even before taking into account whatever fantastically expensive plan eventually emerges to help rescue the financial system from Wall Street’s long-running pyramid schemes, the economic and fiscal picture is bleak. During the Bush Administration, the national debt, now approaching ten trillion dollars, has nearly doubled. Next year’s federal budget is projected to run a half-trillion-dollar deficit, a precipitous fall from the seven-hundred-billion-dollar surplus that was projected when Bill Clinton left office. Private-sector job creation has been a sixth of what it was under President Clinton. Five million people have fallen into poverty. The number of Americans without health insurance has grown by seven million, while average premiums have nearly doubled. Meanwhile, the principal domestic achievement of the Bush Administration has been to shift the relative burden of taxation from the rich to the rest. For the top one per cent of us, the Bush tax cuts are worth, on average, about a thousand dollars a week; for the bottom fifth, about a dollar and a half. The unfairness will only increase if the painful, yet necessary, effort to rescue the credit markets ends up preventing the rescue of our health-care system, our environment, and our physical, educational, and industrial infrastructure.
At the same time, …
The above chart is from this post, which is worth reading. It’s looking good, guys.
It’s hard to get a good look at what’s going on in our minds because we’re in there too, getting in the way of a clear and unobstructed view. Some things lurk in back of us, so that we can’t see them, and if we turn around, they stay in back of us. Other things block the view of what’s behind them—for example, one can be fully aware of how ambitious he is, but not able to see what’s behind that ambition, what’s driving it.
Sometimes it helps to read another’s exploration of his (or her) own mind—one reason (but only one of several) that I recommend Joanna Field’s A Life of One’s Own. After reading such a book, we can look inside our own minds for the things they’ve noticed in theirs. I’m currently reading a book I earlier blogged—Josh Waitzkin’s The Art of Learning: An Inner Journey to Optimal Performance—and I’m finding it extremely interesting in terms of his descriptions of the development of his skills—and of the primary skill, the skill of learning skills.
A brief thought: knowledge can be static, but skill is knowledge embodied in a process. If you know all the events and dates of, say, the development of quantum theory, it doesn’t imply that you have scientific skills (and vice versa, of course). A skill is a deeper understanding—knowledge specifically of how to do a process and that knowledge deep enough so that you can adapt the process to deal with unexpected obstacles or blocks. Clearly there’s an interplay between skill knowledge and static knowledge—often the static knowledge provides a foundation (and a supply closet) for skills knowledge.
The specific skills Waitzkin talks about are chess and Tai Chi. (Waitzkin’s chess development as a boy was described in the book (and movie) Searching for Bobby Fischer.) It’s a fascinating and relatively short book. Well worth a trip to the library.
Science News has an article on an interesting study of how US News & World Report ranks colleges. Article begins:
The single best school in the country is Penn State. Then again, maybe it’s Princeton. Or perhaps Johns Hopkins, or Harvard, or Notre Dame …
Each of these schools could legitimately claim to be on top, according to a mathematical analysis, posted recently on ArXiv.org, of the data U.S. News & World Report uses to generate its influential and controversial rankings of American undergraduate institutions. It all depends, the researchers say, on what your priorities are.
The magazine uses seven key factors in its ratings, including things like percentage of alumni who donate, acceptance rates for admission, and spending per student. Lior Pachter of the University of California, Berkeley and Peter Huggins of Carnegie Mellon University reasoned that all these factors are probably relevant to the quality of a university, but one student might value a university with a low student-faculty ratio, for example, while another might care more about research funding. Was there a way to analyze the data, they wondered, that wouldn’t rely on an arbitrary selection of priorities?
Techniques they’d developed for a completely different problem — aligning gene sequences to understand evolutionary changes — could be adapted to do just that, they realized. Biologists commonly analyze the differences between the DNA of two closely related creatures in order to understand how they evolved.
To do that, researchers first have to decide how to line the two gene sequences up, identifying the segments that are identical and the places where DNA has have mutated or moved around or been deleted. But this alignment requires some guesswork: How likely, for example, it is that a gene will have mutated, and how likely is it that it simply will have been deleted? Biologists have little basis for deciding that, Pachter says, just as U.S. News has little basis for deciding how important one of its factors is for a particular person.
Huggins and Pachter had attacked this biological question using high-dimensional geometry, so they did the same for the educational data. They imagined each university as a point in seven-dimensional space, …