Saturday, August 23, 2008

You got to be kidding me

Via Gawker, I came across this weird interview

Middle-Aged White Guy Sues Columbia for Discrimination -
An Interview with Roy Hollander, Men’s Rights Pioneer

To quote one of the commenters over at Gawker "I didn't think it was possible, but this guy gives misogynistic assholes a bad name."

I cannot pick any part of the interview to highlight, since all parts of it is pretty insane, and I can't be bothered to fisk the interview, it's just to stupid. Go read it, and see what I mean.

Remember this interview next time a Mens' Right guy tries to argue that men are the ones really suffering.

There is more about Hollander's lawsuit here. It's not his first of this kind.

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Biden as Obama's VP candidate

I haven't really looked into the different possibilities for Obama's VP position, but I'm fairly pleased with the choice of Biden. He is not as progressive as some would have liked, but he is solid on the fundamentals.

He is for womens' right to choose, he's against abstinence-only education, torture, and the Guantanamo camp. He believe alternative energy is the way to go, and that the US should lead the effort in fighting Global Warming.
He did vote for the Iraq War, but he changed he decision later, and now opposes it. And unlike other politicians, he has a son in Iraq, so it's personal to him.

What do other people think - is this a bad decision, or is it a good choice?

Ed Darrell thinks it's good choice

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Sunday, August 17, 2008

Lazy Linking

A few links that I thought might interest people.

Over at Deep Sea News, Craig points to a table from a recent PNAS paper, on extinction in the oceans, in is aptly named post This Post Might Make You Cry.

At the Curvature, Cara writes about The Link Between Teen Pregnancy and Sexual Violence

Continuing in the same theme, the 53rd Carnival Against Sexual Violence at abyss2hope

Mark Crislip has a post, Amanda Peet is My Hero(1) up at Science-Based Medicine, and David Gorski has a post, the Orange Man up the same place.

Coturnix has the very first Praxis Carnival up. Praxis is a new carnival about academic life.

Glendon Mellow, of the Flying Trilobite, has put up one of his artworks as support of the Beagle Project. Read more here.

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Saturday, August 16, 2008

Intergenerational mobility in the US

The excellent, bi-partisan Economic Mobility Project has released a report Upward Intergenerational Mobility in the United States (pdf).

The report focuses on upward mobility between generations. I.e. how many people with parent from a certain income group have moved to a higher income group. Unsurprisingly, the report shows what many other studies have shown in the past, that social/income mobility in the US is not doing well, and that people from the lowest and highest income groups tend to stay in those groups.

What makes this report more interesting than most, is that they have also looked at what differences there is between races and genders. This is not something that these studies normally look at, and it's interesting to see their results.

Men experience sharply higher rates of upward economic mobility than women.
• While 41 percent of women who start in the bottom income quintile remain there, just 27 percent of men do.
• Only 38 percent of women who start in the bottom half of the income distribution surpass their parents by at least 20 percentiles, compared to 51 percent of men.
• Further, women born to parents in all 5 quintiles are significantly more likely to fall down to the bottom quintile than men. For example, women born to parents in the fourth and top quintiles are more than twice as likely as men to fall to the bottom quintile.

Blacks experience dramatically less upward economic mobility than whites.
• Forty-four percent of blacks will remain in the bottom income quintile in adulthood compared with just 25 percent of whites.
• Although the vast majority of blacks in the bottom half of the income distribution will exceed their parents’ place in the distribution, the extent of their movement is markedly lower than that of whites.
- Only about 35 percent of blacks who start in the bottom half of the income distribution will increase their relative position by 20 percentiles compared to nearly 50 percent of whites.

Rates of upward economic mobility are highest for white men, followed by white women, black men and, finally, black women.
• The economic mobility gender gap is more pronounced among whites and the economic mobility racial gap is more pronounced among men.

When looking at the figures in the report, these differences really show through.

I am looking at the numbers, an plan to do a little number crushing at some stage, but the conclusions are stark enough without any additional work from my side.

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Blogging while privileged

Some of you might have noticed that I don't blog as much about progressive issues as I used to do when I started this blog. There is a good reason for that - such posts are harder to write than posts about science discoveries and similar stuff, so when I'm busy, I tend to skip them.

That doesn't mean that I think those subjects aren't important, it's just that I postpone writing about them, until I am up for it.

You see, I can afford to do that, since those subjects are somewhat abstract for me. I'm not directly affected by these issues - I'm blogging from a position of privilege after all.

As a straight, white male, living in a country with universal health care, free education, and a solid social security network, and holding a reasonably well paid job, I can afford to ignore progressive issues. I can decide that I won't go through the trouble of trying to understand how it's like to to live from paycheck to paycheck, without any health care or job security, being judged solely by your gender, sexuality, or race.

That's the sort of things that privilege allows you to ignore. And that's what privilege keeps you from understanding.

When you're like me, it's not really possible to understand these issues from the same perspective as those not so privileged. I can write about why feminism is still relevant, citing number and studies, but it's not like I'm the one suffering from sexism (no matter what the fathers' rights movement wants you to believe).

This is a barrier. One that I'm aware of, and one that I try to take into consideration when writing on the issue, either as posts here, or as comments elsewhere. That doesn't mean I won't make blunders some times, taking things for granted from my position of privilege, but it does mean that I will think twice before I write something, and that I will stay out of certain discussions, where my position hinders me in contributing anything worthwhile.

If I think that someone from a non-privileged position is overreacting to something, I will most likely not say it, because I'm damn well aware of the fact that I don't get it. I cannot begin to understand the context in which this reaction needs to be seen. I cannot understand the history of sexism, racism, homophobia that goes before in the other person's life. I don't share the same filters, through which to see the world.

In other words, I will not judge other people from my privileged position, since I don't have that right, and there is no damn thing I can do to earn that right. I didn't do anything to earn that privilege after all.

Having said all the stuff that I won't do, I'll also say that I'll do what I can to ensure that things will change, so people won't be considered second-rate just because of their gender, their race, their sexuality, their religion. Part of this consists of continuing writing about progressive issues. Even when I'm busy, and don't feel like going through the trouble. Because that's just privilege speaking.

I started off by saying that I had a good excuse for not writing much about progressive issues. That's not true - it's not a good excuse. It's an easy excuse.

Note: I should probably make clear that this post wasn't triggered by anything anyone said. It was just the end result of a thought process I've been going through.

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Friday, August 15, 2008

Stone Age graveyeard found in Sahara

There is a lot of news about th discoveries of the largest known graveyard of Stone Age people in Sahara. The initial discovery was made by paleontologist Paul Sereno eight years ago, and since then he has lead a team of archaeologists in uncovering the graves.

I first came across the story in the NY Times (Graves Found From Sahara’s Green Period), but there is better coverage of the story in National Geographic (Ancient Cemetery Found; Brings "Green Sahara" to Life, With Stone Age Graveyard Discovery in "Green Sahara," the Age of Exploration Continues and Green Sahara, the last links to an article from the September issue).

Given the length of the National Geographic article, I can't really add anything relevant. Go read it instead.

Edit: Via Greg laden I became aware of the fact that the findings were actually reported in PLoS One
Lakeside Cemeteries in the Sahara: 5000 Years of Holocene Population and Environmental Change by Sereno et al.

Sloppy of me not to realize that - sorry everyone.

Edit 2: And when PLoS One has a breaking story, naturally Coturnix must have a blogpost about it.

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A nobel animal indeed

Once in a while you come across a story that makes you go "huh?" This was the case for me, when I came across this story in the NY Times

King penguin receives Norwegian knighthood

Nils Olav already has medals for good conduct and long service. He made honorary colonel-in-chief of the elite Norwegian King's Guard in 2005. And on Friday he was knighted. Not bad for a 3-foot tall penguin -- actually, three of them.

A resident of Edinburgh Zoo in Scotland, the original Nils Olav was made an honorary member of the King's Guard in 1972 after being picked out as the guard's mascot by lieutenant Nils Egelien. The guards adopted him because they often toured the zoo during their visits to the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, an annual military music festival, according to zoo spokeswoman Maxine Finlay.

Go on, read it all - it's a throughout silly story, that probably will make you smile. And I think it quite well demonstrates the utility of royalty - if they have nothing better to do than giving knighthoods to penguins, why not abolish them?

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New interesting site

There is a new interesting site up - I don't know how to describe it, but a community blog would probably be the best description - called Edger. It's described thus

Edger presents hard-hitting and reasoned news, views, and event promotion on issues pertaining to secularism, atheism, science, humanism, and the cosmos, and actively promotes and celebrates international freethought activism. Written in a youthful tone, but mature in content, Edger is sure to be a driving force in the new intellectual enlightenment.

I think it's something many of my readers will find interesting. And what's more, one of the contributers is Shalini, who has been sorely missed in the atheist/skeptic blogsphere.

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Women in politics

I have been behind on my online reading, so I have only noticed this now. The American Prospect has an interesting article by Ann Friedman about women in politics, and how to get more women involved. It's from June, but it's hardly like it's not relevant any longer.

Beyond Hillary: Strength in Numbers

The Year of the Woman was 16 years ago, and the number of women in elected office has flatlined. Herewith, some ideas on how to build a critical mass of female officeholders.

Ann Friedman rightly points out that while there are some high profile women in politics (Clinton, Pelosi) these are the exceptions, not the rule. In other words, while they may have created cracks in the glass ceiling, the glass ceiling is still there.

What Friedman's article makes clear is that as long as there isn't a critical mass of women in politics, it's important that the women there is, work together and help each other. There should also be a concerted effort to promote women in politics by the political parties (Friedman speaks only about the Democratic Party, which honestly seems the most likely candidate, but the same ideas could apply to the Republican Party as well).

This sort of article will always raise the question, why should special effort be made to get more women into politics. After all, no special effort is made to get men involved. Well, that's correct, but if you ignore the fact that the entire society is structured in a way that gives (white) men and advantage in gaining positions of power. We see it not only in politics, but also in companies and organizations. One of the simplest ways this works, is the perception of women taking care, while men takes charge (see Women "Take Care," Men "Take Charge:" Stereotyping of U.S. Business Leaders Exposed (pdf)).

This means that people believe that if there is two equally qualified people of different genders, the man will be naturally better in a position where it's necessary to take charge.

Another barrier for women is the general pattern of women being the primary care-takers of children in a household, instead of it being a shared responsibility. This is something that's (too) slowly changing, but there is a long way to go yet.

Another objection that's often raised, is why is it necessary for more women in positions of power. Well, it might not be necessary as such, but more women in power will result in more focus on issues that concern women. It's not surprising that a large percentage of female politicians are progressive than male politicians, since many progressive issues relate directly to women. Also, there is the simple fact that if you exclude half the population from positions of power in advance, you'll not find the best people for the jobs, since some of them will be in the excluded pool.

Make sure to all look at the other articles linked from Friedman's article, they are all quite good.

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Thursday, August 14, 2008

Nice Firebug tutorial

As part of my daily work, I some times uses the Firebug extensions to Firefox for debugging JavaScript, CSS, and HTML. It's fairly simple to use, but as with all things, it's some times hard to get started on using such tools.

That's why I like this small tutorial on how to get started with Firebug

Build Better Pages With Firebug

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Critical security internet security risk ignored

Wired shares with us the story about why a critical internet security issue has so far not been addressed by the US agency responsible for it.

Experts Accuse Bush Administration of Foot-Dragging on DNS Security Hole

Despite a recent high-profile vulnerability that showed the net could be hacked in minutes, the domain name system -- a key internet infrastructure -- continues to suffer from a serious security weakness, thanks to bureaucratic inertia at the U.S. government agency in charge, security experts say.

If the complicated politics of internet governance continue to get in the way of upgrading the security of the net's core technology, the internet could turn into a carnival house of mirrors, where no URL or e-mail address could be trusted to be genuine, according to Bill Woodcock, research director at the nonprofit Packet Clearing House

DNS stands for Domain Name System, and is one of the key components of our daily usages of the internet. Simply put, it's the system that translates the domain names we enter in the browser into what server we need to go to - it can be viewed as a phonebook for the internet which the browsers use to call correctly (for a more technical explanation, see Wikipedia's article on DNS).

The recently found flaw allows hackers to insert false information into the DNS, sending all traffic to a given site to the wrong place, allowing much more advanced, and undetectable, phishing than currently possible.

There is a solution to the problem, but due to bureaucracy, it hasn't been implemented yet. According to the Wired article, this is at least partially because the solution is perceived as reducing US influence on the internet. If that's the case, then it's totally irresponsible, and a major argument why a pan-national organization should take over running these things.

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Is anyone really this gullible?

I just received a piece of spam mail with the following header:

UN Threatens Sanctions If Obama Not Elected In November

We're talking about the same UN that can't pull themselves together to threaten sanctions to Sudan, right?

Is anyone really gullible enough to believe such stuff?

The mail only contained a link to a "video" (yeah, right)

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The human eye

Our friends in the Discovery Institute are crowing about the great design of the human eye

The Human Eye Is so Poorly Designed That Engineers Mimic It

According to a recent MSNBC article, the supposedly poorly designed human eye is inspiring engineers: "Borrowing one of nature's best designs, U.S. scientists have built an eye-shaped camera using standard sensor materials and say it could improve the performance of digital cameras and enhance imaging of the human body." The article reports that the "digital camera that has the size, shape and layout of a human eye" because "the curved shape greatly improves the field of vision, bringing the whole picture into focus."

And what about improving upon the human eye? The article reported that "[t]he device might even lead to the development of prosthetic devices including a bionic eye" as one scientist stated, "If you want to develop an eye to replace a human eye, certainly you want the shape to look like a human eye." While inefficiently designed objects can still be designed (ever used Outlook, the current bane of my existence?), it seems very much like the human eye is not an inefficient or poor design.

When we talk about the human eye being badly designed, we're talking about more than just the fact that it has a curved surface and its general shape. And it's the curved surface and the general shape that the scientists mentioned in the MSNBC article have mimicked. For more information about this new design, see the article in Nature (unfortunately behind a paywall).

As usual, the DI people are twisting the facts to suit their purposes.

Also, for something so greatly "designed", there certainly are a lot of problems. See e.g. this ScienceDaily article: Refractive Errors Affect Vision For Half Of American Adults

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How many reviewers should be used?

In PLoS One there is a somewhat interesting article on how many reviewers should be used to review a grant - in this context, it's a NIH grant.

Sample Size and Precision in NIH Peer Review by Kaplan et al.

I am reminded of a debate going on in the IT-sector, whether five testers are enough to ensure that the quality of a website is good enough. The idea was first proposed by Robert Virzi in 1992, and was spread by Jakob Nielsen (see e.g. Why You Only Need to Test With 5 Users), and has been widely criticized by others (e.g. Laura Faulkner in Beyond the five-user assumption: Benefits of increased sample sizes in usability testing (.pdf))

The five tester idea is based on two premises:
1) There are only few resources available (time, money, personnel) , and they should be used most efficiently.
2) Most problems (80% or more) can be found by five testers.

These premises can to some degree probably be rephrased to cover the premises for why using four peer reviewers in the NIH peer review process.

As the IT sector has found out, these premises are not valid, which means that the five tester principles results in bad, or even fatally flawed, products going to the market. Kaplan et al. demonstrates that the premises for using four reviewers are also flawed, and can result in wrong prioritizing of NIH funds.

I cannot claim to have any great insight into the problem, but I hope that the NIH takes this article to heart, and evaluates if there is a better way to ensure proper peer review giving the resource constraints. Kaplan et al suggests using shorter proposals, since that will mean that each reviewer can evaluate a larger number of proposals without spending more time on it. I don't know if this is the right solution, since it might make it harder to actually evaluate the merits of the proposal, but it might be worth looking into.

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Invasive species implicated in killing prehistoric animals

New findings show that it's likely that an invasive species killed off large marsupial species in prehistoric Australia.

What invasive species would that be? Home sapient, the most invasive around.

ScienceDaily has the story.

Humans Implicated In Prehistoric Animal Extinctions With New Evidence

Research led by UK and Australian scientists sheds new light on the role that our ancestors played in the extinction of Australia's prehistoric animals. The new study provides the first evidence that Tasmania's giant kangaroos and marsupial 'rhinos' and 'leopards' were still roaming the island when humans first arrived.

The findings suggest that the mass extinction of Tasmania's large prehistoric animals was the result of human hunting, and not climate change as previously believed.

While the ScienceDaily article makes it sound like this is amazing news, but the idea of a human cause of the megafauna's extinction is hardly a novel idea, and it has certainly been investigated before. PNAS had a good overview article on it back in 2002 Explaining the Pleistocene megafaunal extinctions: Models, chronologies, and assumptions by Brook and Bowman.

The focus of these investigations have mostly focused on whether there were an overlap of human and megafauna inhabitation of Australia, but other studies have shown that even if there were, the extinction might still be at least partly caused by climate changes - see e.g Prolonged coexistence of humans and megafauna in Pleistocene Australia (.pdf) by Trueman et al.

According to the ScienceDaily article, new findings puts humans as the culprits.

Previous research by Professor Flannery and Professor Bert Roberts of the University of Wollongong, Australia, has shown that 90 per cent of mainland Australia's megafauna disappeared about 46,000 years ago, soon after humans first settled the continent. But humans did not reach Tasmania until a few thousand years later, when the island became connected to the mainland by a land bridge as sea levels fell during the last glaciation. "The Tasmanian results echo those on mainland Australia, putting humans squarely back in the frame as the driving force behind megafaunal extinction", said Professor Roberts.

It should perhaps be pointed out that human driven extinction could be cause indirectly, e.g. through changes to the living habitats by the burning of forests etc. or by animals brought along by the humans (e.g. dingos).

Unfortunately it appears that the study the ScienceDaily article refers to haven't appeared online yet - it should be published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA (PNAS), so I expect it to be only a matter of time before it's available (though probably behind a paywall).

While looking after the article, however, I did come across to one that's seems somewhat related:
Species invasions and extinction: The future of native
biodiversity on islands
(.pdf) by Sax and Gaines. It does address the role of humans in the recent extinction of species.

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Friday, August 08, 2008

Weirdness in the court room

There is an interesting article in The Washington Monthly, on how the racist ideas of the Posse Comitatus has started to be used as in the defense of black Baltimore men in capital cases.

Too Weird for The Wire

How black Baltimore drug dealers are using white supremacist legal theories to confound the Feds.

The reason why I call these legal theories "racist" is because they are all based on the premise that the 14th amendment was illegal. As people probably know, the 14th amendment was the one granting full citizenship to black people.

It's well worth reading the article, even if you don't know anything about the legal theories mentioned, since the article does a good job of describing them. It also makes clear that these theories are not based in any kind of reality.

Other people who have used these theories in the past include prominent people like Wesley Snipes and Kent Hovind. Of course, the number one blog to go to for more information of this sort of thing is Orcinus

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Monday, August 04, 2008

Lazy linking

Another round of interesting links, that I would like to share.

Via Book Balloon, I came across two interesting links.

Scientists recover complete dinosaur skeleton

Japanese and Mongolian scientists have successfully recovered the complete skeleton of a 70-million-year-old young dinosaur, a nature museum announced Thursday.

The scientists uncovered a Tarbosaurus—related to the giant carnivorous Tyrannosaurus—from a chunk of sandstone they dug up in August, 2006 in the Gobi Desert in Mongolia, said Takuji Yokoyama, a spokesman for the Hayashibara Museum of Natural Sciences, a co-organizer of the joint research project.

"We were so lucky to have found remains that turned out to be a complete set of all the important parts," he said.

After two years of careful preparatory work, scientists found that the fossilized skeleton only lacked neck bones and the tip of the tail.

Young dinosaur skeletons are hard to find in good condition because they often are destroyed by weather decay or because they were torn apart by predators. The latest find would be a major step toward discovering the growth and development of dinosaurs, Yokoyama said.

Silent spring

Deep in the radioactive bowels of the smashed Chernobyl reactor, a strange new lifeform is blooming.

The 92nd Skeptics' Circle is up over at the Lay Scientist. It's a new blog to me, but it's definitely not the last time I've visited it.

Over at Wired there is a quite interesting article, at least to me, about what open source projects do with money they receive.
What Do Small Open Source Projects Do With Money? Not Much.
I think it goes without saying that we hardly have these problems in the sort of projects I work in.

PalMD takes on the Bush administration's new theocratic urges in two posts Theocracy in action---HHS proposes to limit birth control and Conscientious objector or deserter?

An oldie, but good: How to Sell a Pseudoscience

Feministing has a good Weekly Feminist Reader

The Obama campaign has started a new website Fight the Smears

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