False Confession?

False Confession?


Politics, MyRamblings, Science

by maria on 21 Sep 2010 - 14:00  

I have recently started reading a blog with a bit of a narcissistic byline, "What the smartest people on the net read." Fortunately, they seem to be living up to their name. I found the blog post, What would you do? to be especially interesting. The post is discussing an article by Professor Garrett that is about the surprising amount of detail that can be found in false confessions gathered by police officers, and how this detail is most likely being disclosed to them during the interrogation process. People seem to instinctively believe that false confessions would be weak, but the detail included in most of these confessions makes them seem substantial. The blog post recommends making changes to the criminal procedures to take into account the reliability of confessions and their content.

It seems that many people think that most people are not likely to confess to crimes they did not commit. I wonder if this is because most people believe that they themselves would not give in. After all, we are talking about situations where physical torture is not involved. I have always thought of myself as pretty strong, but have recently found myself in a situation where I allowed myself to be psychologically manipulated, and did not even realize it until a few hours later. I'm not trying to say that people offering false confessions do not realize they are giving false confessions, but that our ability to resist may be very dependent on the situation. If there is one thing I have learned about myself during my life, it is that I don't know myself as well as I thought I did. I am capable of surprising myself when I find myself in a novel situation, and being falsely accused of a crime would fall into that category. From the post, "According to one person who (falsely) committed to a crime, "You've never been in a situation so intense, and you're naive about your rights,' he said. 'You don't know what you'll say to get out of that situation.'"

Changing criminal procedures to take into account the reliability of confessions and their content seems especially important, because according to another article Farnam Street Blog did a post about, jurors don't even discount evidence obtained from rough treatment. It therefor seems really unlikely that they would take into consideration the validity of a confession full of detail and taken when rough treatment isn't involved. The Garrett article recommends "a series of reforms that focus on the insidious problem of contamination, particularly videotaping interrogations in their entirety, but also reframing police procedures, trial practice, and judicial review." I concur.

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Red Herrings


Health, Politics, MyRamblings, Tech, Science

by Maria on 13 Apr 2010 - 21:10  

Herring (Kippered)

I very much enjoyed the TED talk by Michael Specter on the danger of science denial. His main point is that we will continue to do real damage to our planet and our communities, if we continue to ignore what science tells us. His two main examples are the trend to not immunize because of the supposed link between autism and immunizations, and frankofoods, iow, genetically modified foods. I think both of these cases demonstrate the publics tendency to take a scary finding, latch onto the first thing that comes along to blame, and then ignoring science and facts and beat the hell out of the red herring. In the case of the autism and immunizations, study after study has shown there is no link. But the original study, however misguided, did demonstrate that we need to continue to put pressure on manufacturers and the government to ensure that vaccines are safe to use, as some things were brought up that were questionable. We need to learn to accept science and facts when they become undoubtable, stop beating a dead horse, and look to new places for answers. That second point is very important. There is much money and time now being spent trying to convince parents that autism is caused by immunizations, money that should be spent on coming up with the actual causes and cures to autism. Not to mention this misguidedness is causing a crisis in immunization that could cause many diseases that we have not seen in decades to return to the United States. If you are unconvinced that immunizations do not cause autism, check out this pdf from immunize.org.

The second issue, genetically modified foods, is very interesting. In this case, the red herring is GMO's themselves. Although more research is needed, so far, it appears that the insertion of new genes does not, by itself, change the plant in a negative way. In Specter's talk he mentioned the noble ideas about adding vitamin A in rice and adding protein and vitamins in cassava, using genetic modification. He did not mention anything about adding resistance to pesticides or insecticides. These are the truly scary things, the things we should be up in arms about. The movie Monsanto's World is extremely interesting, and brings to mind the things we need to be extremely concerned about. First and foremost, are the ties between government and corporations. Monsanto has become a scary monopoly because the US government let it happen, and, in fact, encouraged it to happen. And, it can, and probably has, happened in other industries as well. It is the ties between industry and government that has caused the scientific data to not be scrutinized as it should be. Check out the wikipedia article about Monsanto, under Public officials formerly employed by Monsanto. Which brings up and interesting question. Who should be in charge of government agencies that oversee industries? In many cases, it seems the government decides that people from industry are the best choice, since they would presumably know the most about that particular industry. But, they also have the hardest time separating themselves from the corporations they use to be a part of, and present a real conflict of interest. Time after time, in many different industries, government has failed to enforce or enact the regulations it should in the interest of public safety, because of the ties with corporations. The other thing that we should be up in arms about is the abuse of patent law by Monsanto. Monsanto has used patent law to bully farmers, so that it now controls most of the U.S. corn and soy seed market, according to the non-profit Center for Food Safety. And there is no doubt that Monsanto and its connections in government have worked hard to suppress scientific evidence that its products are not as harmless as it claims. But, you shouldn't take my word on this, do your research. So, while I agree with Specter about there being good that can come from genetic modification, and while at its root, it is not much different from the modifications we have been making to animals and plants for hundreds of thousands of years by breeding, there is still some very scary stuff going on in the genetic modification industry, and most of it has to do with the corporation that controls a very large portion of the seed market, Monsanto, and allows farmers to completely douse their fields with herbicides and/or insecticides. And regardless of whether the food that has been modified to survive such dowsing is harmful, we already know that dowsing fields with herbicides and/or pesticides is terrible for the soil and the nature/people surrounding the fields. For the most common of these herbicides, Roundup, check out the wikipedia article.

Which brings me to another interesting article I have read recently. In the article Is it okay to ignore results from people you don't trust? by Ben Goldacre on badscience.net. He gives a nice example of industry scientists getting the results you would expect them to want, which was different from what non-industry scientists found. Repeated experiences like this makes it is easy for us to ignore results from people we don't trust. We have come to expect scientists from industry to get results more favorable to their industry (which is why the government should have been more critical of the data from Monsanto), but then he goes on to give an example of researchers you may not normally trust, publishing a study with a result that was both accurate and earlier then any other researchers. So, it appears that it is not enough that the public pay attention to scientific data, the public must learn to think critically about the data that they are given. Consider the source, but also consider the data itself. Ask questions. Be skeptical, but do not reject science simply because you want to believe in voodoo. And above all, do not look for studies to validate your opinion, because you will find them no matter how crazy your opinion is. Instead, look at everything you can find that examines the question with an open mind, consider the sources, the methods, the number of studies, and ask questions until you are satisfied. But when some new piece of evidence comes up, be willing to look anew at the question, and to reconsider your position. Yup, it is a lot of work, but it is so very important to our health and the health of our planet.

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Week in Review


Health, Politics, Tech, Science, Videos

by maria on 31 Jan 2010 - 20:04  

Lots about death this week, but lets start with autism. Andrew Wakefield, the doctor who supposedly linked MMR and autism, is closer than ever to being banned from practicing as a doctor, according to NewScientist. Apparently the ban (on him and two co-authors) doesn't actually have to do with the autism claims, but has "concerned itself with the conduct, duties, and responsibilities of each doctor". However, the findings of the investigators does seriously call into question his integrity as a scientist as well, apparently peppered with words such as "dishonest", "irresponsible" and "misleading". It is so sad the panic this mans irresponsible claims have caused over immunizations. While true that the attention over this has caused manufacturers and regulators to pay more attention to the safety of vaccines, which is very important, it has also meant much valuable time and resources have been spent disproving this link. Time and resources that should have been going to investigate, more likely links.

Continuing on to the death theme, we move on to a very concerning development with the "suicides" in Guantanamo back in June of 2006. I highly recommend reading the Harper's article in full, but if you want the short version, watch the video at the bottom of the update. I am sickened by our government, and hope that the Obama administration will do the right thing, and come clean with all that has happened, before and since, they came to power, regarding Guantanamo and the policies of torture by the USA.

This afternoon I read an article in The New Yorker about dying and mourning. I had already been thinking about death after hearing an amazing podcast from Radio Lab. The 8th segment, at about 13:30, is a story by David Eagleman from his book, SUM, read by Jeffrey Tambor. I recommend listening to the entire hour, but this is the story that got me thinking down this particular line. It is sort of an echo of something that I had been thinking about, although better articulated than I could have done, and it's kind of a natural continuation of my thoughts about emergence. It is the thought that there is a connection that we all have at many levels. There is the connection between our atoms, molecules, cells and cell structures, organs, organisms, planets, etc., which form groups at various levels. Maybe it is true that at each level there is some awareness of the interconnectedness, and some feeling like loss when the group breaks up. Strange that a type of mourning that may happen to my atoms when I die is a comfort to me, and whose to say there is no awareness in atoms or planets? Next thing you know, I'll be following the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. I do recommend the article in The New Yorker about dying and mourning, and which has nothing to do with the Flying Spaghetti Monster. I agree with Meghan O'Rourke, I think we do not do the death and mourning thing well in the USA.

Before we leave the death theme, I'd like to take a moment to join many fans, friends and family in the mourning of Howard Zinn and J. D. Salinger. Both made amazing contributions to our society, and I am very grateful for their lives, loves and works.

On the tech front, a scary thing happened with Facebook on AT&T phones. Apparently last weekend, some people with AT&T phones logged into Facebook, and found themselves in someone else's account. There is a good, but somewhat technical, article about what happened and what needs to be done about it at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

As a reaction to the crazy ruling recently by the Supreme Court, Murray Hill Inc. is running for congress. Hmmm.

Interesting article about skunk weed. According to the article, "studies have shown that pure, synthetic THC causes transient psychosis in 40 to 50 per cent of healthy people". Apparently, there is normally a compound in weed, cannabidiol (CBD), that counteracts the psychosis producing effects of THC. Guess we should stick to the other strains...

Finally, time for some fun. Start with the Ultimate Graphic Novel (in Six Panels). The first comment was almost as good as the novel. Also discovered a great music site, http://digital.thinkindie.com, and found a cool new video, Anna Rose "Picture":

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Global Scrub Down



by maria on 14.01.2010 - 01:21  

Wow, this is completely fascinating, if true: Climate Change Catastrophe took Just Months. I read this article a while ago, and I've let it brew a bit. The article explains how the most recent ice age may have come on quite suddenly, like in about 6 months, as opposed to the many years previously assumed. Researcher William Patterson and colleagues believe a large, very cold lake in North America called Lake Agassiz burst its banks, and the large volume of freezing fresh water disrupted the Gulf Stream emough to cause lots of ice to form, which then kept the air cold, preventing the flow to return to its pre-ice age currents. So, thus was a born a mini-ice age of 1,300 years.

My first thought was, if it is true that such dramatic climate change can happen so quickly and so relatively easily, we are really fucking lucky we haven't triggered something crazy, with all of our mucking about with the earth. Think of all of the things we have done in our short time on earth. We have transformed vast treks of land from forests and mixed vegetation to farmland, cities, pastures, etc.; we have dumped all kinds of chemicals (including tons of crude oil) into the ground and waterways; damned rivers; and poured smoke and chemicals into the atmosphere, including not just the usual suspects, but the occasional nuclear bomb, test, or accident. Those are just the things that poppped immediately into my head. Somehow, it seems like some of that has probably done some harm. The findings in this study mean interesting things for our future. Strangely, it can be used as an argument either for mucking about more or less. One argument goes, well then it shouldn't be too hard to figure out how to counteract global warming, all we have to do is empty a big vat of cold water in a water current to disturb the flow, and we can reverse the warming we have caused. We can create all kinds of models to figure out the precise amount and place to do this. Obviously, this sort of thinking has some flaws. Most obviously, we are quite likely to get it wrong, or find it practically too difficult to get enough water, at the right temp. to the right place at the right time. So maybe instead we should do all we can to neutralize the changes we have made in/on the earth, so we don't accidentally provoke another drastic change in temperature? Apparently the earth is good enough at doing that on its own, without our help. Maybe we can at least stop more warming, while we figure out whether we want to go into the mucking about with the climate intentionally business? And since it is likely, given all of the changes we have made to the earth, that we have changed more than just the temperature, trying to reverse the most egregious changes we have made could stop any other crazy outcomes we have not yet forseen, but in our ignorance, directed the earth toward. I'm thinking of things like acid rain. It isn't like we don't have evidence that we have drastically changed certain places/aspects of the earth already. So, in conclusion, we should clean up our messes already (air, land, and water ones), regardless of whether we have caused actual harm to the climate (yet), becuase the planet could use a good scrub down after our mucking about on it for centuries.

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Health Care


Politics, Health

by maria on 19.10.2009 - 02:56  

I think there are serious flaws with our (USA) health care system currently. I think all people should have basic health care, and our current system fails to do that. Not only do not all people have health insurance, but those that do can lose it when they need it most, all too easily. I believe the basic reason for this is the people who are suppose to be providing access to health care (the insurance companies) have an incentive to to NOT GIVE ACCESS TO CARE. If they give insurance to people who end up in the hospital for a long time, it costs the company lots of money, so they would rather spend the money figuring out how to not hold up their end of the bargain (usually cheaper to find a way to reject a claim/deny coverage), or spend the money figuring out how to only sell their insurance to primarily healthy people who are unlikely to cost them loads of money, not to mention advertising how great they are, to entice a large pool of people to choose the healthy people from. Oh, yes, and then there is all of the money they've been bloody spending to stop congress from changing the status quo. Hmm, wonder why they would want to keep the status quo? Their primary goal is to make money. For businesses where making the vast majority of customers happy means more business and more money and happy owners, this is okay, but when it is advantageous for a company to only keep the customers happy that do not require much, and advantageous to discourage other customers from even doing business with them, because this is what makes the most money and keeps the owners happy, this is problematic. And when it is a business that we as Americans think all people should have access to, this is doubly problematic. Medicare is successful largely because it does not have these incentives. They spend their money figuring out how to get the most people health care for the smallest costs, not in how to get out of paying for health care.

So, how to solve the problem? What about regulation? What if we say, okay, you can't deny someone coverage because of pre-existing conditions? Okay, that's easy, just charge them lots more money. Chances are they won't be able to afford it, and will still be out of insurance. So, how do you regulate a company to provide everyone who asks for it insurance at a reasonable price and force them to pay all reasonable medical bills? I don't think it is possible. I think unless you break the incentive to make money, insurance companies will find the loopholes, and continue to spend lots of money on not providing health care, and there will continue to be people without insurance and denied claims. One thing I have wondered about is what would happen if you required all health insurance companies to be non-profit. I think it probably makes more sense to have a public option, based on the medicare option, but I would not rule out the non-profit idea. I wonder if there are other solutions.

I also believe that having health care tied to your employer is a bad idea. Maybe it made more sense when people stayed with one employer for years, but I think it makes no sense today, where for years, the average person has been with their current employer for only 4.1 years As of Jan 2008. Why should we have to change insurance (and quite possibly doctors) when we change jobs? I once changed doctors four times in two years, because of various health insurance shenanigans. Not one of those times was because I was actually unhappy with my doctor. And why should health insurance be a factor when choosing a job? It seems crazy to me. I know people who hate their insurance, but can't change insurance companies because they don't want to change jobs. And, worse, I know people who have stayed in jobs they hated for years because they were afraid of losing their health insurance. It can't be good for your health... I think if there were a public option there would be less incentive for employers to use health insurance to entice people, and less incentive for people to choose jobs based on health insurance.

At any rate, I think we need to try something that is actually different then what we are doing now, and not just a couple of reforms or regulations, because what we are doing now just isn't working, and I don't believe it can be properly patched.


It appears at least some experts believe the current bill (which has no public option) could make things worse for patients LATimes Article.

</health care rant>

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Such a Ho


Politics, myLife

by maria on 10.08.2009 - 00:35  

I was hanging out with some friends recently, when they began talking about someone they knew in high school. They called her a ho. I did not call them on it. Maybe because I did not know said girl. But it should not have mattered. It really doesn't matter whether she fulfilled some criteria for being a ho. The term ho is offensive. Very. Should not be used to refer to anyone. The old double standard. It would never have even crossed their mind to care about a label for a guy from high school who slept around. I wish I would have said something. I don't understand why it took so long for the offense to even register. Why it wasn't until much later that night that I said to myself, 'wait a minute, they called some girl a ho; I should have said something'. Next time I hope my brain isn't in such slow motion.

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Ada Lovelace Day


Lovelace, Politics, Tech

by maria on 24.03.2009 - 13:42  


It has become obvious that women need to see female role models, in order to persevere and thrive in male-dominated fields. So, Suw Charman-Anderson announced that she would post a blog if 1000 other people also promised to post a blog about a woman they admire who has excelled in technology. She is calling it Ada Lovelace Day in honor of one of the world's first computer programmers.

So, I signed the pledge, and talked to my daughter Tanika about it. She told me that a woman invented the dishwasher, which I did not know, and recommended I look into that. Josephine Cochrane did invent the first workable mechanical machine to wash dishes. Apparently she had grown tired of her servants breaking her dishes, and is quoted to have said, "If nobody else is going to invent a dishwashing machine, I'll do it myself." I love it. She designed a wheel that set inside a copper boiler, and held several different compartments made of wire to hold different types of dishes. A motor turned the wheel and pumped hot soapy water from the bottom of the boiler. I love the image I have in my head of her in the early 1880's at work in the shed behind her house, hammering pieces of hardware to a copper wash-boiler. She received a patent for it in 1886, and founded the Garis-Cochran Dish-Washing Company to produce it, which later became the KitchenAid part of the Whirlpool Corporation. Another great quote: “Women are inventive, the common opinion to the contrary notwithstanding. You see, we are not given a mechanical education, and that is a great handicap. It was to me—not in the way you suppose, however. I couldn’t get men to do the things I wanted in my way until they had tried and failed in their own. And that was costly for me. They knew I knew nothing, academically, about mechanics, and they insisted on having their own way with my invention until they convinced themselves my way was the better, no matter how I had arrived at it.” Things were definitely difficult for women in the late 19th century, both as inventors and business owners, and she should be applauded as much for her bravery in getting into business as she was for the invention itself. Another quote, regarding the first sale she made, to a large hotel in Chicago, “You asked me what was the hardest part of getting into business,” Mrs. Cochrane recalled for the reporter for the Record-Herald. “That was almost the hardest thing I ever did, I think, crossing the great lobby of the Sherman House alone. You cannot imagine what it was like in those days, twenty-five years ago, for a woman to cross a hotel lobby alone. I had never been anywhere without my husband or father —the lobby seemed a mile wide. I thought I should faint at every step, but I didn’t—and I got an $800 order as my reward.”

picture and some background from Hall of Fame inventor profile
other sources:
American Heritage Profile
University of Houston profile

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by maria on 07.02.2009 - 23:21  

I'm with the the Stranger Slog on this one. Pot smoking should not be illegal, and Phelps should not be apologizing for smoking it. I love this quote "Here is the implication the swimming team makes and Phelps's apology upholds: if you smoke pot, you can't grow up to be a great athlete, star, success, etc. Well-lo and fucking behold-you can." Not only that, but whoever heard of anyone dying from smoking too much pot? I think that makes it a safer bet than alcohol (the total number of deaths with any mention of alcohol poisoning is 1,393 per year), possibly even safer then gambling (and certainly less likely to ruin you financially). We waste a bunch of money and resources chasing down pot smokers, when we could be making money off taxation of it, as we do with so many other vices. Not that I am trying to say that pot smoking doesn't have negative effects, of course, it does. But, if we are going to allow vices that do marginal harm, then it seems to me that marijuana is a great candidate, and making it illegal hasn't done much of anything towards making it less harmful. Another good quote from the slog, "About one-third of the country has smoked pot, and those stoners who act like it's a sin are part of the reason we're so reluctant to fix pot laws". Now, where are those corn flakes?

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Dangerous Attitudes


Politics, Science

by maria on 16.01.2009 - 22:10  

From the attack on Matthew Shepard and many others we learned how it can be dangerous, and even deadly, to be gay. Now it is becoming clear that this danger isn't just from the hate crimes of bigots. A new study has linked suicide attempts, riskier sexual behavior and higher drug use to gay adults whose families rejected them compared to gay adults whose families were accepting of them. True, correlation does not prove causation, and better studies should be designed and carried out, but in this case, I think it is a fair assumption that the rejection played a role in the increased numbers. After all, it doesn't seem crazy to assume that someone rejected by a parent, for any reason, would be more depressed as an adult. I find this so incredibly sad. These parents can't or won't recognize that their prejudices are literally hurting their children, and setting them up to be unnecessarily more miserable in their adulthood. This is why I believe our society's attitude towards gay marriage is not just immoral, but dangerous. Some may say that we can be accepting of gays and gay relationships, and still not allow gay marriages, but I believe this is equivalent to saying we can believe that women and men are equal, but still require women to stay barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen. Wrong, wrong, wrong. As long as we are saying, one must do something or cannot do something based solely on one's race, sex, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc. we are being prejudiced, and furthermore, we are endangering people by promoting prejudice. I think the links found in this study should really have been already somewhat obvious (like I said earlier, who doesn't believe that a child rejected by a parent, for any reason, is more likely to be depressed as an adult), but I understand not being able to see the forest for the trees, and I hope that having studies that confirm what many of us were suspicious of already will help to change attitudes. One can hope.

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The battle to marry *


Politics, Science, Religion

by maria on 29.12.2008 - 22:57  

It has been a while since I have posted anything. November and December sort of blindsided me. Lots going on. Somehow between dealing with craziness, ;-) I did run across an interesting article about the question of whether sexual orientation is a lifestyle choice or a biological trait. The article compares sexual orientation to handedness, and it seems a very apt comparison, and makes very good arguments as to why sexual orientation is a biological trait. I assumed that this would be the end of the story, but recently I was part of a discussion with a person from the religious right persuasion, who thinks that even if sexual orientation is a biological trait, and even if there is nothing a person can do about which sex they are attracted to, practicing homosexuality is still a sin. Apparently, according to her church, some people are unlucky enough to be born having to fight their sexual urges their entire lives. I can sort of see the logic, I mean I guess there are people who have an urge to murder people, and they probably have to fight this urge their whole life. But, murderers are clearly infringing on other people's right to life, if they give in to their urge, and consenting homosexual adults are clearly not. And on the more common end of the comparison spectrum, it seems to me a bit more intense then say, a married person having to battle wanting to cheat on their spouses occasionally (adultery, interestingly enough, is illegal in about 20 states, according to myfamilylaw.com, and is arguably infringing on the spouses rights). According to this church, it seems some people are given homosexuality as their cross to bear. I'm guessing there aren't a whole lot of gay men and women in her church. But the worse bit is that apparently she is obligated by her religion to push for legislation against giving gay people the right to marry each other. So, it isn't just wrong for her, and people with the same beliefs that she has, but it is also wrong for people who worship the flying spaghetti monster. While I can see where this argument comes from, it just seems a bit ridiculous to me. My first hurdle is getting past my 'if it isn't infringing on someone else's rights, then leave well enough alone' tendency. And then, I just completely don't understand the leap from, 'my religion states that this is wrong so I shouldn't do it' to 'I must do what I can to make sure this becomes against the law'. Is there going to be legislation soon that we cannot work on Sundays or that we aren't allowed to eat pork?

  • I did amuse myself with this title, which if I were talking about myself, would have been titled the battle not to marry.

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A New Day



by maria on 05.11.2008 - 11:56  

It is a great day to be an American. 43 years after the Voting Rights Act was passed outlawing discriminating voting practices that were often used to prevent blacks from voting, we have elected a black president. 40 years after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot for having a noble and inspiring dream, we are one giant step closer to seeing that dream fulfilled.

I want to thank Barack Obama. He has given me hope. Hope that this country can overcome its prejudices. Hope that we can become a great nation. A nation that helps to promote peace and justice. A nation that helps to make this world a better place to live in. Hope that we can work together to get things done, instead of calling each other names. Imagine people doing things because it is the right thing to do, instead of because we are scared and threatened. Hope that we can change the world by teaching, instead of by bullying. And hope that we stop torturing and having our civil rights stolen and trampled upon. Hope that science will once again be used to inform policy, instead of policy being used to manipulate science. Hope that we can clean up our messes, and educate our children more effectively. Hope for a better future and cleaner world for our children. Maybe that is a lot of hope to put on one man, but like Barack says, all of this happened because of us, and we can work with him to make the rest of these dreams come true as well.

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Video War


Politics, Charities

by Maria on 05.09.2008 - 01:26  

I read this article and this one in Slate a while back, and they have been needling me ever since. The articles are about drones that the military uses. They are remote controlled weapons. The military has worked with video game technicians and programmers to make the experience, well, more video game-like. I find this concept so much more scary than cloning or gene therapy or any of the other 'scary' technologies that are currently being explored. How can anyone understand the ramifications of what they are doing, if killing just looks like a video game?

Both articles brings up lots of good points about how scary it is to have combat military that doesn't truly see the damage that it is doing, so I won't go into that, except for one point. Since other countries are developing the same technology, it seems that future wars could be fought by people that are hidden away in various locations, while the countries at war are blown to smithereens. And to the people fighting, it will all be video images.

But here is some more food for thought:

I have no idea what the range of these things are currently, but one can imagine that it won't take too long before they can be very long range. And if they aren't already small enough to go undetected by radar, one can also imagine that not being far away. The damage that a terrorist could do with a drone, once the range is large and the size is small, would be incredible. And, it is hard to imagine any border control that could do much about it.

I realize that we will never get rid of terrorism completely, but clearly we need to start really dealing with the breeding grounds, and the rampant growth of terrorism. We need to attack the root causes of people choosing to become terrorists, because the weapons that they can get a hold of are only going to get more sophisticated and scary. According to one of the Slate articles France, Germany, Greece, India, the Philippines, Russia, even Switzerland are all building or buying drones; soon enough, someone will start selling them to terrorists. I think Greg Mortenson (Three Cups of Tea) is on the right track, and I would encourage everyone to donate whatever they can to help his organization, the Central Asia Institute. It is imperative that we do all in our power to promote peace, so I hope that everyone reading this will take a look at his work. From the CAI website: "The best hope for a peaceful and prosperous world lies in the education of all the world's children."

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Global Warming


Politics, Science

by maria on 03.09.2008 - 20:38  

I was reading an article about Sarah Palin, and one of the topics brought up was that Sarah Palin doesn't believe global warming is man-made. I think that her opinion is actually irrelevant to the debate, (although a bit disturbing, but we'll save that for a different post). I think the global warming controversy generally presented in the media is a bit off. The two questions that I hear being disputed are 1) Is gobal warming real? and 2) are humans responsible for it? I think the first one has been shown to be quite believable, and we need to stop debating it already. But, I think the second question is just the wrong question, and should be instead, Can we, and should we, do anything about it, no matter why it is happening? To answer the should question, we need to ask, how much damage is global warming really doing to our planet and to our children's futures? But, let us set aside the question of damage for a minute, and assume we believe the effects of global warming will be catastrophic. Can we do anything about it?

To find out the answer to that we need to know what is causing global warming. From Wikipedia:

The Earth's climate changes in response to external forcing, including variations in its orbit around the Sun (orbital forcing),[15][16][17] changes in solar luminosity, volcanic eruptions,[18] and atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations.

Ok, so of those, the one that we could possibly affect is atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations. Next question: do we want to change the volume of greenhouse gases we are putting into the atmosphere? That is the million dollar question. Changing the amount of greenhouse gasses we are putting into the atmosphere is the most likely way that we could affect global warming. So, if global warming is a serious problem, regardless of whether we caused it, we probably should do something about it. Currently, what we are doing is something that could only make it worse or have no effect (best case scenario, however improbable...). Since none of the other plants or animals on the planet are likely to start trying to do anything about greenhouse gas levels, and waiting to see if they just goes down by themselves seems a little optimistic given the current trend, we should probably try to slow way down our outpouring of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, assuming it is doing serious damage.

Let us now go back to our big unknown. Is global warming a catastrophe? We don't know. So, what do we do? One problem is that changing climate is kind of like trying to turn a very large freighter. There is a lot of lag time between starting the turn and actually having any noticeable affect. So, if we wait until it becomse obvious that we are on a path to catastrophe, it may very well be too late to do much about it. If we then add in that a lot of the the human activities responsible for green house gases are also responsible for smog and pollution, which are well documented to be causing problems to our health, it suddenly becomes a no-brainer. Why should we continue to pour these gasses into our environment at such a phenomenal rate, when we know they are harming the air we breathe, and that if we cut back we could be (maybe, of course) helping to prevent a disaster of global proportions? I like this quote from Bruno Giussani, who is quoting Bjorn Lomborg's new book "Cool It", and then adding on his own two cents:

"It's time to put the debate over whether human-driven climate change is happening behind us and instead focus on technologies to decarbonize the economy," writes Anderson. But climate change is only one of three strong reasons to do this, he adds: the others are economics (rising direct and indirect costs of oil and carbon fuels) and geopolitics (oil revenues prop up bad governments around the world).

There is a fourth reason that Anderson forgets, and which has been convincingly put forth by Al Gore in his TED2006 speech: it's a moral imperative.


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by maria on 27.08.2008 - 21:31  

All this uproar about whether Obama is qualified to be commander in chief. Well, good grief, can he possibly do worse than our current president who sat for several minutes in a classroom after he learned about the 2nd attack on the twin towers? Apparently he was waiting for his aids to tell him what to do. Ah, yes, marvelous leadership. This on top of his scandalous military record, it would seem to me we can hardly do worse. It seems to me that what is most important in a president is his willingness to lead when called upon to do so, and to seek out the best advice, even if it conflicts with his preconceived notions, in all situations. Just because we have elected someone as president doesn't mean they have all of the answers. Obama seems to me much more likely to do this than McCain, but I would be happy to be proved wrong.

Loved this quote from the NYTime: It was largely overlooked, but the former Republican congressman from Iowa, Jim Leach, now an Obama supporter, framed it well in a speech on Monday. "Nothing is riskier than more of the same," he said.

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Politics, Science

by me on 22.07.2008 - 00:08  

It is strange how we humans like to draw lines. From the time we are small, and draw the imaginary line down the middle of the backseat of the car to keep our sibling away from us, we seem to think we can draw lines to separate things. And, usually we seem to want straight lines. But nature is not that way. Our lines twist and turn, become blurred and erode away. We create laws and rules based on what we think is black and white. But it isn't.

Life seems to be a continuum. We start out as a single cell, not much more than amoebae, really. When do we become a human? There are so many ifs along the way. If the egg is fertilized. If the egg is implanted. If the placenta develops correctly. There is no magic moment when suddenly this cell has multiplied and grown enough to be considered human. There is no magic moment when an embryo becomes a fetus or a fetus becomes a baby. There is no magic moment when the fetus can survive outside of the womb. There are only likelihoods. So, what does this mean? It means we do not know, and to me, that means that each woman has to decide for herself what is best for herself and her fetus. Sure, a fetus has the potential to become a human. But the woman is here, now, and has needs and thoughts that I cannot possibly know or judge. It is her life that will be turned upside down, and she needs to decide which way to turn it.

But, the legislature in South Dakota thinks it knows when we become a human. They apparently believe that pretty much as soon as the egg is fertilized it is a "whole, separate, unique living human being". South Dakota is now requiring that medical providers present a statement (written by all of those medical doctors and researchers in the legislature, presumably) to women that are seeking abortions. This statement will inform women that an abortion "will terminate the life of a whole, separate, unique living human being." Where did they get that from? Last time I checked separating a fetus from its mother will kill it, so how can it be a separate human being? The Human Nature Blog at Slate.com has a great essay about the whole separation thing. The doctor is also suppose to inform the woman that she has "an existing relationship" with the fetus, that is protected by the U.S. Constitution, and that "her existing constitutional rights with regards to that relationship will be terminated" if she has an abortion. I have no idea what that is suppose to mean. Does that mean that if she keeps the fetus than the government will help pay for the medical cost of delivery and child rearing? No, I suspect it means, well, nothing. The statement also goes on and on about the possible repercussions to the woman's emotional and mental health if she has an abortion, and requires the woman be given "A statement setting forth an accurate rate of deaths due to abortions, including all deaths in which the abortion procedure was a substantial contributing factor". Funny how it doesn't mention the dangers to her emotional and mental health if she has a baby, and last time I checked, there is a higher risk of death and complications in childbirth than abortions.

So, having written this, I went on a google quest to see if it is really the case that abortion is safer than childbirth. Turns out, it depends on whether you ask someone who is pro-no-choice or pro-choice. No surprise there. What was surprising was the lack of statistics in general. The only scientific paper I ran across, gave these statistics (for maternal death):

    * 1/1,000,000 with surgical abortion through 63 days gestation
    * 1/100,000 with medical abortion through 63 days gestation
    * 1/100,000 with miscarriage
    * 1/10,000 with a term delivery

This was in a paper called 'Mifepristone-Misoprostol Medical Abortion Mortality' published in MedGenMed. 2006; 8(2): 26.

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the killing fields



by me again on 06.07.2008 - 00:57  

I recently finished reading "First they Killed my Father". It was a beautifully written story about times so sad I cannot put myself in the author's shoes. What a horrible place and time to live. Just unimaginable. What were all of those soldiers thinking? How were they blackmailed or brainwashed to do such terrible things? What is the best way to stop calamities like this from happening?

Reading about this tragedy got me thinking of the various places and times around the earth that huge numbers of people are/were killed in decidedly one-sided killing sprees. And then I thought about the ordeal not that long ago as to whether we would help in Rwanda or whether we shouldn't because someone said it didn't qualify as a genocide. But we knew thousands of people were being killed. Do we really believe that people who say "never again" are only referring to the case that the motivation is race hatred? No, of course not, we need to stop all mass killings of human beings, period. What part of "this is wrong" on all levels do politicians not get? The world has to start policing itself. We can no longer tolerate "governments" killing people living in their states, regardless of the motivation. All countries should participate in the policing, not any of this unilateral crap. I believe this intolerance should be applied to the death penalty as well, (but I know this is a long-term goal). If there is one thing that has been proven continuously as long as there has been recorded history, it is that we are imperfect beings. Death is irrevocable; this is compelling.

To anyone in a position of power in the world today: Grow the hell up, I mean, really.

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Girls finish last



by me on 23.06.2008 - 12:54  

Recently, there was an article posted in the New Scientist titled 'Bad guys really do get the most girls.'

The article tries to explain how some antisocial personality traits persist in the human population despite "their potentially grave cultural costs" and is based on two recent studies. Their first mistake is that they attempt to explain why these traits persist in males, ignoring the fact that these traits also occur in females. No surprise the studies seem to have both been done by males. Typical. If we can explain it in males, problem solved. But the worst part of the studies is how they went about it. They determined that males that are likely to have these traits: "the self-obsession of narcissism; the impulsive, thrill-seeking and callous behaviour of psychopaths; and the deceitful and exploitative nature of Machiavellianism" are more likely to have a prolific sex life, and they determined this by asking these people about their sex lives. Um, aren't these the very people you would expect to LIE ABOUT THEIR SEXUAL PROWESS? Great study. What were they thinking?

Don't these people have better things to do then try to justify their inability to get women? Something tells me it isn't them being a nice guy that keeps them from getting a date. It is probably their misogynist attitudes. And, it appears to me that it is MEN who are abetting the stereotype of the bad guy getting the girls, not actual behavior of girls. Last time I checked it wasn't a woman who wrote all of those James Bond books, directed all of the bad guy films, or wrote this ridiculous study!

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GI Bill



by maria on 11.04.2008 - 00:14  

In the off-chance that someone actually reads this blog, I am hoping to convince my reader(s) to sign the petition asking McCain to support the new GI Bill being proposed by Sens. Jim Webb and Chuck Hagel. It would bring back WWII-era standards of providing vets with full tuition, room and board. So far 51 senators have signed on as co-sponsors. But the bill remains nine votes short of the supermajority necessary to dissuade a filibuster. The link to the petition is at the bottom of this post.

The GI Bill that I used when I got out of the army was not very helpful, and the GI Bill now has barely changed since then. I believe it would be a great benefit to both the current service members and the country to pass this new GI bill.

Military.com has a good article in support of the petition.

One reason that critics say this might not be a good idea, is because they claim that this will encourage more soldiers to leave after their commitment is over. I think this blogpost addresses this well.

And a link from The American Conservative for those who prefer a more conservative bent on things.

From the American Conservative article:
According to many historians, the 15 million "Greatest Generation" veterans who seized the chance to go to college on the government's dime paid off = they became scientists, doctors, inventors, attorneys, writers and, yes, politicians of the "New Frontier." Five World War II veterans in the current senate say they wouldn't have graduated from their schools under the current Montgomery formula.

I believe doing something like this now would be especially helpful since we now have an all-volunteer army. This means that there are many poor people and minorities enlisted today. One might say, why mix our programs, why not just help the poor people and minorities directly, instead of picking the ones in the military. Of course, we already have some programs to help minorities and the poor (although it is not nearly enough, imo). But two reasons we should additionally help veterans, first to thank them for serving our country by giving them a chance at a greater future, and second because I think the people who volunteer for the military and do their time are also more likely to succeed in college. So, not only are we rewarding them for serving our country, but we are helping out people that we all too often shit upon.

For a history of the GI Bill.

And finally, Wes Clark's message and link to the petition.

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Children's Hospital



by maria on 19.03.2008 - 22:26  

Children's hospital near us (about 4 blocks away) wants to expand a whole bunch. I love that their goal is for each kid to have a room to themselves and their family. My niece spent many, many weeks in hospital rooms, many shared, and it is so difficult. When kids are in the hospital, one or both parents pretty much live there, so having a child in the hospital when you have to share a room is like sharing a small hotel room with another family. Except the rooms are crowded with equipment, parents are usually sleeping on uncomfortable couches, and there are many crying fits, various tantrums, and its the place where kids get injected, inspected, detected, infected, neglected and selected at all times of the day and night. It is definitely not a lot of fun, even for a short stay, and being in the hospital is already no fun, under the best of circumstances, so I am all for private hospital rooms for children, even if it means I have to put up with a bigger facility near us.

Apparently a lot of the neighbors are "concerned" about the expansion. I knew I was moving into a city when I moved here, and I can think of a lot of things I would be way more upset about moving into (or expanding into) my "backyard". I do get that it will be a long-term construction project, and not fun to live near for quite some time. That is the negative of living in a city. I love that I can walk to restaurants, stores, coffee shops, doctors offices, and yes the hospital. But someone had to build them, and I am willing to put up with the building of them, because I want to live near these things. That is why I live in a city. I must add that I do understand, and agree, that it is good for the neighborhood to put some pressure on Children's to make sure they are looking out for the neighborhood, but sometimes I think what many of the protesters really want is to live in suburbia.

Speaking of a pain to live near, Husky football games are loud, attract a lot of loud, purple people, and they cause huge traffic jams as well, but I'm probably not going to get many takers on tearing down the Stadium. All a matter of perspective, of course, but football causes many more disturbances in my book, then Children's Hospital, and for a less nobler cause.

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