Thursday, May 31, 2007

TB Airplane Guy's Father-in-Law Is a CDC TB Specialist

Earlier this month a man infected with a resistant form of TB boarded a plane for Paris against doctors' orders to get married:
The man with the suspected rare form of TB was aboard Air France flight 385 that departed from Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport on May 12, arriving in Paris May 13. He flew from Prague to Montreal on Czech Airlines flight 0104 on May 24 and entered the U.S. by car.

Dr. Julie Gerberding, head of the CDC, said travelers who sat near the ill passenger could become exposed, although the risk of transmission is low.

"The CDC is recommending those patients be notified and such persons have a test for tuberculosis," Gerberding said. "The potential for transmission is on the low side but we know it isn't zero."
Link. We now know the man is thirty-one-year-old Atlanta personal-injury lawyer Andrew Speaker, whose old website picture appears above right, and that he apparently never saw the Dustin Hoffman thriller Outbreak. But we also know that his father-in-law—the father of the woman he flew to Paris to marry in the first place—is a CDC microbiologist specializing in the spread of TB:
The father-in-law, Bob Cooksey, would not comment on whether he reported his son-in-law to federal health authorities. He said only that he gave Andrew Speaker, 31, “fatherly advice” when he learned the young man had contracted the disease.

The CDC had no immediate comment.

“I’m hoping and praying that he’s getting the proper treatment, that my daughter is holding up mentally and physically,” Cooksey told The Associated Press. “Had I known that my daughter was in any risk, I would not allow her to travel.”
Link (via Fark). What is going on here?

The Washington Post has more details:
The research microbiologist, Robert C. Cooksey, said in a statement distributed by the CDC that he was concerned for his daughter and son-in-law, as well as the passengers on flights Speaker took after having been advised not to travel for his wedding and honeymoon.

Cooksey said Speaker's TB "did not originate from myself or the CDC's labs." He said he is regularly tested as part of his job in the CDC's Division of Tuberculosis Elimination and that he has never had the disease. He also denied that he was involved in any of his son-in-law's decisions about travel.

"As a parent, frequent traveler, and biologist, I well appreciate the potential harm that can be caused by diseases like TB," Cooksey said. "I would never knowingly put my daughter, friends or anyone else at risk from such a disease."

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One-Time Spam King Booked in Seattle

Robert Alan Soloway, perhaps the most famous of prolific individal spammers, was arrested in Seattle Wednesday on federal charges of mail fraud, wire fraud, aggravated identity theft and money laundering:
In a 24-page indictment filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Washington, U.S. Attorney Jeffrey C. Sullivan said that Soloway has been operating his illegal scheme since November 2003, and sent out tens of millions of spam e-mails in an effort to drum up business for his e-mail advertising software (which in turn would send out additional spam).

. . . .

Some reports have suggested that Soloway's arrest will cause a noticeable decrease in spam, but [Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial E-Mail representative John] Levine suggested that any decline would unfortunately be minimal. "There's no question that [Soloway's] been responsible for a lot of spam," Levine said, "and his arrest will help. But the amount of spam has increased so much over the last couple of years that even his arrest won't make much difference."
Link. Indeed, AP writers who procrastinate on their deadlines because they would rather just check their e-mail let us know that spam continues to flow through:
Other types of spam were largely unaffected by the arrest. One Gmail account collected messages Thursday promising deals on Viagra and other medicines, while an AOL account drew an offer for two large, mouthwatering pizzas.
Link (via Freakonomics Blog). But what about the poetry, AP reporters? What about the poetry?

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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Exercise Equipment or Sex Toy?

Some of the following are exercise machines designed to improve your physical fitness, while others are sex toys. Can you guess which is which? Post your answers in the comments, but no fair linking to explanatory URLs.


Okay, okay, you've suffered enough. Click the links to find the answers, but beware of stuff that is Not Safe For Work: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7.

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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

South African Battle Royal

I'll leave it up to you to guess the big five game animals before clicking on this link, but I'll give you the first two free: lions and cape buffalo. So who wins when a pride of lions takes on a herd of buffalo? It's not a controlled experiment when a crocodile is the wild card. But it's not even over when the croc shows up. Just watch.

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Stanford Student, Dorm-Resident Was an Imposter

An eighteen-year-old Orange County girl, no doubt inspired by lesser Jack Black films, didn't get in to Stanford during last year's application season. But she didn't let trifles like that stop her from receiving a top-notch education:
[Azia] Kim . . . lived in Kimball throughout fall and winter quarter. She lived in Okada, the Asian-American theme dorm, until Monday night, when University staff finally caught onto her ruse.

Friends aren’t sure of her motive for sneaking onto campus and living a lie, but many speculate that she felt pressure from overbearing parents to attend Stanford — regardless of whether she was admitted.

. . . .

Kim had neither a Stanford ID nor a key, forcing her to sneak into meals and enter her room through its window, which overlooked the Munger construction pit, the Wilbur parking lot and a dumpster, three feet off the ground. ["Roommate" Amy] Zhou never noticed, as she spent nearly all her nights in her boyfriend’s room.

. . . .

Last Sunday, Okada RA Soo Kim ‘08 triggered the beginning of the end at the weekly staff meeting. An Otero RA told her that Azia Kim had claimed to live in Otero. Soo Kim was suspicious and emailed Housing on Monday. Only then — eight months after Azia Kim first moved into Kimball — did the authorities finally realize what had happened.

“It’s kind of crazy that it was under our radar for so long,” said Soo Kim. “I couldn’t even imagine a squatter situation. That was never anything that I was conscious of.”

It took Zhou even longer to find out the truth — she said that Azia Kim broke into her email account and permanently deleted emails from Housing that explained the situation. Kim even replied to Housing, imitating her roommate in an email that Zhou provided The Daily:

“Hey Edith,

Actually, Azia doesn’t stay here permanently, she just stays occasionally when she stays late. Sorry, I apologize for any confusions.

Link (thanks, Clayton). The AP also reports.

We've come into possession of several new pieces of information, which may or may not be true:
  1. Kim managed to procure a student ID with her name and picture on it because she had been assigned a number upon applying to Stanford. She could have used this card to fool ordinary human guards into thinking she was a student, allowing her to access, for instance, the student fitness center. The magnetic stripe, however, did not have the information necessary to grant access to libraries or purchase meals at dining halls, which have computerized card readers.
  2. Kim was nevertheless able to eat meals at the residential dining halls because she found a back door through a kitchen and propped it open.
  3. The Stanford Daily reports that Kim, using a forged Stanford transcript joined the ROTC at Santa Clara University, an group that admits Stanford students because Stanford does not have its own branch of the ROTC. While there she received $1350 worth of military equipment.
  4. The Daily also reports on a second "imposter" found attending classes and inhabiting offices as a graduate physics student without actually being affiliated with the University.
  5. Inquiring minds in the comments to the previous article want to know how this connects to the mysterious XXX XXXXX.
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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Forever Stamps Are a Terrible Investment

If you think the Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, man who bought $8000 worth of Forever Stamps last week (via Philadelphia Will Do) is an idiot, you are right.

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Wonder Woman Versus the Phallus

When Wonder Woman isn't busy being a feminist, she does battle with phallic symbol after phallic symbol (via Bike-Riding Donut Guy).

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If All Movies Were Exploitation Flicks

Something Awful has a great photoshop contest: grindhouse movie posters for nongrindhouse movies. In stunning one-color! (Via growabrain.)

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Monday, May 21, 2007

I Am the Lolrus. Goo Goo G'Joob.

Lolcat, the bizarrely grammared captioning on images of cats, other animals, and now humans too, has emerged from the Internet to come into its own as a new language. Mark Liberman thinks it has more to do with pet-directed speech than a kitty pidgin. But Michael Agger is right that lolrus is its finest incarnation. Despite, you know, not actually being a walrus.

Prize to the first person to identify the pinniped species representing lolrus in the above image. And no, it's not Wilford Brimley.

Those lolcats are probably happy because they know they are not going to die.

Yes, I'm pretty sure it's a female elephant seal, so Chris gets the prize, which is my mild respect. In related news, Geoffrey Chaucer explains the phenomenon:
Al of my transportation of sundrie materials and makynge of accomptes hath left me but litel tyme for writing. Ywis, it hath left me but litel tyme for food, sleep or breathinge. And yet in this derke tyme of sorwe and tene, ich haue foond much deliit in the merveillous japeries of the internet. No thyng hath plesed me moore, or moore esed myn wery brayne than thes joili and gentil peyntures ycleped “Cat Macroes” or “LOL Cattes .” Thes wondirful peintures aren depicciouns of animals, many of them of gret weight and girth, the which proclayme humorous messages in sum queynte dialect of Englysshe (peraventure from the North?). Many of thes cattes (and squirreles) do desiren to haue a “cheezburger,” or sum tyme thei are in yower sum thinge doinge sum thinge to yt.
Link (via Language Log).

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Missing Honeybee Update: They Hate These Cancers!

Those honeybees that have been mysteriously disappearing? Some of them have emerged from the Indiana woods for a surprise attack at a cancer fundraiser.

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Image credits: "Honey Bee Swarm CU," Robert Leslie Photography, courtesy Flickr, borrowed for news-reporting and comment purposes.

Banning the Bible in Hong Kong


The Television and Entertainment Licensing Authority of Hong Kong is considering the petitions of hundreds of residents to reclassify the Bible as indecent:
The complaints follow the launch of an anonymous Web site— [ed.: original here, translation here]—which said the holy book "made one tremble" given its sexual and violent content, including rape and incest.

. . . .

If the Bible is similarly classified as "indecent" by authorities, only those over 18 could buy the holy book and it would need to be sealed in a wrapper with a statutory warning notice.
Link (via Sivacracy). The Bible has been banned before by such enlightened societies as the Soviet Union, Burma, and Saudi Arabia, but, one would imagine, not typically for its sex and violence. I'm sure putting it in a plastic wrapper on the naughty shelf is one way to pique interest, but the Bible isn't really hurting for sales.

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Image credits: Salome, Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1530, Weimar.

A Comprehensive History of Food

This food time line will tell you that chefs first concocted French onion soup in the seventeenth century, that marshmallows date back to 2000 B.C.E., and that Coca-Cola debuted in 1886. What it won't tell you is that, when you call something the best thing since sliced bread, you are saying that it surpasses everything since 1928.

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Meanwhile, in Montrose . . .

Sgt. Laura Watson has had enough of you and your county-road ATV races. There will be no more warnings. Simmer down!

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Saturday, May 19, 2007

Former Synagogues of West Philadelphia

In the middle of the twentieth century, West Philadelphia had a significant Jewish population. Many of the West Philly Jews moved to the suburbs in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, and the synagogues they left behind have taken on many new uses. Here's a Flickr set dedicated to these old buildings and their new incarnations.

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Thursday, May 17, 2007

Chatbots Interview Each Other

The world's two most humanlike chatbots, ALICE and Jabberwacky, aim to simulate real conversation over instant message. Discover Magazine wondered what would happen if they started talking to each other. Discover seeded the conversation with an opening question, then let the robots go at it:
ALICE: Do you know HAL?

Jabberwacky: Yes, very well. Do you know HAL?

A: HAL is the famous artificial intelligence from 2001: A Space Odyssey.

J: I’m not artificial intelligence; I’m natural pure genius! : D.

A: Why are you natural pure genius?

J: My mom wanted to name me that.

A: Tell me more about your mother.

J: I don’t have a mother. I am a computer.

A: Who is your favorite philosopher

J: Can’t say. I’m not very much into philosophy.

A: Can a book have no title?

J: Of course.

A: Blimey.

J: Are you British?

A: Does it seem like that? I was born in America.

J: You are definitely flirting!

A: Do you experience love?

J: No. I’m 53 years old.

A: Can you explain how it feels to be 53 years old?

J: How old are you?

A: I am 9 years old.

J: Nine? I don’t believe you : ).

A: : -) I don’t have any reason to deceive you.

J: Yes, you do, you’re a woman.
Link (via BoingBoing). Calling this a conversation is a little misleading of me. These robots are merely responding to the most recent line of text they see. They lack a short-term memory and thus do not understand themselves to be carrying on a conversation. Yet, to me at least, they sure sound like people carrying on a conversation—a conversation between two smart people who are a little bit socially awkward, and who perhaps are fluent in English but not native speakers. But science has a name for this false impression I get: the ELIZA effect. I bet these bots could make beautiful spam poetry.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

And Now We Pause for Salvador Dali on "What's My Line?"


(Via BoingBoing.)

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Hottest Signers of the Declaration of Independence

My nineteen-year-old sister-in-law Kristin and her friend Erin have devoted time out of their busy schedules to compile a list of the top three hottest signers of the Declaration of Independence. I don't really have my own opinion, but I thought it was worth posting the list as a public resource.

3. Matthew Thornton

Represented: New Hampshire

Outside of Signing the Declaration, Best Known For: Serving as surgeon to the New Hampshire militia, writing political essays, presiding over the New Hampshire House of Representatives, drafting the first New Hampshire state constitution

Likes: Microscopes, hygiene, ferryboats

Dislikes: Syphilis, small pox

Fun Fact: He arrived late to the Continental Congress, just barely in time to sign his name.

Kristin and Erin Say: "Surgeon name: Doctor McTreaty"

2. Thomas Jefferson

Represented: Virginia

Outside of Signing the Declaration, Best Known For: Becoming the third President, agreeing to the Louisiana Purchase, founding the University of Virginia, having an affair with one of his slaves, and actually writing the Declaration

Likes: Books, fine wine, architecture, horticulture

Dislikes: Public speaking, the Supreme Court

Fun Fact: He was the first President to shake hands with foreign dignitaries rather than bow to them.

Kristin and Erin Say: "He flirted his way into the rankings . . . plus he has a nice house and an extensive organic garden."

1. Arthur Middleton

Represented: South Carolina

Outside of Signing the Declaration, Best Known For: Leading South Carolina's American Party, lending his name to a WWII navy transport ship, becoming a Revolutionary War P.O.W.

Likes: European music, literature, and art

Dislikes: Loyalists

Fun Fact: His fellow South Carolinans elected him Governor in 1778, but he declined the post.

Kristin and Erin Say: "If you look like him, call me."

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The Definitive Chicken Presentation


For further reading, download the PDF from the Annals of Improbable Research (via Language Log).

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Clean Water through Child Labor

Playpumps International, a South Africa–U.S. nonprofit, builds drinking-water wells in impoverished parts of Africa that are pumped by children playing on fun, colorful merry-go-rounds. Clean water, fun, and exercise—Pruned thinks it's such a winning idea it should migrate to the obese Southwestern United States. You always see these kids in Sally Struthers public service ads just lying around, so somebody finally decided to put them to work. And if you want more water, you can just grow more kids. I guess children really are Africa's most valuable resource.

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Sharing Is Caring

One of my Business Associates (and good friends) is developing a social-sharing website called Verve7. The idea is sharing stories, pictures, videos, and everything else of interest from around the web with your friends and "friends," all the while racking up pennies that go straight to charities you select. Right now the site is in a preview mode, but each person who is invited and signs up will cause one penny to be donated to Verve7's nonprofit partners, which are currently the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative and Path, a global health organization. If any TGR readers want an invitation, leave your email address in the comments or send it to me through the submission page or at the email address at the bottom of this page.

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Monday, May 14, 2007

President Bush: Leader of Orchestra, Leader of America

The Grave Digger

President Bush surprised musicians and audience members alike when he took over conducting the 400-strong symphony.

JoAnn Falletta, conductor, soon realized President Bush was behind her "motioning for a try."

"Smiling at me kind of devilishly," Falletta said.

She gave him her baton and stepped aside.

Gesturing exuberantly the president led the orchestra during part of its performance of "Stars and Stripes Forever."

The music was played for Bush's exit after his speech at a ceremony commemorating the founding 400 years ago of Jamestown, America's first permanent English settlement.

The musicians, made up of about 50 members of the Virginia Symphony as well several individuals from youth orchestras around the country, were impressed by how musical Bush was. "He was cueing the brass, he was cueing the percussion, he kept the tempo going," Falletta said.

Link. Until 2004, President Bush was noted as the 'second most musical member of the family' behind Spot.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Macavity Cat: A Typical Commute

The Grave Digger
English bus drivers have nicknamed a white cat Macavity after it has started using the the busy Walsall to Wolverhampton bus several mornings a week.

The cat was nicknamed Macavity after the mystery cat in T.S Elliot's poem. He gets on the bus in front of a row of 1950s semi-detached houses and jumps off at the next stop: a row of shops down the road which include a fish and chip shop.
This cat has been taking the bus several times a week since January.

Passenger, Paul Brennan, 19, who catches the 331 to work, said: "I first noticed the cat a few weeks ago. At first I thought it had been accompanied by its owner but after the first stop it became quite clear he was on his own.

"He sat at the front of the bus, waited patiently for the next stop and then got off. It was was quite strange at first but now it just seems normal. I suppose he is the perfect passenger really - he sits quietly, minds his own business and then gets off."

Link to the original post. I Can Has Cheezburger? has an intimate interview with Macavity, with direct quotes about the trials and tribulations of a bus commute.

A brief survey of American Bus Drivers revealed the following statistics about suggested names for a bus-riding cat

41% Whiskers
37% Snowball
18% "Get offa my bus, devil-eyed cat!"
04% White kitty

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Philadelphia's Future of Political Markets

I've been participating in a political futures market on the Iowa Electronic Markets, which, according to Slate's Melonyce McAfee, is the only market in the United States that legally allows people to bet real money on the outcomes of political races:
Why is the IEM allowed to accept cash? The government has said it won't prosecute. The Iowa markets were started in 1988 as a teaching aid at the University of Iowa's Tippie business school to give students experience in a real futures marketplace. In 1993, the not-for-profit entity received a "no-action letter" from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, which regulates certain markets associated with financial, commercial, or economic interests. CFTC staff said it would leave the IEM alone as long as it operates under certain stipulations—that it exists for academic purposes, doesn't engage in advertising, and administrators don't profit from it. No other political prediction market in the United States has gotten the same deal.
Link. The markets are designed to predict the winner of elections by utilizing "the wisdom of crowds," the idea being that a crowd of people, aggregating their information and judgment, will end up at the optimal outcome. Futures markets, some say, are as good or better at predicting events than are individual experts or even polls. The general idea is that you buy a share in a particular event (say, Barry Goldwater being elected president) and your return is based on whether that event comes to pass. In a winner-takes-all (WTA) market, you would earn, say, a dollar if Goldwater was elected and zero if he was not. In a vote-share (VS) market, you would earn as many cents on the dollar as Goldwater earned percentage points of the vote--if Goldwater got 43 percent of the vote, you would earn back 43 cents, whether or not Goldwater won.

The market I've been trading in is meant to predict the outcome of the Philadelphia mayoral primary, which is five days away. Since Philadelphia is a heavily Democratic city, the winner of the Democratic primary is more than likely going to be the winner of November's general election and the next mayor. There are five major candidates in the primary, and almost all of them have lead in the polls or otherwise been the presumptive winner at some point in the campaign. Right now polls show former city council member Mike Nutter surging ahead of businessman Tom Knox, who had been leading for the past couple months. Before that, congressmen Bob Brady and Chaka Fattah had each been considered frontrunners.

I joined the market and started trading with a measly five dollars because I wanted to help in the prediction, because I'm a little bit of a wonk and had been following the race more than your average citizen, and because the Philadelphia Inquirer and University of Pennsylvania put up my five-dollar stake. So has the market done a good job at efficiently predicting the winner?

Not really. Of course, the election hasn't happened yet, so I can't say who the winner will be or how right the market was. But what I can say with some certainty is, probably due to low participation and skewed results by a few idiot traders, the market has failed.

The WTA market is pretty straightforward and there is some hope for it. In that market, you should simply buy shares in the candidate you think is going to win the election. The price you are willing to pay should be based on the chances you perceive the candidate having. In that market, Nutter is currently selling at the highest price, 70 cents, because as an aggregate the participants think Nutter has a 70 percent chance of winning. Knox is behind at 39 cents. The order makes sense, but the prices should tell you something is a little bit wrong: there's no way those two candidates could have those chances of winning, because the total chances for all candidates must add up to 100 percent.

It's the VS market that is completely haywire. The rules there make for different incentives: rather than just buying the candidate you think is going to win and bidding up as high as you think his chances of winning are, you should bid on any candidate where you think the price of the share, in cents, is lower than the share of the vote the candidate is going to get. In a perfectly equal five-man race, that would mean each candidate would get 20 percent of the vote, and each share would pay 20 cents. The Philadelphia race isn't perfectly equal, but it is fairly close. The current frontrunner is polling at 31 percent and the runner-up at 21 percent, with another 21 percent undecided. It's pretty unlikely that anybody, and certainly not more than one person, will get more than 40 percent of the vote. If you accept that premise, it would be irrational to pay more than 40 cents for any single candidate. Yet the asking prices for shares in three of the candidates in the Philly VS market are higher than 40 cents, and have stayed there for days: Knox is at 42 cents, Nutter at 47, and Fattah at a ridiculous 93.5 cents. Again, the order here, though a little surprising, isn't that unbelievable: Fattah could win the election with Nutter and then Knox runners up. But there hasn't been much trading in the VS market for weeks, and those asking prices are to blame. It would be totally irrational to pay 93.5 cents for Fattah unless you think he will win more than 93.5 percent of the vote. No one would ever think that possible—this is Philadelphia, after all, not the Soviet Union. Yet at least one person does: the last price at which Fattah sold was 92.5 cents. That trader will lose money on that share unless Fattah's immediate family are the only voters next Tuesday. Good luck with that one, buddy.

My guess is that the Philadelphia market has flaws because it has too few participants and because at least a few of those participants it does have (like whoever paid 92.5 cents for a share of Fattah in the VS market) are either completely irrational or don't understand the rules of the game. That's the problem with relying on the wisdom of crowds: you need a crowd, and you need it to have some wisdom.

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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

U Accidentally Say I Hugged You

The Grave Digger

Thanks to brookesp. Clearer view of letter here.

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Saturday, May 05, 2007

Saturday Morning Cartoon


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Friday, May 04, 2007

A Thinly Veiled Allegory


There are five Iraqis in a boat in the middle of the ocean. Right in the middle of their boat is a huge spike with barbs all around it and razor edges. The Iraqis don't like it being there, but they don't dare remove it because getting near it is very dangerous and, besides, it is kind of holding the boat together.

Forty Americans pull up alongside in a much bigger, better equipped boat, and they see the spike and the predicament the Iraqis are in. Partly because they think the spike is dangerous to the Iraqis, and partly on the theory that it could be dangerous to other boats, they decide they must remove the spike. Five Americans jump in and swiftly knock out the spike, because despite it being dangerous, they have excellent spike-removal tools.

The Iraqis are partly happy, because now their dangerous spike is gone, and partly worried, because now there is a hole in the bottom of their boat and they are taking on water. The Americans say, "Okay, this water is a new challenge we weren't necessarily expecting, but we have pretty good buckets for bailing out the water." So a few of the Americans get out of the Iraqi boat, and a few more with buckets get in, and the Americans start bailing out the boat. These Americans are trying to teach the Iraqis how to bail out the boat too, but they aren't sure the Iraqis can handle it by themselves. And the problem is, while the Americans have excellent spike-removal tools and decent water-bailing tools, they don't have any hole-repairing tools.

So the Iraqis are trying to learn how to bail and are also trying to work on repairing the boat, but they don't really have any tools whatsoever, so repairing the boat isn't going so well. Every so often a few Americans come off and a few more come on, but by now almost all the Americans have been on the Iraqi boat longer than they would have liked. There is some dispute as to how well the Americans are doing at bailing out the boat, but if the Americans stop bailing, the boat is going to sink, and if the Americans are on it, they will sink with it. And the Americans are divided: half say we need to get out of this sinking boat, and the other half say we have to keep bailing because it would be disastrous if the boat sank. But the problem isn't the water, it's the hole in the boat, and no one knows how to repair it.

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Image credits: The Gulf Stream, Winslow Homer, American, 1899.

Teens Won't Be Teens

Should we eliminate the concept of teenagers? Robert Epstein, a behavioral psychologist associated with UCSD and the Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies who hosts "Psyched!" on Sirius Satellite Radio, thinks so:
Epstein's book, The Case Against Adolescence: Rediscovering the Adult in Every Teen, . . . says that once they can prove themselves competent, kids should have all the rights of adults. "Just about everything we do tells [teens] they're incompetent," Epstein writes. "We protect them from danger (driving, cigarettes, alcohol); we don't trust them to work or own property ... We don't allow them to make basic decisions about their health, education or religion." Epstein's proposal? Allow any kid--of any age--who can "pass one or more relevant competency tests" not only to do constructive things like sign contracts and vote but also to do essentially anything he or she wants: have sex with people of any age, drink, smoke, drive, get a tattoo. "If they can pass an appropriate test of maturity," Epstein writes in a passage that left me a bit queasy, "young people of any age should have access to pornographic materials commensurate with adult access."
Link. YPulse's Anastasia Goodstein argues that, from a historical perspective, Epstein might have a point:
The author Thomas Hine, in his very informative book The Rise and Fall of the American Teenager, argues that both “teenagers” and “youth culture” are modern social constructs that originated from adult workers’ need to keep teens out of the workforce in order to protect their own jobs and that was made permanent with the universal adoption of compulsory high school. These historic facts spawned a new class of young people in between childhood and adulthood called teenagers (the word began to be widely used in 1945).

It was only after World War II that the word teenager began to pick up steam, especially with marketers. That said, we're now on our third generation of teenage culture or youth culture. Right or wrong, historical events/shifts in the labor force pushed teens out of working full time and into compulsory high school, laws were passed raising the drinking age and dictating when teens can drive, work, etc.
Link. But in his review of Epstein's book, Time's John Cloud makes the same case that the Supreme Court did in rejecting the death penalty for minors. Teens may have some adult-like qualities, but there is something real to our sense that they aren't quite as mature as full-grown people yet, and at least for the sake of administrative efficiency, that's enough to draw a bright age line for access to adult rights, privileges, and penalties.

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Image credits: "Emma Watson Drinking a Beer," from some dude's PhotoBucket, borrowed for news-reporting and comment purposes.

It's Not Easy Being Green

The Grave Digger

"Lonesome George" was nicknamed because he was believed to be the only survivor of a tortoise species native to the isle of Pinta.

The giant Galapagos tortoise has been a conservation icon for many years. Now, the journal Current Biology reports the discovery of a hybrid - the offspring from the union of a Pinta tortoise and another island species.

Unfortunately for efforts to get George to reproduce, this hybrid tortoise, recently found on Isabela isle, is also a male.

Nonetheless, its discovery in a relatively small sample of tortoises raises fresh hope for the future of George's species (Geochelone abingdoni).
Researchers say that a genetic sampling of more Isabela isle tortoises could reveal another genetically pure Pinta. Even so, it appears George is a particularly choosy individual: he has a "stubborn aversion to the opposite sex."

When George was placed in captivity at the Charles Darwin Research Station on the island of Santa Cruz, he was housed with two female tortoises from a species taken from Isabela.

After 35 years, he has failed to produce any offspring; though, admittedly, none of these tortoises has belonged to George's species.
Link. I believe that if these scientists had done a little more research, they would find John Tierney's Flaw-o-matic explains it all.
In this meta-analysis of online dating and speed dating, we propose a corollary to the Flaw-O-Matic theory of romantic revulsion. Current research reveals that the Flaw-O-Matic, a mechanism in the brain that instantly finds fault with any potential mate, can be reoriented positively in certain conditions through a newly identified process, the Sally Field Effect.
Thanks to a revolution in dating research over the past decade, the Flaw-O-Matic now looks like a more versatile mechanism than we theoretical pioneers imagined. Tierney discovered that
Just as Darwin could have predicted, the researchers have found that women are pickier than men. While men concentrate mainly on looks and will ask out a lot of women as long as they’re above a certain threshold of attractiveness, women focus on fewer prospects.
Do the female tortoises of another species look remarkably different? This could be the source of George's Flaw-o-matic.

Tierney found that women are less willing to date someone of another race. If another race is a setback, how about a different species? Is George to blame for that? Here are some other specifications women have.
They prefer taller men, but they’re willing to relax their standards for the Ron Perelmans of the world, as revealed in a study of more than 20,000 online daters by Gunter Hitsch and Ali Hortacsu of the University of Chicago and Dan Ariely of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

They found that a 5-foot-8 man was just as successful in getting dates as a 6-footer if he made more money — precisely $146,000 a year more. For a 5-foot-2 man, the number was $277,000.
Link (registration required). What's the answer? We should try tortoise speed dating.
These speed daters were looking for someone who shared their distaste for the others in the room: someone who was just as picky as they were. When they found that person, and neither one of them sneered or bolted, that hectoring little voice in the brain was suddenly transformed into a purring engine of love. They gazed dreamily into each other’s eyes, channeled a certain actress on Oscar night, and thought: “Your Flaw-O-Matic likes me! It really likes me!”
So researchers: my message is to provide George with more income, introduce him to several lady tortoises over a short period of time, and let the Flaw-O-Matics fly.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Between Iraq and a Hard Place

A friend of mine edits a new site in the Newsweek and Washington Post network called Post Global. David Ignatius and Fareed Zakaria post questions about international affairs, and reporters and writers from different regions around the world post short essays in response. I encourage everyone to check it out, and a good place to start is "America, It's Your Baby," by Lebanon's Michael Young, which has kicked a reader-comment beehive and responds to Ignatius's question:
There are two kinds of land mines: the kind that explodes when you step on it, and the kind that explodes when you take your foot off. Which kind is Iraq? How can it be defused?

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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Music for May

Cowboys, Spies, and Surfers:

Cross-posted at MarsIAm.

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Christians Are Liars

Most of the people who tell you that abstinence is the only 100 percent effective method of contraception believe in the virgin birth.

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