Thursday, August 31, 2006

I've been paying intermittently close attention to the Duke lacrosse rape case over the last few months. The case against the lacrosse playeres has been slowly falling apart, as more and more evidence demonstrates the innocence of the Duke students and the contradictions and inconsistencies in the case of the stripper who accused them. Which is why I was at first surprised, and later disgusted, to read the Times page-1, 5,600 word piece on the subject - "Files From Duke Rape Case Give Details but No Answers." The piece tells us, examination of the entire 1,850 pages of evidence gathered by the prosecution in the four months after the accusation yields a more ambiguous picture. It shows that while there are big weaknesses in [prosecutor] Mr. Nifong’s case, there is also a body of evidence to support his decision to take the matter to a jury.
And what is this body of evidence? If you read the Times piece, you will discover the main evidence supporting the rape charge is....notes written down by a police sargeant from memory four months after interviewing the alleged victim. These notes, having been written at a time when gaps in the case have been leaked to the press, appear to have the alleged victim saying things that patch up the very same holes. Moreover, they have her saying things that directly contradict what others (who took notes at the scene) have her saying at the time:
As recounted in one investigator’s notes, one of the indicted players does not match the accuser’s initial physical descriptions of her attackers: she said all three were chubby or heavyset, but one is tall and skinny. In Sergeant Gottlieb’s version of the same conversation, however, her descriptions closely correspond to the defendants.
The Times takes this extremely shaky piece of evidence produced by a beleagured and criticized police department and runs with it - downplaying many inconvenient facts. Facts such as: one of the players the alleged victim identified as having raped her has an airtight alibi (an ATM video camera has him a mile away from the crime scene, coupled with an affidavit from a taxi driver and the record of a key-card swipe at his dorm, all spanning the time period when the rape allegedly occured); the complete lack of DNA evidence (despite the alleged victim's statement that she spat out semen onto the floor, and that her rapists did not use condoms, both of which, it goes without saying, leave DNA evidence); the fact that the other stripper at the party told the police she was not away for the accuser for more than five minutes, and that she did not observe the rape (by constrast, the accuser says she was raped for 30 minutes).

If you are interested in more details, see this piece at Slate, which does a good job of running through the many contradictions/inconsistencies in the case. See also an open letter to the Times, by Brooklyn/CUNY history professor K.C. Johnson.

In short, its disgusting to see the lengths to which the Times will go to push its own political agenda. Besides the obvious immorality of biasing news towards one's preferred conclusion, there is also the future of the students accused which is at stake.

I'm wondering how people on the left approach this incident. Do you agree that there is something clearly wrong with the New York Times here - perhaps a simple lack of journalistic ethics, perhaps an inability to separate facts from one's preferred version of the events? How could such blatant violations of ethics occur, especially given that the story has been written by two reporters and looked at, most likely, by a multitude of editors? How widespread is the problem - is it limited to this article/issue or does it pervade the Times coverage generally?

Sunday, August 27, 2006

If there is a grain of truth in this, I am going to be so fucking angry.

Monday, August 21, 2006

This is from a guide to dating geeks:
If you're not up on your Star Trek, you can forget about getting or keeping a geek dude. And I'm not just talking vintage-era Captain Kirk and Spock either. You've got to be up on your The Next Generation, your Deep Space Nine, your Babylon 5. Armed with your own knowledge of Federation policies, you can better gauge when and how to act. The sexual politics of Star Trek are pretty blunt: the men run the technology and the ship, and the women are caretakers (a doctor and a counselor). Note the sexual tensions on the bridge of the Enterprise: the women, in skin tight uniforms, and with luxuriant, flowing hair. The men, often balding, and sporting some sort of permanently attached computer auxiliary. This world metaphorizes the fantasies of the geek dude, who sees himself in the geeky-but-heroic male officers and who secretly desires a sexy, smart, Deanna or Bev to come along and deferentially accept him for who he is. If you are willing to accept that this is his starting point for reality, you are ready for a geek relationship.

Interesting fact:
...the number of Americans killed by international terrorism since the late 1960s (which is when the State Department began counting) is about the same as the number of Americans killed over the same period by lightning, accident-causing deer, or severe allergic reaction to peanuts.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

The latest Connecticut poll has Lieberman at 53%, Lamont at 41%, and Schlesinger at 4%. What Lieberman loses in lack of support from the democrats, he more than makes up for by getting 75% of the republican vote in the poll.

I'm not going to predict the outcome of this race - I simply don't know enough about CT politics, nor am I able to gauge the national mood at this stage. But given that the odds currently offered by as of writing this are 68% for Lieberman and 32% for Lamont, and given that betting markets have been shown to be not-too-inefficient in past political races, I think we can safely assume that a Lieberman win is the most likely scenario.

It seems that the liberal blog crowd (i.e. kos, atrios, etc) has made a tremendous miscalculation here. If Lieberman wins, not only will he feel much fewer obligations to democrats - who, after all, rejected him as a candiate - he will be keenly aware where his votes have come from. As an independent senator in an increasingly polarized country, Lieberman will have to make choices that put his republican base at odds with his democratic one. At this point, its completely uncertain that which side he will swing should the chips really come down (for example, should the senate be split so that one vote will make a difference). In the end, Lieberman is a politician; given that he can stick to his basic principles as either a liberal republican or a conservative democrat, he is probably going to pick the option that will make re-election easiest. So the same liberal bloggers who profess that their most important goal is to retake Congress have ended up jeopardizing this goal out for the sake of what seems like personal enmity for a defender of the Iraq war.

Still, I think that a Lieberman win would be good for the party. It would certainly demonstrate that the rank and file of the party and the "netroots" are quite out of touch with the average American voter. I'm hopeful that it would lead the sober people at the head of the party to intervene more frequently in local races to keep the influence of the bloggers and activists in check.

The following bit from Steven Levitt's Freakonomics was quite surprising to me:
There is a strong correlation—a negative one—between adoption and school test scores. Why? Studies have shown that a child's academic abilities are far more influenced by the IQs of his biological parents than the IQs of his adoptive parents, and mothers who give up their children for adoption tend to have significantly lower IQs than the people who are doing the adopting. There is another explanation for low-achieving adoptees which, though it may seem distasteful, jibes with the basic economic theory of self-interest: a woman who knows she will put her baby up for adoption may not take the same prenatal care as a woman who is keeping her baby. (Consider—at the risk of furthering the distasteful thinking—how you treat a car you own versus a car you are renting for the weekend.)...

In a paper titled "The Nature and Nurture of Economic Outcomes," the economist Bruce Sacerdote addressed the nature-nurture debate by taking a long-term quantitative look at the effects of parenting. He used three adoption studies, two American and one British, each of them containing in-depth data about the adopted children, their adoptive parents, and their biological parents. Sacerdote found that parents who adopt children are typically smarter, better educated, and more highly paid than the baby's biological parents. But the adoptive parents' advantages had little bearing on the child's school performances. As also seen in the ECLS data, adopted children test relatively poorly in school; any influence the adoptive parents might exert is seemingly outweighed by the force of genetics. But, Sacerdote found, the parents were not powerless forever. By the time the adopted children became adults, they had veered sharply from the destiny that IQ alone might have predicted. Compared to similar children who were not put up for adoption, the adoptees were far more likely to attend college, to have a well-paid job, and to wait until they were out of their teens before getting married. It was the influence of the adoptive parents, Sacerdote concluded, that made the difference.

Why is amazon's book recommendation feature so bad?

Think about it: the data that amazon has collected - which books people buy, look at, browse, post reviews at, read customer reviews, etc - is a social scientist's wet dream. Amazon is uniquely suited to suggest books to you that you may not even know exist. Instead, my recommendations are almost entirely composed of books by authors that I've bought/put on my wish list.

Another frustrating feature is that its very difficult to search the lists amazon customers make. I was trying to list three or four of my favorite books so that I could see if someone had perhaps made a list with them included. Guess what - thats impossible to do this on the amazon site, as far as I can tell.

The sad thing, amazon could be so much better. If only their book recommendation and listsearch functions were better, I'd probably spend hours and hours on their website scouring for books. The only explanation I have is that is not giving them enough competition.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

This is amusing, from a book review by Freeman Dyson:
When I was a junior fellow at Trinity College, Cambridge, Hardy was my mentor. As a junior fellow I enjoyed the privilege of dining at the high table with the old and famous. During my tenure, Professor Simpson, one of the old and famous fellows, died. Simpson had a strong sentimental attachment to the college and was a religious believer. He left instructions that he should be cremated and his ashes should be scattered on the bowling green in the fellows' garden where he loved to walk and meditate. A few days after he died, a solemn funeral service was held for him in the college chapel. His many years of faithful service to the college and his exemplary role as a Christian scholar and teacher were duly celebrated.

In the evening of the same day I took my place at the high table. One of the neighboring places at the table was empty. Professor Hardy, contrary to his usual habit, was late for dinner. After we had all sat down and the Latin grace had been said, Hardy strolled into the dining hall, ostentatiously scraping his shoes on the wooden floor and complaining in a loud voice for everyone to hear, "What is this awful stuff they have put on the grass in the fellows' garden? I can't get it off my shoes." Hardy, of course, knew very well what the stuff was. He had always disliked religion in general and Simpson's piety in particular, and he was taking his opportunity for a little revenge.

The latest NY Review of Books has an interesting piece on Stefan Zweig.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The Post has an interesting summary of some recent research:
American women earn substantially more money and narrow the long-standing gender gap in income if other women in their workplaces reach the ranks of senior management, according to a new national study presented here.

By contrast, the study found, increasing the number of women managers in junior positions makes no difference to the gender gap -- women on average continue to earn about 20 percent less than men.

Surprisingly, men who work for women managers seem to do slightly worse in income than men who work for men, irrespective of whether the women managers are in senior positions.

The study answers for the first time what happens to workers when women break through the glass ceiling, and is based on 1.3 million American workers in nearly 30,000 jobs and 79 metropolitan areas...

Cohen and University of California at Irvine sociologist Matt L. Huffman found that women earn about 81 percent of what men make, and that figure remains unchanged when the number of junior-level women managers rises from 2 percent to more than 50 percent. But when women become senior managers, female workers earn 91 percent of men's salaries.

The sociologists used data from the 2000 census that asked Americans about their professional lives, including the industry they work in and their incomes. The sociologists then compared the information against what was known about the ratio of male and female managers in particular industries, and how senior the female managers were in each of those local industries. They accounted for dozens of other variables, including race, geographic location, size of workers' families, education and experience.

For example, the sociologists found 1,887 restaurant managers in the Los Angeles area and 10,422 restaurant workers. There were far more female restaurant managers in Los Angeles than in New York, but the Los Angeles female managers were more likely to be low-level. Consistent with the study's findings, women restaurant workers in New York earned 95 percent of the pay of their male counterparts, while workers in Los Angeles earned 92 percent of what men made.
I have not seen the paper. I do wonder, though, how solid the conclusion is.

There are two immediate theories that would explain the data described in this report. One is that the presence of female managers lessens anti-women discrimination in the workplace, thereby increasing earnings by women. Another is that the success of women in the workplace - both in terms of earnings and chance of making the senior management - is positively correlated with some cultural factors which differ from city to city in the US - it may be just my prejudices, but I think women are more succesful relative to men in San Francisco than in Wichita, Kansas.

Both of the above explanations, if true, would produce a correlation between number of female managers and earnings by women. The first explanation though would imply a causation from the former to the latter, while the second would not. So I wonder whether Cohen and Huffman managed to rule out alternative explanations.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

It seems like this is not a joke. Wow.

I liked this bit:
Midway through Assad's speech, members of the audience who said they were Lebanese stood up loudly thanked Assad.

"Without the support of our sister country Syria, we would not be able to achieve what we have achieved," one woman screamed.

The audience then broke into applause and shouts of "With our blood, with our soul, we redeem you, Oh Bashar!"

MSNBC reports on our president's summer reading:
[Bush] read Albert Camus's The Stranger, triggering a discussion about existentialism with his aides. "He found it an interesting book and a quick read," said [White House Press Secretary Tony] Snow. "I don't want to go too deep into it, but we discussed the origins of existentialism."

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Geoffrey Stone remarks on the unethical sectarianism that pervades that current US government.

I was reading a Times article about Walmart when I came upon this:

In Germany, Wal-Mart stopped requiring sales clerks to smile at customers — a practice that some male shoppers interpreted as flirting — and scrapped the morning Wal-Mart chant by staff members.

“People found these things strange; Germans just don’t behave that way,” said Hans-Martin Poschmann, the secretary of the Verdi union, which represents 5,000 Wal-Mart employees here.
There is a Walmart chant?

Germans are not the only ones who do not behave this way; am I the only one that finds this pretty weird?

After some googling, I found the following in an online forum:

Twice a day there is a walmart chant at every store. Before the morning shift and before the evening shift walmart employees gather for a meeting so that the company can tell them about how well the business is going...These meetings end with rhythmic clapping and the walmart chant. "Give me a W!, W!", "Give me an A!, A!"
Its like never graduating high school.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Slate has an interesting piece on rereading The Three Musketeers as an adult.

Surprise! Michael Crichton, Ann Coulter, and others do not understand science. Peter Doran, from the University of Illinois at Chicago, has an op-ed in today's Times:

In January 2002, a research paper about Antarctic temperatures, of which I was the lead author, appeared in the journal Nature...

My research colleagues and I found that from 1986 to 2000, one small, ice-free area of the Antarctic mainland had actually cooled.Our report also analyzed temperatures for the mainland in such a way as to remove the influence of the peninsula warming and found that, from 1966 to 2000, more of the continent had cooled than had warmed....

....many news and opinion writers..erroneously concluded that the earth was not warming at all. “Scientific findings run counter to theory of global warming,” said a headline on an editorial in The San Diego Union-Tribune. One conservative commentator wrote, “It’s ironic that two studies suggesting that a new Ice Age may be under way may end the global warming debate.”

In a rebuttal in The Providence Journal...I explained that our studies offered no evidence that the earth was cooling. But the misinterpretation had already become legend, and in the four and half years since, it has only grown.

Our results have been misused as “evidence” against global warming by Michael Crichton in his novel “State of Fear” and by Ann Coulter in her latest book, “Godless: The Church of Liberalism.” Search my name on the Web, and you will find pages of links to everything from climate discussion groups to Senate policy committee documents — all citing my 2002 study as reason to doubt that the earth is warming.

The Post has an interesting article about the current popularity of a now deceased brutal dictator in the Congo. Mobutu Seko is probably most familiar to Americans as the villain of Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible (I say this because the book is in Oprah's book club). He seems to be having a resurgence:
On the eve of the first multiparty balloting here since 1960, nostalgia was running high for a man who, though corrupt and brutal, kept united a country that has experienced little but mayhem since he was driven from power in 1997.
This bit I did not know:
Mobutu, a former army officer who took power in a 1965 coup, was one of Africa's archetypal Big Men, putting his image on currency, on pictures in public buildings and on billboards across the country. The evening news began with images of him descending, god-like, through the clouds. And he changed his name to an eight-word phrase meaning "the all-powerful warrior who, because of his endurance and inflexible will to win, will go from conquest to conquest, leaving fire in his wake."