Wednesday, February 29, 2012

February 29: It comes around (almost) every 4 years

Well, it's another leap year! This is one of the strange things about the calendar: the creation of a day that occurs only once almost every four years. (Remember: there wasn't a February 29, 2000.)

If you were born on this day, then a very Happy Birthday! to you.  If you were born on this day in 1976, you're "9". In other words, you're older than me, in terms of years, but I'm older than you in terms of birthdays-on-your-actual-birthday.

(And thus we understand the complete construction that the calendar is.)

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Why Santorum scares me

Former Pennsylvania senator, Rick Santorum, is running for the presidential nomination from the GOP. And he scares me. More specifically, his politics scare me. His religious persuasions scare me. His rationalizations that are drawn from his religious persuasions scare me.

The only thing that he has going for him is that he appears to be determinately consistent in what he says (but based on what he is saying, this is only another reason for me to be scared).

Like all of the GOP contenders, he supports a personhood amendment (either to individual state constitutions or to the US constitution). This is problematic in its extreme, since such a bill would make natural abortion tantamount to manslaughter. It would make taking the morning after pill tantamount to murder. It would, in essence, make a single cell equivalent to a human being. And that's not just ludicrous, but it's also scary when you map out the implications.

Like all of the GOP contenders, Santorum is against Obama's healthcare reform law. He has many reasons for why he's against it, but - like with many things - he turns it toward social reasons, citing the recent Obama compromise with Catholic institutions (not the Catholic churches, but the not-at-all-a-church institutions that Catholics run) with regard to birth control as being an over reach and a destruction of the separation of church and state. He doesn't either realize (or agree) that the church isn't a flesh-and-blood person, and that the constitution is meant to protect the people and not institutions (like religions and corporations). The rights of the individual citizen ought to trump the rights of a foreign organization.

Like many of the GOP contenders, Santorum supports the continued use of what all of our allies call torture. He doesn't care that there is no empirical evidence to show that torture might work (there isn't any). He doesn't care that it's illegal. He doesn't care that it destroys our credibility in the international arena. He doesn't care that it's also against the teachings of his Catholic church.

Like many of the GOP contenders, Santorum isn't only against abortion - at any stage, including (presumably) when the zygote is only a single cell - but he is also against birth control and against sex education in schools. Now try to figure that one out: if you don't want abortions, then you should teach people how to not get themselves into a position to have an abortion (which contraceptives and sex education that includes the proper use of contraceptives) would include. However, Santorum apparently believes that sex should only take place in a marriage and should only take place for the purpose of creating babies. (Never mind that other religions might disagree with his take on Catholicism. Never mind that non-religious people might disagree with his take on Catholicism. Never mind that it's not his business what happens in the bedroom; and if his god were so worried, then his god will have the final say anyway.) This position is worrisome, since it is not only openly based on having the government impose his religious convictions on the people, but it is also a fundamentally unconstitutional position to take, based on the fourth amendment.

However, Santorum seems to take the extremism even further. He rails against colleges and universities as being the locations through which Satan works his destruction on the nation. He says that a liberal arts education will destroy America. (He obviously is confusing "liberal arts education" with "liberal politics"; he should read an encyclopedia about it.) And why is he against higher education? Apparently it's because people become less religious after going to university. Well, to me, that merely points to finger to potential problems of religion, and not problems of education. However, would he take his personal feelings about the moral problems (as he sees them) of universities and start to slash any university research? Will he remove all funding for university loans? What about education funding under the GI Bill? Never mind that such actions will destroy any chance that the US has in maintaining its standing in the world as a center for higher education, scientific research, and technical training.

Also, Santorum says that he is for "stewardship" of the environment, but doesn't apparently know what that word means, since he doesn't apparently want to protect the environment, saying that doing such things is part of a "radical environmentalist" agenda "that puts the environment before man." Again, this is problematic for a few reasons. Let's start with the religious reason: such a form of convoluted logic seems to stem from a very particular reading of the Christian Bible that says that God - and God alone - will be the force that brings about the end of the world; ergo humans cannot bring about the end of the world. If this is the guiding force for such statements, then his perceptions on what can and cannot take place in the environment that is shared by all citizens (and globally by all humans and all living things) will be governed by his personal religious conviction that the world won't end because of human activity. Which means that global warming isn't being caused by humans (and if it is, then it must be God's will). It means that species extinction isn't a problem (because it is God's will). It means that dropping aquifer levels aren't a problem; salination of cropland due to over-irrigation isn't a problem; heavy metal exposure isn't a problem: it's God's will. In such a world view - one with a complete devotion to what he sees as God's will - why would one worry about environmental regulation that protects people's health and allows for future growth of a population? After all, God will provide...

Santorum is also consistent when it comes to his vehement stance against all abortions. When asked about whether he would allow for abortions in the case of rape or incest, he said that he was against that, too, using the analogy that all life is a gift from God and that we need to accept all his gifts, even the ones that aren't perfect. It's for this reason that he also is against pre-natal screenings. In his mind, these lead to greater levels of abortions, since people will choose to make a decision that they don't want a child with developmental diseases or wish to carry through with a pregnancy that may be physically harmful to the mother. It's all against God's will, and therefore they should be banned.

Santorum apparently doesn't care about the US Constitution or the interpretation of the constitution by the Supreme Court over the past several decades. Either that or Santorum has never read the US Constitution. Or he just fails utterly to understand what the words mean. If he was a laughing stock candidate, rated at the bottom of every poll, I would be worried, but not scared. That he is currently vying for the candidacy of his party is what worries me and what scares me.

... or what Andrew Sullivan writes here.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Choosing the right metaphor

Metaphors are important, not only because they help color the language of day-to-day use, but also because they happen to affect how people think about the topics to which the metaphors are applied.

For example, the "War on Drugs" and the "Drug Tzar" are both strong metaphors that are arrayed against the social ill of drugs. But what does it do? It changes how people approach the very topic of drugs. And the impact of the metaphors on how people think about a topic has been studied:
In a series of five experiments, Paul Thibodeau and Lera Boroditsky from Stanford University have shown how influential metaphors can be. They can change the way we try to solve big problems like crime. They can shift the sources that we turn to for information. They can polarise our opinions to a far greater extent than, say, our political leanings. And most of all, they do it under our noses. Writers know how powerful metaphors can be, but it seems that most of us fail to realise their influence in our everyday lives.

First, Thibodeau and Boroditsky asked 1,482 students to read one of two reports about crime in the City of Addison. Later, they had to suggest solutions for the problem. In the first report, crime was described as a “wild beast preying on the city” and “lurking in neighbourhoods”. After reading these words, 75% of the students put forward solutions that involved enforcement or punishment, such as calling in the National Guard or building more jails. Only 25% suggested social reforms such as fixing the economy, improving education or providing better health care

The second report was exactly the same, except it described crime as a “virus infecting the city” and “plaguing” neighbourhoods. After reading this version, only 56% opted for more enforcement, while 44% suggested social reforms. The metaphors affected how the students saw the problem, and how they proposed to fix it.

And very few of them realised what was going on. The two reports both contained the same “shocking” statistics about Addison’s crime rates. When Thibodeau and Boroditsky asked the students to say which bits of text had most influenced their decisions, the vast majority circled the numbers. Only 3% noted the metaphors.

Compared to students who read about crime as a virus, those who read the “beast” report were more likely to suggest enforcement over social reforms. They were more likely to view police officers as people who catch and punish criminals, rather than people who deter crime or act as role models. They were more likely to look for more information about prisons and the size of the police force, than about poverty levels or youth programs. And as before, they thought the statistics in the report were more important than the language.

But these words have no weight on their own; it’s their context that gives them power. When Thibodeau and Boroditsky asked students to come up with synonyms for either “beast” or “virus” before reading identical crime reports, they provided similar solutions for solving Addison’s woes. In fact, the metaphors only work if they frame the rest of the text. If the critical sentence came at the end of the report, it didn’t have any effect.
Words have power, and they affect the way one can describe science - and how people can come to understand science. When done well, it can have a powerful impact for "good" learning:
These issues apply to science too. Metaphors about electricity as flowing water or teeming crowds can affect a student’s ability to wire up circuit diagrams. Good metaphors can make a complex and obtuse world seem exciting and accessible. A world of telomeres, epigenetic marks and enzymes can be brought to life by comparing them to shoelace tips, Post-it notes, locks and keys.
But not all metaphors are the same. Some metaphors are not as good in describing scientific ideas, suffusing them with metaphors that perhaps carry with them moral or social judgments:
But bad metaphors can do a great disservice to the public understanding of science. The idea of the “evolutionary ladder” perpetuates the myth that evolution is about a steady linear march towards complexity. The militaristic metaphor of the “war on cancer” threatens to undervalue achievements in treatment that fall short of a total cure. The idea of the brain as a computer creates all sorts of misconceptions about how different parts of the brain work, how memories are stored and whether we will ever be able to download or upload our minds.
I would say that this is a problem in the heavily applied fields of science: environmental management, public health management, social work, education, etc. "Normative science" is what R.T. Lackey calls it (although I think that he's a bit too much of a purist with his language concerns).

Friday, February 24, 2012

Welfare, the dole, relief: Concepts use different words over time

Continuing with this week's "theme" of language, it should not come as a surprise to anyone that language evolves; it changes; it morphs; it turns. This happens for various reasons, and when it does, words that used to mean one thing take on a different or additional meaning.

For example, take the word "quaint". The modern definition is:
having an old-fashioned attractiveness or charm; oddly picturesque
However, it was also used by Chaucer to mean (whether directly or as a pun on its similarity in sound) "The female external genitals":
This hende Nicholas Fil with this yonge wyf to rage and pleye‥and pryuely he caughte hire by the queynte.
Although this usage is - according to the OED - rare after the late 16th century.

World Wide Words is a great site to look up strange, old, and weird words and phrases. There, you can see the origin of the word "burger" as well as the phrase "back to square one"... and many more.

If you look up "Welfare" on World Wide Words, you find an entry dating WAAAAY back to April 4, 1998. This is what it has to say on the subject:
The word welfare, like the closely-related wealth, has moved a long way since it first appeared in the fourteenth century.
Well, that's not at doubt at all. Many words have changed over the course of 600-odd years...
It was formed as a combination of well, in the sense we still use it, with fare. The latter was originally a verb meaning “to travel” (the modern German verb fahren is a close relative). ...

Originally welfare meant the state or condition of how well one was doing, of one’s happiness, good fortune or prosperity. Shakespeare has Queen Margaret say in Henry VI: “Take heed, my lord; the welfare of us all / Hangs on the cutting short that fraudful man”...

This remained so until the beginning of [the 20th] century, when changes in the relationship between individuals and the state caused an extended sense to appear of an organised effort to maintain the members of a community in a state of well-being, both physical and economic. One reason for this new usage was that older terms, particularly charity, had too many unacceptable overtones relating to recipients’ loss of self-respect and dignity in accepting help. So welfare was useful in expressing similar ideas but without this historical baggage of associations.
The OED backs up this description of what "welfare" meant by the early 20th century:
4a. The maintenance of members of a group or community in a state of (esp. physical and economic) well-being, esp. as provided for and organized by legislation or social effort.
Another term that was in vogue at the time - and which had its origins waaaay back in the 14th century as well, is "the dole". Going back to the OED:
6a. That which is distributed or doled out; esp. a gift of food or money made in charity; hence, a portion sparingly doled out; spec. (usu. the dole); the popular name for the various kinds of weekly payments made from national and local funds to the unemployed since the war of 1914–18. Phr. (to be or go) on the dole : (to be or start being) in receipt of such unemployment relief; also transf. and fig.

1362 Langland Piers Plowman A. iii. 63 Whon ȝe ȝiuen doles.
1480 Caxton Chron. Eng. (1482) ccxlvi. 311 A dole to poure peple of vi shyllynges viii pens to be delyd peny mele.
So, "the dole" and "welfare" were close in meaning during the end of World War I (1918ish). One could argue that there were differences in use, but the funds to which they were speaking (public monies to give to the unemployed) were the same; much like "unemployment insurance" and "welfare" are often used interchangeably in today's political rhetoric.

Why focus on the similarity of "welfare" and "the dole"? Well, because apparently PolitiFact can't understand that in Britain, since the end of World War I, "the dole" was meant as "national and local funds to the unemployed" and that "welfare" was meant as "maintenance [as provided for and organized by legislation] of members of a group or community in a state of well-being", and their meanings haven't changed too much. Indeed, if you look at another site for the definition of "dole", you get:
1. (Social Welfare) a small portion or share, as of money or food, given to a poor person
2. (Social Welfare) the act of giving or distributing such portions
3. (Social Welfare) (usually preceded by the) Brit informal money received from the state while out of work
(Social Welfare)
Wow. "The dole" = "social welfare". It's like they are synonymous or something...

What was PolitiFact doing a "fact-check" of? An MSNBC ad by Lawrence O'Donnell, which had this particular phrasing:
"It’s the most successful educational program that we’ve ever had in this country -- and the critics called it welfare."
Their verdict?
We found no evidence of critics referring to the GI Bill as welfare. Yet some fretted that the law’s unemployment compensation element would encourage laziness. We see a touch of truth to O’Donnell’s claim, which we rate Mostly False.
What are they basing this claim on? That no one in the Congress after World War II specifically used the word "welfare"... and that synonyms for welfare don't exist (or don't count as being synonymous). But they did include referents that were used for the MSNBC ad including this one:
-- Comments from Rep. Rankin about fearing a "tremendous inducement to certain elements to try to get employment compensation. It is going to be very easy… to induce these people to get on federal relief." Another Rankin comment, suggesting the proposal would reward those who delayed seeking work: "The bane of the British Empire has been the dole system." He also aired a racist comment, saying: "If every white serviceman in Mississippi… could read this so-called GI Bill, I don’t believe there would be one in 20 who would approve of it... We have 50,000 Negroes in the service from our state and in, in my opinion, if the bill should pass in its present form, a vast majority of them would remain unemployed for at least another year, and a great many white men would do the same."(emphasis mine)
So we have no mention of the term "welfare", but we do have the explicit mention of "the [British] dole system" as well as "employment compensation" and "federal relief". In other pieces that PolitiFact showed on their site, they mention it as "a relief act"; as "veterans entitled to ... schooling at government expense, including subsistence", and as "not a device for coping with mass unemployment". All of these things seem about as synonymous to "welfare" as "the dole" was shown to be above.

However, let's look also look at "relief" at the OED. Will we find that it, too, is a synonym of "welfare"? Yup:
3a. Aid, help, or assistance given to a person or persons in a state of poverty or need; spec. (formerly) assistance given to the poor from funds administered under the Poor Law or from parish doles; (more recently) financial assistance given to those in need by the state under some other legislative provision, such as a system of social security. Also, in recent use: food or other supplies given as assistance in response to a particular disaster, crisis, etc.; freq. as second element in compounds. (emphasis added)

Hmmm.... So "the dole" and "relief" can act as synonyms of "welfare"! It's merely that - as the OED says - relief has recently come to be used in cases of disasters or crises.

But to give PolitiFact a little due, they did place a lot of their burden on the backs of history professors - Stephen Ortiz and Nancy Beck Young. No word in the universities' newspapers about the views of Ortiz and Young about PolitiFact's verdict, nor of the annoyance from MSNBC. However, I want to wend my way back to my original point: words change meaning, and therefore a single concept may well be represented by many different words over time. A Google search for "dole" brings up information about the fruit packing and shipping company; "the dole" brings us a little closer to our definition, but still presents many sites about the company. A Google search for "relief" doesn't get us anywhere near what definition was being invoked in the documents used by MSNBC (and PolitiFact).

In the US, the term "the dole" was never in common parlance, but "relief" was very prominent in use during World War II, dropping to parity with "welfare" during the Vietnam War. The meaning, therefore, of "relief" in 1940s America could well be used as a proxy for our current usage of "welfare".

(Furthermore, contrast this with the UK, where "the dole" did see increased use during and after World War II as well as during the Thatcher years (which was also when "relief" and "welfare" usage rates crossed over.)

In the end, PolitiFact's statement is true to the letter, but fails in fact. It is akin to saying that the Indian government doesn't want to censor contents on Facebook and Google, but merely that they want these companies to follow local laws that amount to censorship, but aren't actually called censorship. It is akin to saying that Pete Hoekstra's recent advertisement wasn't racist, because - although the ad used racially stereotypical imagery meant to heighten xenophobia against Asian people - neither Pete Hoekstra nor the ad director are members of a racist organization. It is akin to saying that there is no such thing as a "separation of Church and State" in the US Constitution - regardless of centuries of Supreme Court jurisprudence as well as national and international governmental policies - because the words "separation of Church and State" are themselves not in the US Constitution. In other words, it's a weak argument that I was disabused of thinking to be an honest argument when I was still in elementary school.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The interrobang (‽)

Continuing on the theme of "language", I would like to formally state that I wish that the interrobang (‽) were a standard part of the QWERTY keyboard.

It would, admittedly, save on typing "!?!?!?!"

However, it will take me a little while for "‽" to have as much gravitas as "?!" (which would make it very useful when making online commentary).

(Also, depending on the font, the interrobang looks kind of pseudo-religious.)

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Listening to books

Yesterday, I wrote some recollections and musings about how we come to read silently to ourselves. Today, I post my recollections and thoughts about listening to books. I came to think of all the following points when I listened to and read the article "Listening to Books" by Maggie Gram. Her opening paragraph really stood out to me:
I used to avoid talking about audio books. In general if you are 28 years old and in graduate school and you listen to audio books then the worst thing about the whole practice is admitting it to your graduate-school peers. Every time a book comes up in conversation, your dude friends will ask “Did you listen to that on audio book?,” and then they will laugh. Less dude-like people, people less invested in making fun of you, will just cock their heads to the side and ask you why you do it. As if liking books were not enough! As if it weren’t the best thing in the world to have someone read to you! As if you had something better to do! I thought about starting this essay by insisting that I listen to audio books for work, so that I could not be mistaken for that other kind of person, that kind of person who listens audio books because it brings her some kind of unsophisticated pleasure. I am not, I wanted you to know, your Aunt Paula. My kitchen is not decorated with rooster towel racks and rooster potholders and rooster trim. I am a very serious person.
I thought it quite ironic that I was one step beyond the points of audio book critics that she discusses in the article. I found, though, that I shared many of the points of wonder and disappointment that she had as well as the puzzlement of the perceptions of "printed page only" people that despise the spoken word.


"I listen to books." Yes. There, I said it. And I will repeat it: "I listen to books." It started when I found a set of cassette tapes of The Willow Pattern at the Tokyo American Club library in 1989 or 1990. There were a whole section of unabridged recordings of various books, but for some reason, I happened to see this one and chose it. The story - which I listened to on my radio in my room - was (for me at the time) a very violent and dark mystery from medieval China, and opens with the depiction of the murder. The narrator's voice gripped my imagination and I could almost see the dark hallway, the stair, and the newel post stoving in the unfortunate man's head. And then the actual story began.

I didn't actually read The Willow Pattern until I was much older, but it brought back to me all those images of a boy listening to gory murder and medieval mystery, done Chinese-style. In fact, I didn't read any of the Judge Dee mysteries until I graduated from undergraduate, and found new editions of the books at my local Barnes & Noble; I listened to them all on audio book format. And I listened to several more books in that format, some I hated (Moby Dick) and some I preferred the written word, but I learned quite early on that the spoken word carries with it a sensibility that is not apparent on the page (especially when read by a good reader).

I came by the notion rather late in life that listening to your book was somehow "bad"; almost as bad as watching a film adaptation of the book. This never made sense to me, since unabridged recordings - by definition - had all the words of the original (although footnotes were often omitted). Too, one cannot easily skip ahead in the book to a place that intuitively might make sense; one cannot skim through the pages; one cannot check the ending. The arguments against audio books is that it loses some of the mystery or novelty of the book when you hear someone else's "take" on it. And I agree that this is true. But I disagree that this is important. Especially if you have the book with you.

Since moving to Ann Arbor, I listened to 1776, narrated by the author himself (and so one can imagine that he was reading it in the way he wanted it read). I listened to the three His Dark Materials books. I haven't cracked covers on any of these. Recently, I've foregone audiobooks and have dived into listening to text-to-speech.

For years, I had tried out several different text-to-speech programs for the PC, and had been disappointed with them. They lacked rising and falling pitches to indicate questions versus statements. They lacked proper pauses at commas and periods. They mispronounced words or pronounced the punctuation. They were too slow and too cumbersome. They sounded like Stephen Hawking's voice emulator: very robotic; something only slightly more human than a Dalek.

But when I added Google Chrome to my web-browsing options, I added the "Select and speak" extension. Wow. Talk about a revolution in text-to-speech options. It can read in several languages (including Japanese and Spanish), and it's pronunciation and cadence are really quite good (especially considering that it's a free add-on). One of the great things is that it can read effectively any text that one can highlight in Chrome (provided - if the text selection is not in English - that the voice emulator is of the proper language). This means that it can read PDFs!

Also, I purchased a "Keyboard Kindle", which offers text-to-speech for most of the books that you can buy through Amazon (and is automatically turned on for any converted documents that you send to it). While not as advanced or smooth an emulator as the "Select and speak" one, I usually use it to listen to a book while on my commute, while I'm cooking, or when I pop out for a bit. Once you get used to its voice properties, it's not that difficult to actually listen to (and become engrossed in) the book that is being mechanically and interminably recited at you.

... and this brings me to the point of intention. With "Select and speak" and Kindle's "text-to-speech" options, the reader is the computer processor and speakers. It - by definition - has no intention, no preference of how to read a text. Indeed, it will read the exact same phrase in the exact same manner every single time it encounters it. This means that many things will fall "flat" if one doesn't actually follow along with what is being recited, thus painting one's own mental imagery from the direct words of the book. No longer is the excuse of the "intention" of the reader of issue here; instead it becomes as blank an intention as the written word itself. The words, as spoken by the emulators, just hang there, like the words just sit on the written page.

Finally, there is the point of internalization. I firmly believe that language is not primarily about the written word, but is about its spoken use. I also firmly believe that if one wishes to internalize a written text, one should enervate as many language pathways in the brain - visual, oral, and aural. Listening to something while  simultaneously reading it impresses a far stronger understanding in my head than merely reading it silently. If one were to add recitation of the written word while simultaneously listening to the same words, one quickly starts to understand why the recitation of texts by groups of people (whether two or two thousand) resonates so deeply in our psyches. (I have not, as yet, spoken along with the voice emulators...)

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Learning to read to yourself: how do we do it?

I remember the first word that I realized that I had read silently to myself. The big black letters on the yellow yield sign:

What was the first word (or words) that you remember reading to yourself?

I remember that it was as my mother was driving us back home after dropping my father at the Pleasant Hill BART station. I remember it, because it was the first time that I recalled seeing the sign - or actually trying to read it - and that the pronunciation came to me in my mind.

Why did that happen to me at that time? What if I had been given a different traffic sign? A simple one like "STOP" would likely have been one that my parents had already told me, and so I might not have recognized whether I was reading it to myself. However, what would the 6-year-old me made of "PED XING"?
source (with interesting story): Palm Springs Life

It took me years to figure out what it meant! No, I never asked any one, plus we moved to Japan when I was 8 years old, and I was suddenly confronted with the fact that stop signs didn't have to be red octogons!
 source: Wikipedia

Still, the 6-year-old me that had silently read "YIELD" knew that I was doing it slowly. I knew that I was still sounding it out in my head. But that 6-year-old me also knew that it was AWESOME that I just did that. It was - for a very short time - my little secret. It took me very little time to realize that adults and big kids could do this, too, when they read signs and books and newspapers, and then I wanted to be able to do it, too. (After all, as the younger brother, I saw my big brother read things and be told to read books; I wanted to do that, too!)

I remember that, years later in 7th grade, parents enrolled my brother and I into a speed-reading class as an after school activity. (Yes, really interesting.) We were taught how to skim pages, how to judge the development of ideas, and the like. One thing that we did there, though, was to watch as others read through a page, to see how the eyes of our group members tracked the words. My eyes read each word, line-by-line. My brother's eyes - the bookworm that he was already at that time - skimmed down the page, with very little side-to-side motion. (This is probably why he can devour a ~500 page novel in a couple hours if he wants to, and it is probably a root cause as to why he rarely buys novels anymore.) I know that I have improved from that word-by-word silent reader into a skimmer of texts. It helps that I now recognize entire words instead of reading each word as I come to it. It also helps that my teaching assistant position at the University of Michigan is one in which I read a lot of students' writing, and need to be able to immediately recognize when someone misspells a word for another word (like "form" instead of "from", "compliment" instead of "complement", or other words that look similar).

But how did I go from sounding out "YIELD" in my head ("subvocalization") when I was starting 1st grade to fluently reading Dune (that 412-page tome of rather dense and tangential writing) by the middle of 9th grade? Or, to put it another way, how did I go from reading Frog and Toad books when I was six years old to reading the entire Memory, Sorrow and Thorn series (all 2384 pages), all seven books of the Deathgate Cycle (all 3016 pages), the Riftwar Saga,  dozens of novels (and several more thousand pages) from various Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms series, and others (including school reading, I'm sure...) all by the time I was fifteen?

Well, there's a new study that will investigate the early portion of this trend from trudging through "kids' books" to plowing through evermore novels: how children come to learn how to read to themselves.
Researchers at the Florida Center for Reading Research (FCRR) at Florida State University will tackle that paradox over the next four years. Funded by a $1.6 million grant from the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), the research arm of the U.S. Department of Education, a team headed by FCRR researcher Young-Suk Kim will examine a poorly understood area of literacy: the relationship between oral and silent reading, and how those skills, in turn, relate to reading comprehension.

"One of the reasons why silent reading has not been paid attention to sufficiently is that it is difficult to measure," said Kim, also an assistant professor in Florida State's College of Education. "The other piece is, people may just assume that, if you read well orally, then you'll also read well silently."

"Initially, kids sound out each letter, then put all the sounds together, and then make a word," explained Kim, a former classroom teacher. "As their reading develops further, they will be able to do that in their minds. But initially, it's not going to be as efficient or fast."

Beginning silent readers often sound words out in their heads, a cumbersome process called subvocalization.

"What we ultimately want is instantaneous recognition without subvocalization because that's faster," Kim said. "But we don't know how that process happens."

Until recently, measuring silent reading was difficult: After all, you can't hear the child's progress. But researchers can now see this progress, with the help of advanced eye-tracking technologies that follow students' eye movements as they read text on a computer screen.
That sounds interesting. I hope that in 5 years or so, we will have some better insight into how we go from reading everything out loud - sounding it out as we speak - to subvocalization (like what I did with the "YIELD" sign) to reading quickly, quietly, and (hopefully) fluently to ourselves.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Here are 8 misconceptions about animals

I like C.G.P. Grey's channel. Unlike cdk007's channel - which was almost exclusively about evolution - C.G.P. Grey's channel is about a whole bunch more, including points about history and some social constructions that may seem bizarre to us if we (a) happen to not be from the society that uses that particular social construction or (b) we actually stop and think about them in the first place.

Anyway, this one is about 8 misconceptions about animals. He doesn't actually go into where all of these misconceptions come from, nor does he necessarily explain them all away, but he does highlight them.

Note... if you don't agree with the "daddy long legs aren't spiders" claim, check out C.G.P. Grey's commentary about "Are Daddy Longlegs Spiders"? Short version: "daddy longlegs" is a name given to different organisms, depending on which English speaking country you call home, and only the Australian daddy longlegs is actually a spider - the US and UK ones aren't. (Ahh... language. Don't you love it?)

Friday, February 17, 2012

Changing flood risk: When 1/500 is actually 1/240 – 1/25

A few years ago, I wrote a blog entry "When 1-in-1000 is no longer 1-in-1000", wondering a little bit about the language and implications surrounding increased periodicity and intensity of storms and flooding. At the time, I wrote:
If we are going to enter into a period of greater rainfall intensity -- and, consequently, more flash-flooding -- then the number of expected large floods should also increase. If we continue to term floods as 1000-year-floods (or 300-year-floods, or any other X-year-floods), then shouldn't they change to meet the new understandings of flooding? I mean, if a 1000-year-flood for a particular stretch of river is currently listed as a discharge of 10,000 cfs, that means that every year, there is a 1/1,000 chance that a discharge of 10,000 cfs will be reached. However, let's assume that climate change will change the hydrological impacts for that region, increasing the intensity of flooding such that a 10,000 cfs discharge has a 1/700 chance each year. That will mean that the same 10,000 cfs discharge will now be a 700-year-flood.
Basically, increasing the periodicity of flood events of a certain size ought to mean that the number associated with that particular flood size will change. Well, a research team in Princeton and MIT recently published a study looking at how climate change will increase the periodicity of dramatic flood events. Their findings were somewhat stark:
[R]esearchers from MIT and Princeton University have found that with climate change, [Category 3] storms could make landfall [in the eastern US] far more frequently, causing powerful, devastating storm surges every three to 20 years. The group simulated tens of thousands of storms under different climate conditions, finding that today’s “500-year floods” could, with climate change, occur once every 25 to 240 years. The researchers published their results in the current issue of Nature Climate Change.
Okay first things first. The stated range is quite wide: "25-year floods" to "240-year floods", an almost-10-fold difference. This is much like the difference between having $1 dollars in your wallet versus having $10 dollars there.

However, even the high-end range (240-year floods) is roughly half that of the estimates of current expectations (i.e., a 500-year flood). To extend the previous simile, this is much like expecting to have $50 dollars in your wallet, but finding that you only have $24 (or - to use the low-end figure - $2.50). In other words, the models predict that the frequency of such storms will be anywhere from 2x more likely to 10x more likely than presently expected.

If the findings of this study are borne out in the real world, the implications will be staggering. It will affect city and project planning, it will affect insurance rates, it will affect agriculture, it will even affect property boundaries as increased flooding will mean that rivers and coastlines will shift to accommodate the "new normal".

Some insights about what all these numbers mean in a real-world setting are explained in the news report:
Today, a “100-year storm” means a surge flood of about two meters [~6.5 ft], on average, in New York. Roughly every 500 years, the region experiences towering, three-meter-high [9.8-foot-high] surge floods. Both scenarios, Lin notes, would easily top Manhattan’s seawalls, which stand 1.5 meters [~4.9 ft] high.

But with added greenhouse gas emissions, the models found that a two-meter surge flood would instead occur once every three to 20 years; a three-meter flood would occur every 25 to 240 years.

“The highest [surge flood] was 3.2 meters [10.5 ft], and this happened in 1821,” Lin says. “That’s the highest water level observed in New York City’s history, which is like a present 500-year event.”
In other words, if NYC is going to get 10-foot-high flood surges twice as often (or even ten times as often), all that concern, panic, economic cost, etc. will occur more often. Furthermore, it will be even more likely that there will actually be a major flood that over-tops the seawalls and floods (perhaps even destroying) parts of Manhattan.

And that's something that any insurance company will have to worry about.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Would Imperial Japan have crumbled if the US hadn't dropped the atomic bombs?

I was looking through some of the old postings at the "Secret Asian Man" blog. I came across this picture, from the Dec 7, 2011 entry:

There were several comments, and I decided to try and reply to one of them - written by "Just Jennifer":
Like it, or not, the use of the atomic bomb, as horrible as they were, quickly ended the war. The alternative would have been a massive invasion of Japan, which would have resulted in far more death of Japanese soldiers and civilians. It is sad that all too often military leaders enter into wars that are paid for with civilian lives. This was especially true in World War II. At least in Japan, the Emperor did the right thing, and decided to end the war. In Germany, it was not the loss of civilian lives that resulted in surrender, but the simple fact that the military could no longer sustain a military effort.
This type of response tends to be a kind of standard response based on the received wisdom: "The atomic bombs ended the war. If we didn't drop the atomic bombs, the war would have dragged on, and we would have lost thousands more soldiers." I haven't really been one to buy into that line of reasoning, because it just didn't make sense: Japan was being bombarded daily, they were losing the island cordon that helped protect the home islands from direct naval attack, and their major ally - Nazi Germany - had just collapsed (meaning that the US could turn all of its attention on attacking Japan, and the USSR might do the same thing), never mind the fact that Imperial Japan hadn't had time to actually consolidate the massive land grabs that they had accomplished during the 1930s and early 1940s. It doesn't take a military genius to figure out that you would have to sue for peace as soon as possible, especially if you wanted to spend time consolodating your new empire. A part of my mind just couldn't accept that the entirety of the Japanese government was part of what would have amounted to a suicide cult hell-bent on preserving every tsubo of land. I mean, there's ideological fanaticism, but even that can't sustain you against plain and simple facts.

And so, I looked at some of the other things that were going on in that theatre of war from December 7, 1941 through August 15, 1945, looking especially for what the Soviets were doing. There was a lot there that I never learned about in history classes (for whatever reason), and it appeared to me that "Just Jennifer" didn't learn them - or was discounting them - in her response.

I therefore went about drafting a reply, but - when I hit "Publish", I received the notification that it must be at most 4096 characters, and so I post my thoughts on "Would Imperial Japan have crumbled if the US hadn't dropped the atomic bombs?" below:


@Just Jennifer

As a national of both the US and Japan, I have to say that your points are true... but:

You forget (as many people seem to do) that the USSR and Japan had a de facto military detente since Japan's halted invasion of Mongolia in the 1939 (see the battle of Khalkhin Gol). Some say that this defeat - led by Soviet General Zhukov (the same Zhukov who would later lift the siege of Leningrad and lead the invasion of Berlin) - created a turning-point in the Imperial Japanese military strategy. In short, the Imperial Army lost political power (and their strategy of capturing Siberia all the way to Lake Baikal was scrapped) and the Imperial Navy won (and so Japan followed its coastal warfare strategy).

What does that have to do with the atomic bombing? Well, in 1941, Japan signed a neutrality pact with the USSR in order for both countries to focus on what they each saw as more "critical" issues (such as Soviet defense in western Russia and Japanese expansion in southern China). By 1945, however, the USSR felt that it didn't need to extend the neutrality pact (after all, it's position had been greatly strengthened, while Japan's was dissolving). Long story short, the USSR declared war on Japan a few hours before the end of August 8, 1945, and attacked along three different points in Japanese-controlled Manchuria.

Japan felt the first atomic strike on August 6, and merely hours after having war declared on it by the USSR, it felt the second atomic strike on August 9.

It was a pretty stark realization that Imperial Japan could not stand. (However, diehards did continue to try and do just that - instigating what is now known as the Kyujo Incident.) Japan went from hoping to sue for peace (while holding what it had gained since the turn of the 20th Century) to having to agree to the totality of the Potsdam Declaration (i.e., total surrender). In that way, it was analogous to Germany, save for being merely a few moves earlier in the "chess game": the military would soon be unable to sustain a military effort.

However, what about the "What if" scenario of a US land invasion? (Let's say that there were no atomic bombs.) The Japanese military disposition on August 9, 1945 - immediately after the declaration of war by the USSR - would be at the very point of breaking. If Japan wanted to defend the home islands, it would have had to executed a fighting retreat throughout China, Manchuria, and Korea, due to having to face a battle-hardened Soviet military that was far more advanced than the one that it had lost so disastrously to (indeed, the Soviet advances into Manchuria were quite decisive).

In short, the US and UK would not have had to lift the entire burden of an attack on Japan. The Soviets was apparently very happy to take advantage of a fast-crumbling Imperial Japan to try and stake out more satellite territory. I agree that the atomic bombing did end the war quickly, but without the atomic bomb, I doubt that the war would have lasted even months more: the writing was on the wall one way or another, and the only question for Imperial Japan was how much of their territory would they have to surrender to the US and the USSR.

To that end, I tend to fall in the camp of asking why not spend Little Boy on an island or a relatively uninhabited part of Japan? It's destructive capacity would have been noted just as visibly as it was on the bombing of Hiroshima. However, this didn't happen: Little Boy was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, proving the deadly capacity of this weapon (and offering a very rude awakening to the massive leap in weapons technology that the US now possessed).

I also fall into the camp of people asking why we don't learn anything about the Soviet Union's impact on WWII. (There are too many Americans who think that the US invaded Berlin and killed Hitler; there are even more who don't know about the Neutrality pact nor about the Soviet declaration of war in August of 1945.) However, this is a problem of setting school curricula, and - at least in today's political landscape, in which school boards become the setting of intense political scrutiny - I don't think that this will really be rectified, and we will likely continue to receive responses that amount to the received wisdom.

In sum: as a national of both the US and Japan, I also grew up with very mixed feelings about World War 2, and having looked further than most US nationals tend to look at the question of the atomic bombs ending the war, I came up with the recognition that it wasn't as simple as, "if we didn't drop the bombs, it would have been so much worse." But then, again, extrapolating into an alternative history is merely taking (hopefully tenuous) steps into a dark tunnel: at some point, you end up just groping, hoping not to fall down.

Stadium Bridge construction

Shortly after Thanksgiving 2011, the Stadium Bridge was closed for demolition, underground insfrastructure upgrades/repairs, and rebuilding, and it's supposed to be re-opened in late 2012. Since I live on the west side of town (well... technically just outside of town), I used to use Stadium Blvd. to travel to the Trader Joe's. However, with this bridge reconstruction, I am no longer able to make the trip without having to take major detours, and if I want to stay on bike-laned roads, I basically have to cycle all the way to Main Street, and then jump onto Packard to take that spur out to where it connects up to Stadium on the other side of the bridge construction.

Needless to say, I'm not a big fan of that option, even though it only adds 1/3 mile to the trip, mainly because I feel like I am always competing against the cars as I cycle down Packard. Oh well...

Anywho... I recently went down to TJ's, since I was going to be in the area, but I forgot to bring my camera to take photos of the bridgeworks. However, luckily, the city of Ann Arbor was smart enough to make sure that someone take periodic photos of the work and post them online.

This aerial photo of a partially demolished structure (they are going to demo the portion over the railway later) really struck home for me the impact that the bridge has:

More photos and info about the progress of the construction at Ann Arbor Bridges.

Mitosis mystery: Solved

Ever wonder HOW those chromosomes all lined up during mitosis?

It was something that was just glossed over when I took biology ... so long ago. It had to do something with microtubules... or something. Well, the mystery was recently solved. First, a more technical statement of what was known:
Thread-like proteins, called microtubules, extend from one of two spindle poles on either side of the cell and attempt to latch onto the duplicated chromosomes. This entire "spindle" structure acts to physically distribute the chromosomes, but it is not free floating in the cell. In addition to microtubules from both spindle poles that attach to all of the chromosomes, astral microtubules that are connected to the cell cortex—a protein layer lining the cell membrane—act to pull the spindle poles back and forth within the cell until the spindle and chromosomes align down the center axis of the cell. Then the microtubules tear the duplicated chromosomes in half, so that ultimately one copy of each chromosome ends up in each of the new daughter cells.
And then here's the bit that's new:
As Kiyomitsu watched mitosis unfold in symmetrically dividing human cells, he noticed that when the spindle oscillates toward the cell's center, a partial halo of the protein dynein lines the cell cortex on the side farther away from the spindle. As the spindle swings to the left, dynein appears on the right, but when the spindle swing to the right, dynein vanishes and reappears on the left side.

For Kiyomitsu, the key to the alignment mystery was dynein, which is known as a motor protein that "walks" molecular cargoes along microtubules. Kiyomitsu determined that in this case, dynein is anchored to the cell cortex by a complex that includes the protein LGN, short for leucine-glycine-asparagine-enriched protein. Instead of moving along an astral microtubule, the stationary dynein acts as a winch to pull on the spindle pole, and the microtubules and chromosomes attached to it, toward the cell cortex.
So there you go: dynein causes your chomosomes to make a nice straight line out of a mess of the chromosomes. But to make it a little technical:
After testing a couple of signaling molecules associated with chromosomes, Kiyomitsu determined that a signal from the chromosomes, involving the ras-related nuclear protein (Ran), blocks LGN, and therefore dynein, from attaching to the cell cortex closest to the chromosomes. Ran bound to guanosine-5'-triphosphate (Ran-GTP), which controls nuclear import in the interphase stage of mitosis, had previously been suggested to control spindle assembly during mitosis in germ cells, but roles for the Ran gradient in mitotic non-germ cells were unclear. Kiyomitsu's work suggests a key role for Ran in directing spindle orientation.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

India won't censor social media (except when they will)

Yesterday, I saw this from PhysOrg: India won't censor social media: minister. "Yay!" I thought to myself. "This must mean that the pluralistic right to be annoying at anyone you wish to - and to be called out for being annoying to anyone you wish to - will be honored!"

But no. Look at this interesting and round-about logic that amounts to Indian governmental officials saying, "We won't censor social media. We'll just censor social media."
"I want to say once and for all, without any obfuscation, no government in India will ever censor social media," Telecoms Minister Kapil Sibal told an IT summit in Mumbai.

"I never wanted to censor social media and no government wants to do so. But like the print and electronic media, they have to obey the laws of the country."
Okay, so Minister Kapil Sibal is merely saying that social medial needs to follow the laws of the country. That sounds reasonable. So... what are the laws of the country?
Local laws prohibit the sale or distribution of obscene material as well as those that can hurt religious sentiments in overwhelmingly-Hindu India.
Hmm.... So, prohibiting the distribution of material (which - if you consider words and ideas to be material - is something that social media excels at doing) that can hurt religious sentiments isn't censorship?

This is like a white supremacist who isn't a member of any racist group (like neoNazis or the KKK) saying that s/he isn't a racist, because s/he isn't a member of a racist organization.

This is like a evolution denier who isn't a Christian creationist saying that s/he isn't an evolution denier, because s/he supports intelligent design and thinks that Christian creationism is hooey.

This is like a government that says that there aren't any censorship laws, because there are no laws that are specifically titled "censorship laws." ...oh, that seems like something I've outlined above...

At least not everyone is falling for this ruse. Pranesh Prakash is - perhaps - a little more savvy about information than the Indian Telecoms Minister:
Pranesh Prakash of the Bangalore-based Centre for Internet and Society said he was "glad Sibal does not believe in censorship and that companies operating in India should follow local laws."

"But on the other hand he has asked them to evolve new guidelines and actively monitor user content which is not legally sanctioned. This makes him look two-faced," Prakash added.
All this hubbub is taking place while the Delhi High Court is telling Google and Facebook that they need to follow local laws, or else ... India will have to do something like China is doing:
Google and Facebook said earlier this month they had removed the allegedly offensive content used as evidence in the court cases.

The groups have appealed to the Delhi High Court asking for the cases against them to be quashed on the basis they cannot be held responsible for their clients' actions.

The comments of a judge hearing the case raised further fears that freedom of expression online could be restricted.

"You must have a stringent check. Otherwise, like in China, we may pass orders banning all such websites," the judge said at the January hearing.

Facebook is banned in China and Google moved its operations out of the country in 2010 in protest at censorship laws there.
So, to sum up: The Telecoms Minister is saying that social media won't be censored; that social media needs to follow laws that are de facto censorship. The Delhi High Court is saying that Google and Facebook need to follow laws that are de facto censorship or else the Delhi High Court might pass actual censorship laws. But India is supportive of free speech and against censorship.


Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Some civics & history points in the appendix to a judicial ruling in TX

In the second (!) appendix to a judicial ruling about school prayer in a Texas public school, Judge Biery writes - quite succinctly - about the problems of allowing government association with religion and why we have a separation of "Church and State". It starts - on page 3 of Appendix II - with a section titled "Diversity of Homo Sapien [sic] Religious and Life After Death Beliefs". Following the standard of written judgments, there are plenty of footnotes that pepper the document, and by page seven - and the title "The American Colonial Religious Experience" the document racked up 23 footnotes.

To present the reason why the United States ultimately resolved to separate itself from religion, Judge Biery's statement makes the following observations of history:
The Alsatians who immigrated to the Medina Valley [where the ruling of the case took place] were neither the first nor the last group to come to America in search of freedom from government controlled religion. Before them came the Pilgrims persecuted by the government-controlled Church of England, the French Protestant Huguenots persecuted by the French Catholic government of Louis XIV, and the European Jews persecuted by European Christian governments.

They voted with their feet for separation of church and state by coming to the new world. But old practices die hard, and the American colonists themselves established official government religions. For instance, the Rhode Island Charter of 1663 promised to "preserve unto [its inhabitants] that liberty in the true Christian faith and worship of God." Other Rhode Island laws restricted admission to the colony to those professing the Christian religion. Similar laws existed in Massachusetts and New York. In Virginia in 1776, although it was declared "all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience," it was also declared that "it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity towards each other." In Maryland, which was originally settled as a safe haven for Catholics, a Protestant majority became dominant and persecuted and marginalized Catholic residents. Seventh-Day Adventists were similarly persecuted by the majority for their beliefs." (pp 7, 8)
In short, people left Europe because of the problems of Church being combined with the state, but they set up similar forms of church-state interactions in the new world, resulting in state-justified persecutions that were analogous to the ones they left Europe over in the first place. Judge Beiry continues, in the section "Government and Religion Joining Hands":
If government-run public schools also joined hands with religion and had the power to impose religious views, questions arise: Which holy books and prayers would be preferred? The Torah? The Book of Mormon? The Catholic Bible? The New Testament? The Bible as edited by Thomas Jefferson? The Koran? Would Christians be required to face Mecca or observe Hebrew prayer? Would Jews and Muslims be obligated to stand and recite the Lord's Prayer? (p 9)
It's questions like these that I think that many people who want to increase government associations with religion don't ask themselves. Which religion? How much religion? How much coersion?
By page 12, Judge Beiry starts with the civics lesson:
The Constitution invokes, and is based upon, the people as having ultimate sovereignty and power over the three branches of government through the electoral and amendment processes vested in them. That power, for example, has been exercised to allow women to vote, to prohibit, and then allow, liquor and to limit the President of the United States to two terms.

The people could exercise that same power to amend the Constitution to favor a particular religion, to turn the United States into a religious state such as Israel or Iran or to suppress religion as in the Soviet Union, China or Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge.

Thus far, that power has not been exercised in such a manner, and this Court's obligation is to follow the Constitution as written, as intended by the Framers and as interpreted by the Supreme Court of the United States.
In other words, if people DID want to have a religious government, there is a mechanism to do it: the amendment process. However, the Supreme Court - not political pundits - is there to interpret the Constitution. Indeed, Judge Beiry's commentary under the section "Original Intent of the Framers of the United States Constitution" is pretty boiler-plate stuff (unless you happen to buy in to the false notion that Christianity is a fundamental part of the Constitution - that just happened to be left out of it completely):
Reasonable minds differ on the Constitution as a living, evolving document or one to be interpreted strictly as the Framers originally intended. Some issues not foreseen by the leaders of an agrarian slave holding nation do not lend themselves to providing insight into the intent of those authors. (p 13)
I like that he pointed this out. The Framers lived in the world of 230+ years ago. It was a world in which Joseph Priestly had just discovered - in 1774 - that the atmosphere is made up of stuff, and that oxygen is what allows stuff to burn (although it wasn't until 1777 that it was called "oxygen"). It was a world in which manned flight of any sort wasn't yet around (the famous French demonstration of humans in a hot air balloon wasn't to happen until 1783). It was only a few years after Edward Jenner successfully used his smallpox vaccine idea to stop an outbreak in England (but still about two decades before the idea of vaccination would catch on in the medical world). And the list goes on. In other words, the world of the late 18th Century was a completely different world than the one we live in today. (It's even completely different from the world of the most observant Amish!) Therefore, as Judge Beiry notes, it's not inconceivable that some things aren't going to be covered directly by the Constitution nor by the correspondence and literature written by the Founders.

However, religion ain't one of them:
Religion though and its relationship to government was one on which the Founders did speak clearly. Having witnessed and learned from the bloodshed and persecution of European church-state partnerships the Founders wrote [the First Amendment].
Judge Beiry also provides James Madison's written and expressed intent behind those words, Thomas Jefferson's letter to the Danbury Baptist Association (1802) and personal correspondence in 1822, John Adams' 1817 letter to Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin's perspectives from 1780, and Thomas Paine's statements of the time. (See pp 13-15.) They are all of the opinion that they did NOT want a country that mimicked the church-state relationship that was seen in the very country that they had just fought a bloody war against; one that was ruled (titularly) by a king, who was given divine authority by God, and which had - not even 100 years previously - been rocked by a civil war that had been - in part - due to church-state issues.
The last three pages of Appendix II fleshes out the point Judge Beiry made about Supreme Court interpretation of the Founders' intent, and it starts with the first decision made - in 1890 Wisconsin - about the promotion of particular religious viewpoints in public schools, which found:
The priceless truths of the Bible are best taught to our youth in the church, the Sabbath and parochial schools, the social religious meetings, and, above all, by parents in the home circle. There, these truths may be explained and enforced, the spiritual welfare of the child guarded and protected, and his spiritual nature directed and cultivated, in accordance with the dictates of the parental conscience. The constitution does not interfere with such teaching and culture. It only banishes theological polemics from the district schools. It does this, not because of any hostility to religion, but because the people who adopted it believed that the public good would thereby be promoted, and they so declared in the preamble. Religion teaches obedience to law, and flourishes best where good government prevails. The constitutional prohibition was adopted in the interests of good government; and it argues but little faith in the vitality and power of religion to predict disaster to its progress because a constitutional provision, enacted for such a purpose, is faithfully executed.
This isn't a communist or socialist plot. (Heck, Marx's Communist Manifesto had only been published in English - in England - in 1888.) It was, instead, a decision based in an American context, predating - one can safely surmise - any sort of "Red Scare". It sought to limit - in plain language - government endorsement of religion in schools, because religious teaching was not the function of the government.

Appendix II can be found here.
The commentary on this case (and of the appendix comments by Judge Beiry) is from Dispatches from the Culture Wars.

Happy Valentine's Day

Although many of us will be celebrating Valentine's Day with flowers, chocolates, romantic dinners, wine, etc., do we know what the origins of this festival are? Well, one Islamic cleric seems to think that it's got something to do with a bacchanalia that surrounded Lupercalia and the subsequent death of St. Valentine which occurred later as a result of preaching against it.

Ummm... no. Although it is just Wikipedia, nothing appears to be mentioned about pairing and free sex under the Lupercalia entry at Wikipedia.

Looking, instead, to the entry for Valentine's Day, we find that its associations with romantic love have more to do with Chaucer than with the Romans (or even Pope Gelasius I, who named the day in honor of St Valentine in 496 AD). It has - obviously - evolved since the Middle Ages of England. The style of celebration of today will be completely unrecognizable by Chaucer (that is, if he even deigns to notice its celebration, what with all that he might be transfixed by all the marvels of today's world).

In the end, I hope that you celebrate Valentine's Day without overthinking about it too much:
 Via xkcd

UPDATES (Valentine's Day-related research studies): Two somewhat-of-a-stretch news releases of research tangentially related to Valentine's Day - because they deal with the topic of relationships - that were framed as being related to Valentine's Day:

Cut your Valentine some slack:
A new Northwestern University study shows that the more you believe your partner is capable of change and perceive that he or she is trying to improve, the more secure and happy you will feel in your relationship. That is true even if you think your partner could still do more to be a better partner.

"Many of us tend to under appreciate our partner's efforts to improve the relationship, simply because we do not have enough faith in those attempts," said Chin Ming Hui, the lead author of the study and a fourth-year graduate student in the department of psychology at Northwestern University's Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. "When we see those efforts in a positive light, we can enjoy our relationship much more."

"A secret to building a happy relationship is to embrace the idea that your partner can change, to give him or her credit for making these types of efforts and to resist blaming him or her for not trying hard enough all of the time," Molden said.

Men are not from Mars, women are not from Venus:
Professor Mari Ruti of the Department of English and Drama at the University of Toronto Mississauga has written about love for both academic and mainstream audiences. Her newest book, The Summons of Love, portrays love as a much more complex, multifaceted phenomenon than we tend to appreciate—an experience that helps us encounter the depths of human existence.

The main argument is that the image of romantic love that the self-help industry tries to sell is based on a few misconceptions. The first is the idea that love is a game with winners and losers. The second is the idea that men and women are inherently different so that to make romance work, women need to learn to read the so-called male psyche.

I argue that there is no such thing as the male psyche and I also argue that the more we try to manipulate our romantic lives, the more we think of love as a game, the less authentically we are able to love. So basically, whoever came up with the idea that love is a game destroyed its soul.

As a university professor, I teach 18- to 22-year-olds. I know from experience that their understanding of gender is a lot more fluid than what these self-help books portray.

As research for my book I read 20 to 25 self-help books. Their portrait of men in particular is really strange. Book after book tells us that men are these cave men who are wired to hunt women. They’re wired to cheat on you. They don’t understand emotions. They will forget your birthday. They’re commitment phobic. The young women I teach don’t think of men in these terms and the young men I teach don’t think of women as prey to be conquered. There’s a lot more fluidity and there’s a lot more mutual respect than these authors are suggesting. When you look at younger people you see this clearly.
 In short: relationships are not formulae with deterministic solutions (let alone a single solution). It's a big, "No duh" that hopefully we can remember while we have the candle-lit dinners with our significant others tonight - as well as the other 365 days this year (and 364 days when it's not a leap year like it is this year).

Monday, February 13, 2012

I want to go back to see Japan...

It's been over a decade since I went to Japan. The last time I was there was 2001. It's been even longer since I went to visit Yokohama (about 2 decades). The photos of a day in Yokohama during winter - from Danny Choo - really pulls on my sense of nostalgia. However, it's not just a feeling of nostalgia about the Japan of 2001 (or 1992), but of the changes that have happened since then - the good, the bad, and the ugly changes. However, Choo rarely shows the bad and the ugly, so enjoy some of the good:

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Beastie Boys + Alien

Two things that I came to like years after their release: Beastie Boys and Alien. Enjoy this mashup from okarola.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

How furry and relatable does an invasive animal have to be to get the "awww" factor?

When Wisconsin proposed an ordinance in 2005 to allow for killing feral cats (an introduced, non-native species) that were decimating song bird populations, people were horrified:

I think that it should stay illegal for the people to hunt house cats. That is an act of animal cruelty, like they said. and there are so many songbirds in the USA and other countries. So the birds can take care of themselves, the cats need help. DON'T SHOOT THEM! AND DON'T MAKE IT LEGAL!

When New Zealand continued its yearly Easter hunt for invasive and non-native rabbits, people were aghast: "The poor rabbits! How cruel!"

When river managers in the US try to figure out ways to increase the interest in carp meat to cull the invasive and non-native Asian carp species, people weren't too fussed with the idea of fishing for carp, instead pointing out the flaws of the author as well as offering commentary about the quality of the fish as "game":
wow, the author has no clue about asian carp and wrote an article, then gave a recipe that not only requires 2 days to cook the fish, but a smoker as well, something most people wont have. did you even bother watching the link you sent people to about cooking the fish? they dont feed on the bottom, they are mid/top feeders and are known to be cleaner than the rest of the fish in the water. if the dnr gives ANY fish in your water a clean bill of health, the asian carp is cleaner. oh yeah, and comparing pcb contents to the common carp filets is a bad idea, the fish arent even remotely similar biologically, they only share a name.
The carps we call "Asian carps" here in the USA are not that particularly great (for their size) on rod and reel. Common carp is a pretty good fighter. Grass carp are wimps, for their size (but because they can be large, they can be exciting on light tackle). It is pretty hard to hook and line grass carp because of their vegetarian habits, and very, very hard to hook and line silver or bighead carp, being filter feeders, although some people snag them or shoot them with a bow and arrow. I have done both. If you hook them just right, they can be big fighters. But often like bringing in a big wet towl. Good to eat though, if they are not losing weight. Asian carps are losing weight from lack of food over large parts of their invaded range and those fish are not good eating.

My conclusion up to now: charismatic invasive mammals will elicit an "awww" factor that clouds many environmentalists' determinations about looking at protecting <i>the environment</i>, whereas uncharismatic invasive animals (such as most ichythofauna) are merely looked at as nuisances in the environment with few problems of culling (so long as that method doesn't affect native species or desired species). In my opinion, when a species is protected by the "awww" factor, it's deleterious role in the environment is superseded by the personal attachment that we hold for the animal. I would say that - in general - species that we have come to think of as "pet species" tend to have the greatest "awww" factor (witness the shock and horror that people have when faced with the realization that cats, dogs, and rabbits - mammals all - might have a huge negative impact on native ecosystems) whereas "non-pet species" tend to have the lowest "awww" factor. Note: this is (in my opinion) different from "characteristic megafauna" (such as pandas, mountain gorillas, elephants, etc) in that "characteristic megafauna" are almost all under ecological duress, and exist in far fewer numbers - are at the opposite end of the proliferation scale.

Now we are presented with a quadruped that many people have as pets that is a non-native species causing ecological havoc and also happens to be a food source: iguanas in Puerto Rico. It will be interesting to note whether people outside of Puerto Rico will tend toward the "awww" factor (iguanas are a relatively popular "pet species") or tend toward the nuisance perspective (although a "pet species" they aren't mammalian).

Friday, February 10, 2012

One of the best YouTube videos I have seen

A number of years ago - during the height of the "let's teach creationism in school" episode - I got a little bit into the whole world of creationism/intelligent design. (I am still reading on these topics from time to time.) However, this video seemed to speak well to me, both with the simplicity of its argumentation as well as the clarity of its imagery.


"Evolution IS a Blind Watchmaker"

Thursday, February 09, 2012

UM Natural History Museum collections on the move

This argument against legalizing marijuana is just... ludicrous

From The Dish, Patrick Appel points out a pretty poorly reasoned argument against legalizing marijuana that was sent to Although I do not use - nor have ever used - marijuana, I do support its legalization. For various reasons. However, this letter to the editor is - as Appel insinuates - bordering on hallucination:
To The Editor:
Starts off okay.
In regard to the petition to legalize marijuana. Well, here we go down the wrong road again. We legalized alcohol finally, and what happened? It was supposed to be in moderation and for social purposes. It really had no medicinal purpose that I know of other than a form of sterilization of a wound possibly. But, our government saw it was a way that it might as well collect tax on rather than let it continue to run out of control as something it couldn’t stop.
First, we RE-legalized alcohol production, transportation, and sales. The consumption of alcohol wasn't - itself - made illegal. Further, medicinal alcohol sales were permissible. And special dispensations were specifically made for Christian ceremony. So, even during Prohibition, alcohol - as a drink - was not illegal in all cases. What do you mean that "it was supposed to be in moderation"? Where in the repeal of Prohibition was it written that consumption ought to be in moderation? You're projecting your own personal "oughts" onto the written and legal "is". Logic fail.

As for the reasons why the government repealed the 18th Amendment, they were many, but you can be assured that government was well aware of the ability to tax alcohol sales and alcohol production PRIOR to Prohibition. To imply otherwise is just plain silly. But let's move on.
The amount of alcohol-related deaths to date is staggering. It climbs continuously every time somebody has too much or decides to get mad at their loved ones under its influence. I would venture to say 90 percent or close to it would be a close number for calls that law enforcement answer where alcohol is related.
The first statement is true, provided that you share the sentiment of the reader (which I do). However, it doesn't climb "continuously every time somebody has too much". This sentence means that all intoxicated people will cause a death every time they get intoxicated. I'm sorry, but that's just plain wrong. There will be times when an intoxicated person will cause a deal (either to him/herself or to someone else), but there will be more cases when the intoxicated person causes damage to him/herself or someone or something else. And there will be many more cases when the intoxicated person does no damage to anyone (save their liver). Logic fail.

The second part of the sentence is also ludicrously wrong: "[Alcohol-related deaths] climb continuously every time somebody ... decides to get mad at their loved ones under its influence". I'm sorry, but HUH? Take a look at what you're asserting: drunk people kill their loved ones every time they get angry at them. Again: logic fail.
But, we’re not talking about alcohol we’re talking about marijuana, a controlled substance that slows down the thinking process and motor nerves in one’s body. The longterm effects are not known. Neither was alcohol at the time it was introduced. Marijuana, on the other hand, does have a medicinal use. Although, still new in this area I can see a possible use for it there.
"We're not talking about alcohol"? You were talking about alcohol just now, in the previous paragraph. Perhaps, though, this is your attempt at a segue. Okay, fine. I'll give it to you, but it's a poor segue. Style fail.

The fact that it's controlled is not because it "slows down the thinking process and motor nerves in one's body." By this logic, cocaine, crack, speed, and methamphetamine ought to be legal, since they speed up the thinking process and one's reaction times. You are mistaking a effect for a cause. Logic fail. Again.

"The longterm [sic] are not known"? Seriously? You are telling me that there aren't any studies on people who have readily used marijuana for 1 year, 2 years, 5 years, 10 years, 20 years, or more? Hmmm... Somehow I doubt the veracity of your statement. Let's do a Google Scholar check for "long term effects of marijuana". Oh, good lord, look at all the citations! Logic fail. Again!

And what do you mean by "Neither was alcohol at the time it was introduced"? In what reality are you living? The introduction of alcohol into society? Did you know that society existed prior to the 18th Amendment (aka Prohibition)? Did you know that people DID know about the effects of alcohol at that time (and it was one of the motivations for that misguided movement)? Did you further know that during the 18th and early 19th centuries, part of one's payment may have included forms of alcohol? In short, what do you mean by this statement?!? History fail! Also: logic fail!
But, as a controlled substance, it should be regulated through a doctor’s prescription and purchased through a pharmacy. Marijuana can be cut with other drugs to make it more potent and dangerous. Do you really think that if you let people openly grow this that they won’t find a way to abuse it?
Alcohol is a controlled substance. Tobacco is a controlled substance. You can buy neither of these without the proper identification showing that you are of-age to purchase these products. The fact that not anyone can purchase them means that they are controlled substances. None of these require a doctor's prescription. None of these need be purchased through a pharmacy. See? Two readily available examples of controlled substances that don't fit into your poor definition of "controlled substance". (And you even used one to start your letter to the editor!) Definition fail!

Did you know that beer can also be "cut" (or mixed) with other types of alcohol to make it more potent? Did you know that alcohol can also be mixed with "energy drinks", and these have been shown to have a greater taxing effect on your body? Did you also know that these are legal to purchase, provided you have the ability to prove that you are over 21 years of age? One quite popular mixture in this vein is called a "vodka and Red Bull". Perhaps you have heard of it. Logic fail!

And people are allowed to brew their own alcohol. In many places people are also allowed to distill their own spirits. Selling them without paying state and local taxes is, however, illegal. However, growing grain or grape on your property for the expressed purposes of making alcohol isn't illegal. Logic fail!
The next thing to think about is who really wants it legalized? What is the main purpose in mind? I can’t imagine honest, hard-working citizens in the United States actually wanting to legalize something that could harm them or their children. If this is the case and it’s a minority that is introducing it, then we should not let this happen because it may offend some smaller group or hurt their feelings. You know I am impressed with one aspect of this. At least the minority introducing this is actually getting the consideration of a vote. I sure don’t recall a vote when it came to taking God out of the schools and our American heritage doctrines.
No... the next thing to think about is who really wants it to remain illegal? However, one could argue that this is where the main point of philosophical contention stems, so I will give you a pass on this one (as well as the rhetorical - and unnecessary - question that is your second sentence).

You can't imagine anyone wanting to legalize something "that could harm them or their children." But we have so many of these things already: tobacco, sedentary lifestyles coupled with poor dietary choices, alcohol (but I know that you are already against alcohol), toxins, motor vehicles, guns, and sex. And all of these cause more deaths in the United States than drug abuse as a whole does. In other words, EVEN IF all the deaths caused by drug abuse were due solely to marijuana, it would still be less than the ones listed. Based solely on the amount of time, money, effort, and shouting that gun-rights advocates make around gun ownership, I would say that I can imagine honest, hard-working citizens of the United States actually wanting to keep legal something that has a record of causing harm to sizable numbers every year. Statistics and logic fail.

Your next statement of, "if a minority introduces something that the majority doesn't like, we shouldn't do it because a smaller minority wouldn't like it" is just bonkers. What does this even mean?!? Logic fail!

You weren't alive when the vote to remove God from government occurred. It happened 200+ years ago. Also, God is not in our "American heritage documents" (I am assuming here that you mean the Constitution and the Bill of Rights) because God was never in them to begin with. History fail!
This would be the answer to our penal systems’ prayers. Overcrowded, just turn them loose. In the future at this rate what crime is great enough to even pass judgment on? Just lower our standards and keep lowering them till there’s nothing left. If one would just think for a few moments and take a close look at the United States to date, I think you would see that the road we’re heading down is much like that. Our forefathers would be turning over in their graves if they could see us now. What started out in good faith for the people by the people has somehow been altered, ratified, changed, or just plain screwed up.
Apparently, you won't likely agree with the scholarly literature about drug courts and about drug rehabilitation programs for marijuana use, so I won't mention them here. However, your statement of, "In the future at this rate what crime is great enough to even pass judgment on?" has been partially answered by the context of this letter! You started this letter by referring to the repeal of Prohibition ("We legalized alcohol finally and what happened?"). Do you remember writing that? Yes? Well, after the repeal of Prohibition, did all the laws of the country disappear? Nope. Newsflash: we will still have plenty of crimes to pass judgment on. Even if you use the argument that we are in a downward spiral that started with the 21st Amendment, I would still say that your argument holds no water, because are making the stupid slippery-slope argument with no proof (and poor argumentation to boot). Logic fail!

Apparently, you only did think for only a few moments, instead of pondering deeply about the course of history that the United States has tracked since the Declaration of Independence was penned in 1776. It's only when you don't spend enough time thinking about these things that you end up making illogical arguments like what we have come through so far. Argumentation fail!

As for our forefathers "turning over in their graves if they could see us now", I'm sorry, but I don't go in for that superstition. If our forefathers could see us now, they would likely be wondering why they were still alive after two centuries (and we would likely be studying them to figure out how to market their solution to long life or to reincarnation or something). However, if you were meaning to use the phrase as a marker to describe how ashamed they might be, then I ask you how you know what they would think. How do you know their morality? How do you know how they would react to things for which they didn't have the dimmest conception when they were alive? In other words, you are projecting your own biased opinion of how the founding fathers might look upon us today. Logic fail!

Also, you make references in your letter to being Christian. Isn't one of the major sins in Christianity the worship of false idols? I'm only pointing this out, because you are imbuing the founding fathers with as much rhetorical standing as one might give to a deity in one's arguments. (I.e., you are substituting a disembodied "other" to carry your own opinions and points of view, because you don't have a good argument and you lack facts to reinforce any shred of an argument that you have.) Religious practice fail!

Furthermore, didn't you know that many of the founding fathers - indeed, many landowners of the day - grew hemp? History fail!
If Mom and Dad can have a 10 by 10 plot, in their own backyard what about the children?
This whole paragraph is poorly integrated into the rest of your letter. Combining it with the body of the next paragraph would do nothing to diminish it's lack of substance, but it would mean that there would at least be some grist (or attempt at it) to accompany the hand wringing. Style fail.
What kind of a message does it send and how will they react when Mom and Dad are gone and they’ve watched and been taught by Mom and Dad how to use it? What about the children’s day care workers? If they smoke it and their senses are dulled by its use and they drop little Johnny on his head, whose fault is it now? If it’s legalized, there is no crime and no recourse for problems it causes. You may be able to sue for a wrongful death or injuries incurred, but other than that there’s been no crime.
 I imagine that it would be the same message that would be taught if their parents were vintners or brewers. Or gunsmiths. Or car enthusiasts.... I don't see what the problem is... unless by "gone" you  mean that Mom and Dad are dead. (If so, why not just say "dead" instead of resorting to a euphamism?) Oooh! An sideways attempt at instilling fear in the reader. (Use of hyperbole: argumentation fail!) How did the parents die? Did they smoke too much tobacco? Have a heart attack? Die in a car accident? Get shot? Die from toxic shock? Hmmm...

If a day care worker dropped "little Johnny on his head", it would be the fault of the day care worker. Really. No. It really would. Unless the law were changed to give immunity from prosecution to people who were intoxicated (i.e., "high") on marijuana, it would likely be something similar (or identical) to what would happen if the day care worker were intoxicated on alcohol (i.e., "drunk"): he or she would face penalties under the law. It's really not too difficult to imagine. Legalizing a substance doesn't abrogate a person from their own responsibilities. Just like it is a constitutional right to own a hand gun, it doesn't mean that it's legal to go on a shooting spree. Just like it is not illegal for people over the age of 21 years old to drink alcohol, it isn't legal to drive while intoxicated. Logic fail!!!

Your last point is absolutely correct (although - not being a lawyer - I cannot say that the types of crimes that you outline are the only thing under which charges can be brought).
The same situation will apply if the driving under the influence of it causes an accident. The police can’t intervene on a situation that isn’t a crime. Please think about these things, it is a big deal and it opens a can of worms that we will pay for the rest of our lives. Any local, state, federal, or other representative who doesn’t think this is a big deal needs to re-evaluate why he is in the position he’s in. It is a big deal.
Again, you fail at your logic. No sane person is saying that marijuana use and possession indemnify a person from any and all legal outcomes that may result in abusing the substance. Therefore, your comment, "The police can't intervene [if the driving under the influence of marijuana causes an accident]" is just illogical. Continued. Logic. Fail!

You ask us, "Please think about these things," and I would ask you to stop and spend more than just the "little bit" of time that you have taken to think about such weighty matters. I'm not even asking you to stop and think about why you should legalize marijuana. I'm asking you to, instead, think about what you have said. Stop and think about how absolutely incorrect your starting premises are. Stop and think about how poorly though out your argumentation is. Stop and think about how your commentary holds no internal logic. But you aren't going to do that. So, we must continue.
Anything that can be used can be abused. Pain sufferers should have what it takes to relieve pain without question. Growing it in your backyard, come on, people, ridiculous. We have an obligation to our children if nothing else. If this doesn’t send all the wrong messages then I don’t know of anything that would.
"Anything that can be use can be abused." Much like your abuse of logic.

I agree that growing marijuana in your back yard is ridiculous. Just as ridiculous as it is to grow tobacco or hops or barley or grapes in your back wine to make cigarettes, beer, or wine. They should be available for purchase at a licensed and state approved location.

Your appeal to "our children" is, again, poor argumentation, and if its repeated used doesn't send the wrong message about good skills in rhetoric and debate, I don't know what possibly could.
In closing I’d like to say this... we all have a conscience, I think if you ask yourself if this is right or wrong and give yourself an honest answer, I think surely you would have to see this is clearly wrong. Religiously speaking, I would surely think that most Christian majority U.S. religions would not endorse this. As a Christian myself, I know that my God does not endorse it.
We do all have a conscience (well, perhaps, save for psychopaths). That is, we all have a "conscience", if you want to use that rather nebulous word to describe the socially and evolutionarily constructed and constrained methods of thinking about and relating to those we consider closer and farther from our "group". If that's what you mean, then this is an obvious statement and is, therefore, irrelevant to the logic of an argument. Style fail.

Your phrase, "I think if you ask yourself ... this is clearly wrong," is based on a logical fallacy. You presume a shared singular morality, and that's where your logical failing begins. You also presume that the evidence - such as it is - supports your personal constructed morality, and that 's where you dig yourself further into error. You finally presume that - since you perceive yourself to be moral, that you presume others to share your morality, and that the people will agree with the poor "evidence" you have cited - people will agree with you. This is merely solipsism, and yet another logic fail.

What is a "Christian majority U.S. religion"? The largest single denomination Christian faith in the U.S. is Catholicism. However, Catholicism isn't a U.S. Christian religion. It's a worldwide religion. You can't mean the mainline Protestant forms of Christianity, since they are also international. Perhaps you mean one of the Evangelical Christian churches in the U.S.? If so, then it cannot be a majority of the population, since evangelicals are ~26% of the population (i.e., hardly a majority). I know that you can't mean the Black Protestant churches, since these are - by definition - a minority. Definition fail!

Based on what I find online, it does seem that Catholic bishops tend to be against the use of marijuana. (Since I've posited that the Catholic Church is the only major single sect of Christianity in the U.S., I will stop there. It's not my job to track down all the clergy of notable rank of all the church sects in the U.S. to determine who supports and who doesn't support marijuana use.) However, this amounts to an argument from authority, and is thus another logic fail. (Did you see the metahumor of linking to a definition of argument from authority?)
Thanks for listening and this is not meant as a slam, but rather as a plea to please do the right thing if the need arises.
You're welcome. It was definitely a slam, since you used faulty logic, a-historicity, poor argumentation, and a lack of facts to make a point that is only based upon arguments from authority (your god, your opinion of what the founding fathers would have thought, and of religious clergy). My plea to you is to improve your argumentation skills in the future.

Back at The Dish, Appel links to Scott Morgan's response to the above letter. I only read through the one paragraph that Appel used from Morgan's response before I wrote my paragraph-by-paragraph response to the "argumentation" from It's good to note that my perceptions of the piece were shared by someone else:
You may think legalizing marijuana is such a great idea, but what if it's actually the worst idea ever? Here's someone who believes the latter, and they've written a letter to their local newspaper explaining why.
What about the children’s day care workers? If they smoke it and their senses are dulled by its use and they drop little Johnny on his head, whose fault is it now? If it’s legalized, there is no crime and no recourse for problems it causes. You may be able to sue for a wrongful death or injuries incurred, but other than that there’s been no crime.
The same situation will apply if the driving under the influence of it causes an accident. The police can’t intervene on a situation that isn’t a crime. Please think about these things, it is a big deal and it opens a can of worms that we will pay for the rest of our lives. []
If even one sentence of this impressively incoherent editorial made any sense at all, I suppose I'd be in a different line of work. Heck, I might even be dead. We might all be dead, slaughtered ironically by the very people whose job it was to care for us while our parents were at work. After all, at the risk of terrifying the above editorial's author, marijuana is already being grown, sold, and smoked in every neighborhood in America (except the South Bronx, where they've now captured every single offender).

Fortunately, things aren't actually that bad in real life, especially if you're not a paranoid idiot. For example, our foremost concerns about bad things happening at day care centers can be resolved satisfactorily in almost every case simply by choosing a facility with a good reputation for not killing the children.

What we have here, and it's hardly a rarity in the marijuana debate, is a bit of a mix up between the rather divergent concepts of legalizing simple possession of marijuana vs. legalizing extraordinary acts of recklessness or insanity whose perpetrator happens to have consumed marijuana prior to the incident. The idea is that walking down the street with a gram of pot in your pocket would no longer be a crime. Walking down the street throwing snakes at people and screaming voodoo curses would still be illegal, but the amount of pot in your pocket at the time would be considered irrelevant at trial.

In other words, the answer to the question "whose fault is it now?" would be the same after legalization as before. If you drop a kid, crash a car, or throw a snake at somebody, it's your fault. If marijuana was involved, it's still your fault for consuming marijuana, not marijuana's fault for being consumed by you. That's the rule for alcohol, and in case anyone somehow managed not to notice, it has yet to turn our day care centers into drunken death camps.