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Archive for March, 2010

An absence of class in the GOP – “In Washington on Saturday, opponents of the health care legislation spit on a black congressman and shouted racial slurs at two others, including John Lewis, one of the great heroes of the civil rights movement. Barney Frank, a Massachusetts Democrat who is chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, was taunted because he is gay.

At some point, we have to decide as a country that we just can’t have this: We can’t allow ourselves to remain silent as foaming-at-the-mouth protesters scream the vilest of epithets at members of Congress — epithets that The Times will not allow me to repeat here.”

One portrait of this ugliness – Parkinson’s patient gains national attention from health-care rally confrontation – [video]

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A little attention test

I came across this interesting video a while ago – selective attention test.

The video tests your ability to focus on a particular visual counting test.  Take the test first before reading on…

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I won’t say anything specific, to avoid biasing people who haven’t watched the video, but I think it should be fairly clear to those who have watched the video the connection to, among other things, driving, and the need to really pay attention when doing so.

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I recently came across this article, Evidence of mass cannibalism uncovered in Germany:

“Evidence of mass cannibalism in which even children and unborn babies were on the menu has been uncovered in Germany by archaeologists.

Analysis of 7,000-year-old bones dug up at Herxheim in south-west Germany suggest the region was a centre for cannibalism at a time when the first European farming society may have been collapsing.”

The first thing that came to my mine was the arguments of those who defend eating meat and those who are against vegetarians, by stating the humans have always eaten meat and by making some vague, ill-conceived appeal to evolution or tradition.

In light of this article, I suppose such people will now reconsider Jonathan Swift’s Modest Proposal?

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Full list of my bookmarks on Delicious here.  Also, I have recent finished uploading a new set of photos on Flickr: 2009-08 Amherst.

Bookmark highlights:

  • On Kristof’s column suggesting topics for the new year, I suggested looking at corruption in our government institutions, as inspired by Professor Lawrence Lessig. Some recent articles on this issue:
    • “A dose of realism?”  How about this for “realism”: We need leadership – Lessig – “This Court has become an angry old dog which has now bitten four times in a row. (The government is 0 for 4 in its defense of campaign finance regulations). Sure, maybe it won’t bite your kid. Maybe it will be the sweet moderate dog it was years ago. But you don’t need to be the parent of a young child to believe it reckless to let your kid play with this dog. And I don’t think you have to be a complete cynic about the Supreme Court to read their decisions to signal that this revolution is not yet over.”
    • How campaign finance ruling changes politics – NPR interview with Lessig
  • On animals:
    • An otter’s work is never done – too cute
    • Free Tilly – and all circus animals – Singer – “We will never know exactly what was going on in Tilly’s mind, but we do know that he has been in captivity since he was about two years old – he was captured off the coast of Iceland in 1983. Orcas are social mammals, and he would have been living with his mother and other relatives in a pod. It is reasonable to suppose that the sudden separation was traumatic for Tilly.Moreover, the degree of confinement in an aquarium is extreme, for no tank, no matter how large, can come close to meeting the needs of animals who spend their lives in social groups swimming long distances in the ocean. Joyce Tischler, of the Animal Legal Defense Fund, described keeping a six-ton orca in Sea World’s tanks as akin to keeping a human in a bathtub for his entire life. David Phillips, director of the International Marine Mammal Project for the Earth Island Institute, which led the efforts to rehabilitate the orca Keiko – made famous by the movie Free Willy – said “Orcas deserve a better fate than living in cramped pools.””
    • Chinese zoo blamed for death of 11 tigers – “The deaths underscore conflicting signals in China’s attempts to save its dwindling number of tigers. While extensive conservation efforts are under way, animal protection groups say zoos and wildlife parks may be deliberately breeding more animals than they can afford, hoping to sell off the carcasses onto a black market where tiger parts fetch a high price for use in traditional medicines and liquor.“We’ve seen cases where tiger farms have steeped the bones from their deceased tigers in liquor to sell to visitors,” said Hua Ning, project director for the China branch of the International Fund for Animal Welfare.Other animal rights groups like the Washington-based National Fish and Wildlife Foundation have documented stockpiled pelts and the sale of tiger wine at the Xiongsen Bear and Tiger Mountain village in south China’s Guangxi region.”
    • Tuna takes center stage at CITES meet – “Atlantic bluefin tuna is in crisis and meets the criteria for a total ban on international trade, the head of the UN wildlife trade organization said on Saturday in opening a 13-day meeting.The 175-nation Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), convening for the first time in the Middle East, is the only UN body with the power to outlaw commerce in endangered wild animals and plants.Besides the sharply disputed proposal on bluefin, the convention was to debate the status of African elephants, polar bears and tigers.”
    • Farm Sanctuary – Taking in an abandoned calf – at the start / two years later
    • Farm Sanctuary – USDA’s latest slaughterhouse violations heighten urgency for federal ban on all sick animals entering food supply – “Yesterday members of Congress heard testimony from Dean Wyatt, a supervisory veterinarian at the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, about instances in which he and other inspectors were overruled when citing slaughterhouses for violations such as shocking and butchering days-old calves that were too weak or sick to stand and butchering conscious pigs, despite rules that they first be stunned and unconscious. In addition to being illegal, inhumane and unsafe, this behavior falls well outside the bounds of what most Americans consider acceptable conduct, and the USDA’s repeated decision to turn a blind eye toward it is cause for national outrage and concern.”
  • Taiwan’s greatest ascent – “During the Japanese occupation (1895-1945), much of the area around Yushan was stripped of timber to supply the growth of the Japanese empire. When survey teams discovered that Yushan was 176 meters higher than the revered Mount Fuji, the mountain’s reputation skyrocketed. The Japanese renamed it Niitakayama, or New High Mountain, and it became a popular hiking destination among Japanese and Taiwanese. The first trail to the peak opened in 1919, and by the 1930s, middle-school girls in school uniforms were climbing as a coming-of-age graduation trip, according to a plaque at the start of the trail.”
  • On Tibet:
    • Tibetans recount Himalayn escapes – ““We’ve all heard stories of Tibetans being shot by Chinese border patrols while trying to escape, so we had to sleep during the day and walk at night, which made it very hard to see clearly, especially when it was snowing,” Jamga said. “We could not see where we were going.”  The trip was a combination of hunger, extreme weather and the threat of being shot.  “One of the members in the group died since we had nothing to eat for a few days,” he said.”
    • Parade honors memory of Tibetans 1959 uprising – “More than 1,000 people — Taiwanese, Tibetans, Chinese, Americans, Europeans and Latin Americans — took to the streets of Taipei yesterday to commemorate the 51st anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan uprising. Holding banners and signs with slogans like “self-determination for Tibet,” “stop cultural genocide in Tibet” and “Stop killing in Tibet,” the crowd departed from Zhongxiao Fuxing MRT station in Taipei and marched to Taipei 101.”
  • On China:
    • China increases security in Tibet to prevent protests – “In Nepal, where the government has been forging closer ties with China, the police on Wednesday arrested 30 protesters who had been demonstrating in Katmandu, the capital, in support of the Tibetan cause. More than 12,000 Tibetans live in Nepal, many of them refugees who have fled Chinese rule.” – a clear example of China using its influence to restrict human rights even in other countries.
    • China jails Tibetan filmmaker for six years – “A Chinese court has jailed a Tibetan filmmaker for six years after he made a documentary in which ordinary Tibetans praised the Dalai Lama and complained about how their culture had been trampled upon, campaigners said.The film, Leaving Fear Behind, features a series of interviews with Tibetans who talk about how they still love their exiled spiritual leader and think the Beijing Olympics did little to improve their lives.”
    • China shows signs of neo-fascism – “One of the most peremptory signs of fascism is the state’s negation of individualism and the idea that citizens draw their identity and raison d’etre from the state. Evidence of this emerged earlier this week when Chinese Vice Sports Minister Yu ­Zaiqing (于再清) chided 18-year-old Olympic champion short track speedskater Zhou Yang (周洋) for thanking her parents — but not her country — after winning gold at the Vancouver Winter Games last month.  “It’s OK to thank your parents, but first you should thank the motherland. You should put the motherland first, not only thank your parents,” Yu told the Southern Metropolis Daily.”
    • Chinese editorials assail a government system – “But a few hours later, the editorials had largely vanished from the Internet, presumably erased by a government that is wary of abandoning a 50-year-old system that many critics say has fed the surging gap between China’s urban and rural population.”
    • Not surprisingly, this happened shortly afterward – Editor is fired after criticizing Chinese registration system – “On March 1, just days before China’s annual legislative sessions, Mr. Zhang’s newspaper and a dozen other Chinese publications published his editorial, asserting that the registration system unfairly restricts the right of Chinese citizens to seek a better life outside their hometowns. “We believe in people born to be free and people possessing the right to migrate freely,” the editorial proclaimed.  The editorial vanished from the Internet within hours, the victim of China’s censors, but not before it was picked up by foreign news outlets.”

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To me, many people’s attitudes toward driving is a strange thing.  In the United States, it is the leading cause of death for people ages 1-34, and nearly 5 million people sustain injuries that require an emergency department visit each year.  In my own experience, there are sad emails that go out to the university informing of a death in the community; overwhelmingly these are traffic related, often either head-on car collisions or cars hitting bicyclists.

In light of this, two related aspects of people’s general attitudes toward driving confuse, and at times, annoy me.  The first is the general impatience and reckless people exhibit while driving – speeding, tailgating, talking on cell phones, etc.

The second is the lack of attention to this problem in most people’s minds.  Instead, a story like Toyota’s alleged problems with their cars will dominate the news, despite the fact that the impact of this on most people’s lives pales in comparison to the problem of reckless drivers.

Fortunately, some writers have addressed this issue, and I have listed some well-written articles on this that I have come across.  (As always, for other articles I find worth-reading, you can take a look at on my bookmarks on Delicious.)

  • Bad drivers are more dangerous than recalled Toyotas – “Have you heard about the operational crisis in the modern car? Recent news accounts are awash with evidence: cars that suddenly accelerate out of control, that careen through signalized intersections, weave across lanes with fatal consequences, spin wildly into people’s houses, and cannot stop in time to avoid killing (nonjaywalking) pedestrians.  What went wrong with the car in each of these cases? The driver.” – the author also has what looks like a very interesting book on the subject, titled Traffic: Why we drive the way we do (and what it says about us)
  • Toyotas are safe (enough) – “My back-of-the-envelope calculations (explained in a footnote below) suggest that if you drive one of the Toyotas recalled for acceleration problems and don’t bother to comply with the recall, your chances of being involved in a fatal accident over the next two years because of the unfixed problem are a bit worse than one in a million — 2.8 in a million, to be more exact. Meanwhile, your chances of being killed in a car accident during the next two years just by virtue of being an American are one in 5,244.”
  • Sudden acceleration often caused by drivers – “In 1989, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration concluded that the incidents of unintended acceleration by the Audi 5000 were mostly caused by this kind of pedal error — not some electro-mechanical defect in the vehicle. To fix the problem, Audi designed something called an automatic shift lock, which, when the car is being started, keeps the transmission in park unless and until the brake pedal is depressed. If the driver should press the accelerator instead of the brake, the vehicle remains safely in park.”

Other bookmark highlights:

  • xkcd – Single Ladies (and Sauron) – hilarious
  • A nasty attempt to coerce Danish newspapers into apologizing for the cartoons of Mohammed – Hitchens – “The thing would be ridiculous if it were not so hateful and had it not already managed to break the nerve of one Danish newspaper. In Ireland a short while ago, a law against blasphemy was passed, making it a crime to outrage the feelings not just of the country’s disgraced and incriminated Roman Catholic Church but of all believers. The same pseudo-ecumenical tendency can be found in the annual attempt by Muslim states to get the United Nations to pass a resolution outlawing all attacks on religion. It’s not enough that faith claims to be the solution to all problems. It is now demanded that such a preposterous claim be made immune from any inquiry, any critique, and any ridicule.”
  • Texas hearing considers deeper conservative stamp on textbooks – scary – “There have also been efforts among conservatives on the board to tweak the history of the civil rights movement. One amendment states that the movement created “unrealistic expectations of equal outcomes” among minorities. Another proposed change removes any reference to race, sex or religion in talking about how different groups have contributed to the national identity.”

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According to the Eastern Zodiac (countries other than China use this zodiac, so it seems a bit iffy to refer to it as the Chinese Zodiac), this lunar year is the year of the Tiger.

That seems as good a reason as any to highlight the plight of the actual tiger, whose population in the wild in dwindling rapidly as a results of poaching and use in traditional Eastern medicine.  The abuse and slaughter of these animals for these two reasons is rather ridiculous (killing tigers to make aphrodisiacs?).  Here’s a round-up of some news article on this:

  • Tiger farms in China feed thirst for parts – ““All of the demand for tiger parts is coming from China,” said Belinda Wright, executive director of the Wildlife Protection Society of India. “Unless the Chinese change their attitude, the tiger has no future on this earth.””
  • China’s tiger farms – “As The Times reported recently, one particularly horrifying practice is Chinese tiger farms, which supply pelts, worth up to $20,000 apiece, and tiger bones used in medicines and aphrodisiacs. These farms are thinly masked as efforts at tiger conservation. In reality, their purpose is to raise tigers to be butchered and consumed.”
  • Fretting about the last of the world’s biggest cats – “The numbers are not encouraging. Experts believe the global wild tiger population has fallen to below 3,000 — less than 3 percent of what it was just 100 years ago. Today, their range has been reduced to small patches, isolating many of the animals in genetically impoverished groups of dozens of cats or fewer.”

Other highlights from my Delicious bookmarks:

  • The challenge of China – “It is absurd for China to think that any Taiwanese leader would not want to bolster his country’s defenses when Beijing is modernizing its arsenal and stationing more than 1,000 missiles across the Taiwan Strait.”  If you look at the comments on this article on the New York Times, you’ll find an amazing number of rabid Chinese nationalists and foreign Chinese apologists who swallow the Chinese party propaganda hook, line, and sinker.
  • Darwin foes add warming to target – “Critics of the teaching of evolution in the nation’s classrooms are gaining ground in some states by linking the issue to global warming, arguing that dissenting views on both scientific subjects should be taught in public schools.  In Kentucky, a bill recently introduced in the Legislature would encourage teachers to discuss “the advantages and disadvantages of scientific theories,” including “evolution, the origins of life, global warming and human cloning.”” – what a shock, the same people who don’t believe in evolution are the same people who don’t believe in global warming.
  • Spread of the superbugs – “More antibiotics are fed to livestock in North Carolina alone than are given to humans in the entire United States, according to the peer-reviewed Medical Clinics of North America. It concluded that antibiotics in livestock feed were “a major component” in the rise of antibiotic resistance.

    Legislation introduced by Louise Slaughter, a New Yorker who is the only microbiologist in the House of Representatives, would curb the routine use of antibiotics in farming. The bill has 104 co-sponsors, but agribusiness interests have blocked it in committee — and the Obama administration and the Senate have dodged the issue.” – More reason to be against factory farms.

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If my recollections are correct, my very first webpage was created back in early high school, a simple one-page site hosted on my ISP, with a quote from Marx – “Religion is the opiate of the masses” – and a link to American Atheists.  Since then, I’ve gone through around six or so iterations of new webpages (not so many with my actual views).  The move has generally been from more heavy on the web page design, almost always hand-coded, and light on content, to my most recent iteration, where I used a publicly available design template and updated the page with new content roughly twice a week.

I’ve finally decided to take this to the logical end, making the greatest use of pre-built tools to save time and focus on content – hence this new blog on WordPress.com.  In addition, with the previous version of my website, I was spending a lot of time curating links of interesting articles and posting them to the site, which took up time and raised the issue of how to organize them as they accumulated over time.  Now, I’ve decided to use the bookmarking site Delicious to handle this, marking up each bookmark with the relevant tags.  In turn, I’ll probably be updating this blog less frequently, with only the highlights of the interesting articles, and longer posts of my own content.

So, check out my bookmarks here – the_green_squirrel’s bookmarks – and here are the first batch of highlights:

  • Why do lizards have ears?  To eavesdrop, perhaps. – “Ryo Ito and Akira Mori of Kyoto University in Japan supply one answer: to eavesdrop on other animals. Writing in The Proceedings of the Royal Society B, they describe how the Madagascan spiny-tailed iguana overhears the alarm calls of nearby birds to protect itself from predators.”
  • Liz Cheney says terrorists have no rights.  Also, you’re a terrorist. – “But there’s even more. Ten years ago, if some paranoid hysteric accused you of being an al-Qaida sympathizer or a jihadist, you could find a lawyer to help you make the case that you were not. But in the ever-expanding war on the Bill of Rights being waged by Liz Cheney, once you’re designated a terrorist, you lose your Sixth Amendment right to counsel. Because just by representing you—even if you’re acquitted—your lawyers become terrorists, too!”
  • Adolfo Farsari – The man who shot Old Japan (great photographs from the distant past)
  • The amazing century-old color photography of Prokudin-gorsky (more great photographs from the distant past)
  • Little orphan Angelo: A newborn lamb’s close call – “Cindy Rexhaj was grocery shopping at an Italian market in Yonkers, New York when a truck filled with sheep started unloading at the live market and slaughterhouse nearby. As she walked over to get a closer look, Ms. Rexhaj noticed that among the adult animals being herded to their doom was a tiny black lamb, underfoot and in danger of being crushed. She also saw that another baby had already been trampled to death.”
  • How not to depict a war – on the movie The Hurt Locker – “This time, the soldiers were right. The film is a collection of scenes that are completely implausible — wrong in almost every respect. This time, it’s not just minor details that are wrong.”
  • China tries to cash in on Taiwanese hero’s bravery – “Chinese officials in India have attempted to take advantage of the heroics of a Taiwanese man who, despite being injured in a deadly restaurant bombing in India on Feb. 13, dashed back inside to help other survivors, Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesman Henry Chen (陳銘政) said. Chen said the Chinese officials attempted to portray the heroic Taiwanese as a Chinese national.”  It’s worth reading the entire article; the Taiwanese man, Huang Chih-ming (黃志明), is quite a guy.
  • Insights from Scott Adams blog:
    • Crazy or disciplined? – “There’s a fine line between crazy and entrepreneurial. If you bark at the moon to make it go away, you are considered crazy. But if you start a business for which there is less than a 5% chance of success, you are considered an entrepreneur. If you feel the need to turn a light switch on and off exactly seven times before leaving a room, you have OCD. If you need to run exactly five miles every day before breakfast to feel right, you are considered disciplined and athletic.”
    • Curiosity – “Curiosity is one of the most underrated phenomena in the world. It’s ironic that people aren’t more curious about curiosity. It’s a powerful thing.  For example, if you ever wondered if someone is attracted to you, the answer lies in curiosity. If someone asks personal questions about your past, your plans, your likes and dislikes, that is an unambiguous sign of attraction. If someone tries to steer you into the bedroom without some conspicuous data gathering, that is a sign of simple horniness.”

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