SocraticGadfly: 8/17/08 - 8/24/08

August 23, 2008

Gender gap in pay still exists

It’s just being covered up by more women entering the workforce.
“Though decades of economic research suggest men and women are equalizing in the labor market, the notion that today’s working women are being paid more and treated better than ever before is simply wrong,” said researcher Yona Rubinstein, an economist at Brown University in Rhode Island. “While there may be more women holding high-power positions today, they are still being paid as their counterparts were three decades ago.”

In short, a demand for brains over brawn led more skilled women into the workforce, with more full-time positions, from the mid-1970s to the mid-1990s. Since then, we’ve flatlined.

Good cooking, smart minds

The raw foods movement may not like to hear this, researcher Philipp Khaitovich says, but the invention of cooking may well have given us our large-sized brains. Details inside the story.

We need to follow the EU on the baobab

The European Union has OKed fruit of Africa’s baobab tree“for import.

Why do we need to follow?

Picture a fruit that may have as much as three times as much Vitamin C as an orange and as much Vitamin D as a glass of milk.

And, a new food crop from Africa can do nothing but help the economy of countries there.

August 22, 2008

Hot atomic physics to get colder than outer space

The “queer” world of quantum physics is so out of the ordinary that the highest of high-speed impacts to be generated starting next month at the new Large Hadron Collider near Geneva requires each of its eight sectors be cooled to cooler than interstellar space, at -271º Celsius, just two degrees above absolute zero.

Locavores shouldn’t be so smug

Contrary to previous pronouncements, government studies claim eating locally reduces your food-portion greenhouse gas effect only 4 percent. The bigger problems are the “intensity” of today’s agriculture, and the amount of it that goes to beef and dairy. If you really want to reduce your carbon footprint, cut back on meat, especially beef. (And keep pushing Congress to raise federal grazing fees to fair-market levels.)

Avoid pregnancy and miss Mr. Right?

New genetic research and mapping is providing a welter of information about genetic groupings and mappings within Europe.

A few tidbits:
1. The research indicates and supports theories of three major prehistoric migrations into Europe
2. The Italians have a bit more genetic isolation than much of Europe, with the barrier of the Alps presumed why;
3. The Finns have even more isolation, with the explanation they started from a small, isolated core population that ballooned; speaking a non-Indo-European language may have helped, of course.

Genetic Europe painted by numbers

New genetic research and mapping is providing a welter of information about genetic groupings and mappings within Europe.

A few tidbits:
1. The research indicates and supports theories of three major prehistoric migrations into Europe
2. The Italians have a bit more genetic isolation than much of Europe, with the barrier of the Alps presumed why;
3. The Finns have even more isolation, with the explanation they started from a small, isolated core population that ballooned; speaking a non-Indo-European language may have helped, of course.

August 21, 2008

Confuse a druggie, stop an addiction?

It could be the case.

Researchers temporarily disrupted the jonesing of drug-addicted rats by interrupting their drug-related memories.

Of course, it took another chemical to do that, meaning that this is of little real-world value, at least right now, and by itself.

Now, as part of a whole-spectrum package of treatment? Yes. But, even then, the addict has to be willing to follow the protocols involved, which gets back to willpower and willingness to change.

Elephants do have memories like … elephants

The latest study on elephant memory shows that herd matriarchs appear to have vast internal memory maps of the lay of the land they traverse. The memory skills could help them help their dependent herds in droughts.

Droughts and drought-related die-offs were the focus for the study.

Older matriarchs, with more to have remembered, had herds with generally higher survival rates.

Missing from the ‘Global War on Terror’ political debate

The ability, or inability, of our hospitals to handle a mass emergency, laid out in this special report (PDF) by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

The report analyzed how well, or poorly, U.S. hospitals would handle something similar to the 2004 Madrid attacks.

Some of the bad findings?

More than half of Level I trauma hospitals have ERs operating over capacity. Hence this issue:

Several Level 1 trauma centers have their ERs on “diversion,” even though ambulances are never supposed to be turned away from such a hospital.

NO Level I hospitals have enough critical care beds for such an attack.

Most hospitals are inadequately prepared for a “surge,” unfortunately used this way, of casualties such as that from the Madrid attack.

Details in these graphics from selected U.S. cities underscore just how bad the situation is.

Read the full reportfor an eye-opener.

Got milk? They did 8,000 years ago

New archaeological findings say that Anatolians had, if not milk, then butter, ghee or yogurt, as far back as 8,000 years ago.

The findings are important in two regards.

First, they push the history of milk products back by a full 2,000 years.

Second, by the most prominent finds being outside the Fertile Crescent, it indicates different aspects of plant and animal agriculture domestication didn’t go hand in hand.

Read the story for more interesting information.

August 20, 2008

THIS is why the Bulls won six titles — and USSR Olympics?

It wasn’t Michael Jordan, it was the red unis. Joking aside, a new study claims that refs favor teams with red uniforms.

And, it was actually based on studies of athletes in individual “combat” sports such as wrestling at the 2004 Athens Olympics.

OK, so, let’s try this from the top.

THIS is why the Commies won so many gold medals.

It wasn’t the steroids, it was the red unis and red flags!

Fingerprints 2.0 is coming

Soon, relatively inexpensive mass spectrometry units could tell police (and doorknob knows who else, with BushCo’s Homeland Security) a lot more about your fingerprints.

Been using drugs? Handling TNT or guns? (Or, maybe, ammonium nitrate?) It could be detected.

R. Graham Cooks, a professor of chemistry at Purdue University, has shown how it could literally detect a fingerprint whorl of cocaine, for example.

But, it could have a more beneficial side.

The newer units could improve cancer detection, especially as an adjunct to other surgery.

America judges experts differently

Judicial testimony experts, that is. In other Western nations, expert witnesses are judge-selected and theoretically non-partisan.

Here, though, as part of the “adversarial” legal system, in both civil and criminal trials, we get dueling, partisan experts, even when a man’s life is at stake.

Here’s the problem in a nutshell:
“To put it bluntly, in many professions, service as an expert witness is not considered honest work,” Samuel R. Gross, a law professor at the University of Michigan, wrote in the Wisconsin Law Review. “The contempt of lawyers and judges for experts is famous. They regularly describe expert witnesses as prostitutes.”

Melvin Belli, the famed trial lawyer, endorsed this view. “If I got myself an impartial witness,” he once said, “I’d think I was wasting my money.”

Result? Often, even judges throw up their hands. Think of the poor jurors who, in another stupidity of American jurisprudence vs. that of Europe, aren’t able to ask their own questions of such witnesses. (Generally, in Europe, such questions are asked, to some degree, via the conduit of the presiding magistrate in major cases, who can also do his or her own cross-examination of anybody in the dock.)

Even England and Australia, with common-law legal systems similar to ours, are moving away from the dueling partisan experts system.

In Australia, for example, they still use partisan experts, but they must share information with each other, and testify together at trial.

Read the whole story for more on how the rest of the Western world can (contrary Nino Scalia) inform better jurisprudence here.

Mitsubishi joining electric car explosion

Mitsubishi has signed three-year leases to bring this cutie to America starting in October. The agreements are with Pacific Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison to add the cars to their corporate electric fleets. (Photo from Wired.)

The i MIEV is a prototype for a full-blow EV to come out in two years. Edmunds has test ride info.

Specs? A 100-inch wheelbase means it’s not a kneecapper in size. Power? Lithium batteries, not nickel hydride.

Performance? On the power side, it’s 0-60 in just over 8 seconds, with 63hp. Endurance? It goes as much as 75 miles on a charge. If this is just a prototype, Mitsubishi could have something to offer in two years.

Per Edmunds, further improvement in the battery pack is the primary need between now and 2010 full model release.

August 19, 2008

Indian women get screwed — literally

Unfortunately, for American Indian women, it’s often rape, and, unlike other ethnic groups, increasing the “unfortunately,” the rapes are often by non-Indians. And, the rapes are usually much more violent than the national average.

Indian cops have had no enforcement power over non-Indians for 30 years now, a fact my dad used to chortle about while I was growing up in Gallup, N.M., near the Big Rez, aka the Navajo Reservation.

There’s not enough FBI agents, especially in a place about as big as all New England, to conduct enforcement. Besides that, FBI cops stand out like a sore thumb (in the Southwest, all the Mormon FBI agents come home to roost), and aren’t trusted by the natives anyway.

More financial aid isn’t enough.

Only reversing the 1978 Oliphant SCOTUS decision is enough.

Your memory is better than you think

Or rather, your and my short-term memory is better than we’ve previously been told.

Our ability to remember shocking images in memory has lead researchers to revise ideas about just how much we can hold in short-term memory. That’s somewhat true, still, but not in the way believed before.

Neuroscientists used to think there was a numeric limit, such as being able to hold no more than three or four items in short-term memory at a time, at least without “clumping.”

Now, it appears we should more closely use a computer analogy and say that our short-term memory limits are based on bytes of space, not number of items.
“Before people have had this idea that visual memory has a very simple limit: three or four items and that’s it,” said researcher Paul Bays, a neuroscientist at University College London. “What my research shows is that there isn’t that upper limit, but instead there’s a single resource that’s shared out between items. What happens is that the items that stand out get more of this resource, and so are remembered with greater precision.”

Obviously, further research needs to be done about things such as, what happens when two “standout” items that stand out for totally different reasons, are presented to awareness at about the same time.

Oh, you meant Bruce Ivins, not Molly

I’m beginning to wonder if, after the anthrax case fell apart against Steven Hatfill, President Bush didn’t personally direct the FBI effort against Dr. Bruce Ivins.

Think about it. First, it’s been more than 18 months since Miss Molly died; Shrub must have been pining all this time for his nemesis and so, got confused.

Social worker Jean Duley, who claimed Ivins was nuts based on cursory evidence and who has her own problems, would then be the Ann Coulter of this affair, urging Bush on to run the dastardly Ivins to ground.

As for the skepticism of Congress about Ivins’ motive or lack thereof, that would prove this was a librul conspiracy with the dastardly Ivins.

As for trying to find a motive, maybe Bush riffed on the 1993 non-assassination non-attempt and concluded the whole terror-by-anthrax was a plot against him personally by the evil Molly Bruce Ivins.

Beyond personal motive, Bush surely sees this as his last chance to vindicate his “legacy” in the Global War on Terror, or the Global War on Intelligence, take your pick.

See, this IS all explicable.

Coffee – it’s OK

A summary of the latest findings show it doesn’t cause cancer or heart disease, doesn’t dehydrate you unless you drink it in large amounts, has antioxidants and may lower diabetes. Read the story for more.

August 18, 2008

A century-old reality check for progressives

Way back in 1908, Arthur Fisher Bentley was arguing Progressives needed to apply Realpolitik to politics.

Now, in the linked New Yorker story, Nicholas Lemann argues today’s progressive theoreticians such as Thomas Frank need to re-read Bentley and apply his ideas to today.

First, Bentley’s bona fides. A Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins, then taken not into academia, but Chicago journalism. As for politics, he worked on Robert La Follette’s 1924 Progressive Party presidential run.

Second, a thumbnail sketch, to whet your appetite.

Bentley says there is no “public interest,” just the interest of different, well, interest groups within the public interest.

Lobbying groups serve these interests; reach for your wallet when they claim to serve the “public interest.”

There’s two forms of political groups — lobbying-type groups and talking-type groups. The CFR, let alone many other folks, wasn’t around a century ago, but it seems clear this is the type of folks Bentley meant.

Third, contra Frank in “What’s the Matter with Kansas,” Lemann says that Bentley, were he alive today, would say that Kansas social conservatives believe they have a perceived interest in pulling the GOP lever. Maybe not all of them have thought about the financial side of voting for a GOP that also includes Grover Norquist. Maybe, in many cases, they have, and have determined the fiscal GOP isn’t that big a deal, or that maybe they’ll get lucky and get their extra slice of financial pie soon, or that, on idealistic grounds, they actually agree with Norquist as well as wanting to criminalize abortion.

Lemann also ties this to how McCain, and perhaps especially Obama, now seem to be disappointing followers, but I think he’s weak here.

Personally, I wouldn’t have any problem if Obama were in medias politicas res more when it’s time to compromise. But, when you don’t actually stake out that many positions in the first place, content to be an empty vessel or a mirrored blank slate, then, when you do stake out principles, it’s what progressives might accept after the work of compromise is done, whereas there’s been no negotiation to a compromise on Obama’s part, it’s a point Lemann misses.

That aside, I think it’s also a great insight on why post-World War II third parties in America have never gained traction. Today’s Greens and Libertarians are too idealistic to muck it up. The Reform Party, as founded, had no interest group, just an interest person, Ross Perot. And, its failure, between Perot’s two runs, let alone afterward, to define itself led to its essential demise.

Good thing this arch in Arches didn’t fall with hikers beneath

Hikers including me, that is. Arches National Park’s famous Wall Arch is no more, having had the center span fall out sometime during the start of this month.

The arch, 12th largest in the park, fell when nobody was around, as it was not immediately noticed.

The collapse did force the closure of the Devil’s Garden Trail in the park in the area around the arch.

There’s gold in them thar cop cams

Lots of gold.
In Chevy Chase Village, for example, where speeding tickets brought in about $8,000 monthly before cop cams,”"We are routinely bringing in approximately a quarter-million dollars per month,” Geoffrey Biddle, Chevy Chase's village manager, told his Board of Managers in February.

That’s for a community of 2,000 with an annual budget of less than $5 million. Ridiculous.

Here in Texas, at least, per state law, motorists have to be informed that an intersection is under monitoring for red-light cameras.

Speeding cameras are even worse. Many states still have “reasonable and proper” definitions of speed limits on the book, and the cameras eliminate that idea.

And, the latest? Arizona’s getting cameras to monitor urban HOV lanes.

But, there are ways you can at least be forewarned, if not fight back. Read the story.

When raptors collide, or ‘A Tale of Two Owls’

The northern spotted owl, made famous by the ire of lumberjacks decades ago, has long been listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. Yet, its numbers continue to decline, now alarmingly so.

The reason why may put environmentalists, at least some, in a quandary, as well as government officials in a jam. It appears the barred owl has been moving in from the East and killing many spotted owls.

Could government officials designate hunters to take care of the problem? Well, the barred owl is itself protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

Besides, as the story notes, it can interbreed with the northern spotted, which raises the whole issue of species vs. subspecies. Plus, unlike mules, some of these hybrids can themselves produce offspring.

And, while the invasion MAY be connected to climate change, barred owls have been moving into the Pacific Northwest for about a century.

On the flip side, U.S. Fish and Wildlife seems to want to use the barred owl as a scapegoat. So, this is a complex issue and worth a full read.

In the end, I can’t see shooting the barred owl. This is purely a natural issue. Besides, what if we kill too many barred owls and northern spotteds still don’t recover. What bird fills the gap?

Oh, and I have seen a northern spotted owl in the wild, in Oregon, so I know this is a difficult issue.

August 17, 2008

Hiking Dinosaur National Park Monument and avoiding eyesores

Well, it would be a national park, not “just” a national monument, if Bob Waite had his way. Waite, who led the charge for the creation of Great Basin NP in eastern Nevada (tentatively on my to-visit list next year), has been crusading for more than 25 years for Dinosaur to get upgraded from NM to NP. He’s still doing it, from an assisted-living center.

Second, it looks like I got here just in time to avoid seeing this eyesore on BLM land just a mile west of the monument boundary, the latest courtesy of the Bush-Cheney Bureau of Hydrocarbon Management.

Fortunately, the approval process for the exploratory drilling is not done yet, and the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance is still fighting the whole process, even if, per the BLM, the well site won’t be visible from Dinosaur’s most pristine viewing areas:
(I)t’s like crossing the Rubicon,” said Scott Braden, SUWA’s field advocate. “It’s a small step that opens the door to expanded commercial drilling on the monument boundary should the well prove up.”

We’ve crossed too many Rubicons in the last 7.5 years, and the BLM, in its refusal to offer any protection to wilderness study areas, is guilty as hell of leading the marches.

‘Ethical coffee’ a hit in Peru

The Rainforest Alliance is leading the way on getting Peruvian growers to raise ethical coffee.

The standards include protecting soils, watersheds and wildlife, while meeting standards on treatment and payment of workers.

In exchange, participating coffee growers get a guaranteed price.

In Peru, 5.7 percent of coffee is now ethically grown. And, with Kraft being the main buyer, Rainforest Alliance may reach its five-year goal of 14 percent.

So, at your specialty grocer or coffee house, look for the Rainforest Alliance-certified products.

Updated quotes – conservatives, liberals, neocons

“If you are not a liberal at age 20 you don’t have a heart If you are not a conservative at age 40 you dont have a brain.” – attributed to Churchill.

“If you’re a neoconservative, then, you’re going through a second childhood at age 60 minus both heart and brain.” – SocraticGadfly