Archive for May, 2009

So here are two of the main anti-Sotomayor arguments floating around:

(a) “Empathy” is just a code word for liberal activist judge; she is going to make decisions based on her personal feelings of fairness and not the law.

(b) Her decision in the Ricci case is realllly unfair! That poor guy spent all that time and money to prepare for that exam, and instead Sotomayor sides with the stupid Title VII law!

NB: As my colleague has pointed out before, this is one of those times when you can choose (a) or (b), but you can’t have both.

Or, as Greenwald is all over this today:

“Inveighing against Sotomayor’s Ricci decision by touting all the sad things that happened to Frank Ricci (Krauthammer: “he spent $1,000 on books, quit his second job so he could study eight to 13 hours a day and, because of his dyslexia, hired someone to read him the material”) is to demand that Sotomayor do exactly that which they claim is so inappropriate and which they accuse Sotomayor of doing:  namely, deciding cases based on emotion, empathy and political views about affirmative action rather than the law and judicial precedent.”

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With sweeps over, ABC has decided to air the Scripps National Spelling Bee (by the way, since Scripps is hemorrhaging money, will this become the Tostitos National Spelling Bee sometime soon?). For the last couple years, the finals has aired on ABC, and before that, the finals were on ESPN.

The announcers, however, are even worse than typical sports announcers. One hypothesis for the reason is that the competition is too weird or requires too much inside knowledge to commentate. Yet, I find that this is usually the opposite in, say, Olympic sports. For example,take a look at curling… decent explanation without excessive homering for one team (we’ll call this “Waltoning”).

Maybe the sport itself is not dynamic or exciting enough. But, of course, films such as Spellbound have put an end to such thoughts. The drama of spelling is exactly at least as taxing as other sports.

The announcing is really awful, and I have no good explanation for it. Tom Bergeron may be able to commentate “Dancing With the Stars,” but I think the spelling bee deserves better. Maybe they should have gotten Buck Laughlin:

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At the heart of conservative bellyaching and increasingly offensive drum-beating about the appointment of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, there is a grain of truth (a very small, and again distorted grain, which I’ll get to).

That truth is that minority Americans, particularly those in an isolated ghetto, can have a distorted and unrealistic view of white America, usually as monolithic and resembling some unfortunate mix of Thurston Howell III and Jed Clampett. In the case of my students, many of them have few interactions with white teachers outside of school. When students make generalizations about “white people,” the white teacher is often told “but not you, Mr./Mrs. So-and-so, you’re cool.” (My Asianness, on the other hand, never goes unnoticed.) I recall one lesson in particular, in which I asked students to explain why we were using professional language when writing to an elected official. They informed me that writing with correct grammar and no slang is simply “like white people write,” rather than the proper conventions of Standard American English.

One problem we face is the notion that colorblindness will solve problems (a notion that Stephen Colbert skewered with his famous statement: “Now, I don’t see color. People tell me I’m white and I believe them because police officers call me ‘sir.'”). In schools, we shy away from explicitly teaching about race, in fear of stoking racial hatreds or treating students differently. When students interact in such an isolated group, however, the results for white students can be devastating. This ideology of whiteness can only be broken down by understanding and interacting with it (as well as interacting with actual white people). Furthermore, these thoughts can become ingrained early in development, and even college, which should be a time of expanding minds, can actually close off many doors and allow minority students to begin having confirmation bias. Famed minority students as diverse as Michelle Obama and Clarence Thomas all experienced the same thing — alienation in a majority-white culture after leaving a majority-black one.

I am a firm believer that race is purely cultural and non-biological, but that doesn’t mean that we should avoid teaching its importance in our society. By hoping to sweep it under the rug, we have only internalized the pain and deepened our own neuroses (as if America needed more). Sonia Sotomayor, in a number of rulings about race and race relations, has consistently shown that this is not a problem for her judicial rulings — using judicial restraint to temper a passion for the downtrodden and mistreated.

The failure of informed individuals to teach race and its effects in the classroom has a devastating effect on the fundamental race relations in America, with a focus on the word “relation.” One group, segregated from another and content with itself on one side, cannot relate to the other. And if two groups cannot relate, they resort to the kind of name-calling and talking-past-each-other already familiar to anyone familiar with race relations in America.

Race is not a biological reality, but it is a reality. We cannot afford to be “colorblind,” because we are too far down the rabbit hole.

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So I was pretending to be a good scientist and reading the leading science journal, Science, when I came across this article (academic subscription required). It’s about a new program that detects plagiarism and duplication of journal papers within the scientific community.

And then I realized this was perfect blogging material. I think there are plenty of people who think that The Scientific Community is some bastion of logical thinkers committed to finding the truth. In fact, we’re as lousy as most other professions, and are beset by ethical problems concerning authorship on publications, grant writing and grant reviewing, conflicts of interest, and – of course – faked data and results. And while you usually don’t hear about them, there have been some fantastic cases of dishonesty within science. To our credit, we are usually pretty good about policing our own, and maybe that’s why the public rarely hears about it.

An example of fraud receiving broad media attention includes the remarkable case of stem cell fraud, which made front page news all over the world in 2005. But the field has legitimately passed that fake work since then, so it’s faded from memory. In the next week or two, I hope to highlight some of the most interesting ethical crises science has faced, many of which flew under the radar completely.

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UConn and USF had a 5-hour rain delay. This danceoff was the result. My favorite part is…well, watch the whole thing (although you can probably skip the macarena at the beginning).

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So, if you’re wondering what the picture is, you can click on it to find its origins. If, like me, you automatically recognized it, you are probably an Internet nerd.

Just for you, Waxy.org has compiled a list of these photoshopped images, the landscapes of internet memes, without their actual inhabitants in them. There’s some that are immediately clear and a few that evade comprehension for just a second before, like the madeleine no one wanted, they attack our brains with the memory of the pain of nostalgic internetting.

Extra points for Internet savvy (and deducted points for having a real life) if you can name all of them.

This kind of test, however, points out the new visual vocabulary that we have built, in the same way that previous generations might be able to easily identify sitcom sets. Certainly most of us could ID Seinfeld’s apartment or the Cheers bar, but I doubt that many of us, while watching these, would expect to remember the banal inside of a house we would never visit more than once or twice.

But before I philosophize too much, keep in mind: it’s just like a mini mall.

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I refer to the ones who are certain that the world will end during their lifetimes. Ron Rosenbaum has a piece in Slate about the supposed end-date of December 2012, as prophesied by the ancient Mayan calendar. If you do a Google search for ‘world end 2012’ you will get nearly 10 million responses, including stories from ABC news and USA Today.

I’m not going to bother diving into the 2012 nonsense – Rosenbaum does a fine job on that – but want to comment on End-Times-ism more generally. There is a strange fascination among a large part of the population with the end of the world. It’s why people love the Left Behind series of novels. It’s why certain types of Christians favor Israel: not out of any interest in the well-being of Jews, but because they think Israel will be important in effecting the end of the world. I have been trying to find an old poll I remember reading in TIME magazine before 2000. I remember it showed something like 50% of those polled said that they would be alive to see the end of the world. I can’t seem to find it now, so you’ll have to take my word at the moment.

And none of this is new. There is 2012 now, and we all remember Y2K, but this goes back for a long time, especially in the 19th century. As Rosenbaum writes:

“It’s a harmonic convergence all right, a harmonic convergence of ignorance and superstition—a tsunami of stupidity—worthy of the millennial cults of the 19th century most enjoyably anatomized in Leon Festinger’s famous study, When Prophecy Fails, a look at the way end-of-the-world cults grow even stronger after their prophet’s end-of-the-world date flies by and the world confoundingly continues to exist. (Festinger’s study gave rise to the term ‘cognitive dissonance.’)”

I find it interesting that Rosenbaum seems to hate End-Times-ism most because of those who exploit it. He tells the story of a woman he met who lost all her money when she gave it to a false prophet who says he needs it to prepare for a UFO landing. It is sad, and that type of exploitation will always be around (there are iPhone applications to help you prepare for the 2012 end-of-the-world. Honestly).

But what I hate most about End-Times-ism is the arrogance it necessarily implies. The world has been around for a long, long time. Countless people have believed, at one time or another, that the world was going to end. Every last one of them has been wrong. But no no, “This time it’s different!” Except it isn’t. For all the times the world has not ended, it takes a massive ego to think you are important enough to be alive when the world will end.

There is an alternative, of course. I referred to this when I mentioned the particular faction that supports Israel. These are the people who not only are arrogant enough to believe the world will end during their lifetime, but are actively rooting for it to happen. Whether it’s because they think Jesus will return, or because they will ascend to heaven, or because they just hate humanity, it’s a sick view to have.

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