Archive for June, 2009

“Twelve voices were shouting in anger, and they were all alike. No question, now, what had happened to the faces of the pigs. The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.” — George Orwell, Animal Farm

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The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has decided to increase the number of films that will receive nominations for Best Picture from 5 to 10. While this doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing, it will be. And this is because I doubt the Academy is smart enough to use weighted voting. If they don’t, then a film could win Best Picture with, in theory, only 10.1% percent of the vote. Although that extreme is unlikely, it is very easy to imagine 15% of the votes being enough to win. What they ought to do is implement a type of voting similar to that used for MVP voting in baseball, where a 1st place vote is worth 10 points, 2nd place worth 9, etc. This would at least ensure that the film most liked by most voters would actually win. Without such a system (and none has yet been announced) the odds of getting strange results are much higher.

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madoff map

With the Madoff sentencing coming down today, one should consider the people he actually screwed over. This map site “Madoff Victim Map” plots his victims and the money he stole from them. It does lead one to wonder, though, how complicit these investors were in his scheme. I mean, the money they pumped in only built his myth further, and his targets tended toward the already-rich. Nevertheless, Madoff did screw over a lot of investors, even if they should have known better.

It leads one to wonder, though, why the SEC was busy putting the clamps on Martha Stewart, while Madoff was stealing billions.

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Vacation, again

Yeah, it’s like we don’t actually do any real work. But as it happens, I will be visiting Stendhal tomorrow (we are rarely in the same part of the country anymore) and staying through the weekend, so posting might be infrequent for the next few days.

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It’s really, really hard to do. The newest issue of Science magazine has a perspective over cystic fibrosis (academic subscription required). It was 20 years ago that the gene responsible for the disease was discovered. Even more exciting, a particular mutation responsible for the disease was also identified at the time. Back then, it seemed like the breakthrough that everyone wanted, and greatly simplified what had been a mysterious disease. However, in the 20 years since, not a single therapy based on that gene and its mutations has emerged. More aggressive and earlier treatment have raised the median survival from 29 to 37, but progress has certainly been slower than researchers had expected or hoped.

I bring this up because it’s always worth remembering. On the spectrum of basic science to medical treatment, my own research is very far towards the basic research end. It has implications for cancer, and we mention that in every paper and every grant application, but the bottom line is we are lucky if any of our work ever benefits people at any distant point in the future.

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Look, are they trying to be funny? Or are they serious?

I would have guessed that this was more along the lines of Denny Blaze and “It’s Rainin’ McCain.”

But now, it looks like these guys are serious, with an appearance with Mike Huckabee. And hilarious.

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(This is the second in a series of reflective posts about my first year teaching. The first can be found here.)

“I spell mmm, aaa child, nnn
That represents man
No B, O child, Y
That mean mannish boy”

Muddy Waters, “Mannish Boy”

As a first year teacher straight out of college, I found myself not too far removed in age from my senior students but suddenly at a vast distance both socially and developmentally. I admit that I approached the year from a fear-based standpoint from the outset, and to some extent, I still approach the prospect with fear. That is not to say that I’m scared of going to school, but that the unknown always promotes some sense of fear in me. Seligman’s basic theory of preparedness suggests that some phobias are more universal than others, and the unknown future qualifies as one of the environmental threats that prompts this kind of fear-response. I remained, however, a “mannish boy” in the eyes of many — my students, my peers, and myself.

The developmental stages that every psychologist and theorist from Freud onward identifies are much more fluid than the convenient categories we assign. Some days, my responses to stimulus were boyish — using sarcasm with students to get a laugh, feeling an angry response to a petulant lipsmack by a student, looking for leadership rather than leading myself. To use Kohlberg’s definitions, I remained in a conventional mode — attempting to find social norms and be the “good guy.” Other days, I found myself in full adult mode, building social contracts with students and other adults, leading a classroom, ignoring behavior but addressing students. This spectrum of emotional responses could change daily, but a gradual change was setting into place.


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