On the one hand I have never been someone who celebrates “special occurences” since I have always believed that each event is special in its own way.  On the other hand my past bouts with my OCD have imbued a certain Monk-like behavior as regards to numbers.

Today is the 100th consecutive week with a Teacher’s Lounge.  The special meaning that holds for me right now is that it means in 4 more editions, TL will reach having existed for two years and on the following Saturday will be it’s 2nd birthday.  If the calendar went metric, maybe I wouldn’t have to quibble about this. 馃檪

But I’ll start planning (famous procrastinator words) something bigger for next month.

Meanwhile there is today.  What I would like to generate is some feedback.

Cross-posted in Orange

I have to admit that as a teacher, I may have handled the issue of feedback poorly for most of my career.  I probably haven’t given enough positive feedback.  As a math teacher, my approach was as follows: 

  • assign a value to the problem
  • deduct a certain amount for every mistake
  • explain why there is an error
  • correct the error

I am perhaps a natural-born editor.  I can be picky, picky, picky.  But my goal has been to get the students to the point where they eliminate their mistakes.  Classic negative reinforcement, I am now given to understand:  behave correctly and I will remove the negative stimulus.

I have relied heavily on the assignment of partial credit, which is one of the reason I was vehemently opposed to multiple-choice type examinations.  I’ve lightened up on that a bit since I began teaching programming languages instead of mathematics.

I have relied on students understanding that 9 or 10 out of ten is excellent, 8 is good, 7 is acceptable, 6 is tolerable, and that less than 6 means that this type of problem needs to be revisited.  I explained that to them early and often.  I also explain to them that I am quite anal and that because of it I often deduct half points…and sometimes even quarter points.  I’ve been known to split hairs down to sixths.  And if one has quarters and sixths, one is bound to assign grades of 88 11/24 from time to time.

And 88 11/24 is great.  B’s are good.  B+’s are great.  A-‘s are fantastic.  A’s are outstanding.  And it is not the case, however much I wish it were so, that the entire class consists of students who are outstanding.

I have moderated that somewhat now that I teach computer programming.  First off, I believe in projects, not exams, though the latter are required to keep the students from falling too far behind.  Some of the projects consist of them doing what they are told to do.  They get credit for completing the tasks.  For the final project I give my students a list of items they can include and how much value they have and let them build the project they wish to build.  They don’t like the fact that they have to decide what their program will do.  Or that they have to design it.  Or that they have to make it do what they chose to make it do.  But I always make it possible for them to get more than the assigned value of the project (in last year’s Visual Basic final project, it was possible to get 290 out of 225).

But no, I do not often write on the students paper about all the times they did the right thing.  There are not enough hours in the day for me to both assign partial credit and comment on ever step that was done correctly.

Maybe I fail in that.  And maybe I spend too much time and attention on the students who need more guidance, thereby not spending enough time praising the students who don’t need as much.  I’ve been trying to work on that over the last decade.  I don’t really know how well I am succeeding at it.  Feedback from students is often less than helpful:

    What do you like about this course?


    What would you change about this course?


So perhaps it is time to be a target, for either the good or the bad. 

What needs to be changed about what happens here? 

    I know I have had some complaints from time to time about the rules down at the bottom, that they discourage discussion, etc.  From my point of view, they have generated a certain atmosphere of trust that isn’t found in a lot of diaries.  That’s what I was hoping for when I created them anyway.

How can more students be encouraged to engage in the dialog about their education?

    Student engagement is also a problem in the meat world of college campuses.

How can Teacher’s Lounge be made better? 

    Faster, stronger.  We have the technology.

I’ll be honest, though, and say that a little positive feedback wouldn’t be met with disdain.

Pony Party : Dog Walking Edition

Now that the weather is more tolerable, Arno and I have gone back to our walking routine. At one point during August, even early in the morning, it was so humid you could have cut a piece of the air out and made a sand which. If Arno doesn’t get his walk he becomes pesky, even when he gets his walk he is a high energy clown. Once we get back from holidays in October he is also going back to obedience class.

Walking the pooch and taking pictures at the same time isn’t easy. My Nikon D40 is light and easy to handle and while I hope to get a higher end Nikon one day, it does nicely for a hobby picture seeker like myself. Nothing spectacular just a taste of one of our typical walks. We usually go three miles.

Things are quiet even at nine thirty in the morning.


I covet this large pond a few houses away from us.


This little cutie usually comes right out on to the road when we pass by. He seemed very subdued today, guess dogs have biorhythms, to.


Pretty common sight. The rule in a rural area is that if you pass somebody on the road walking, biking, riding any kind of vehicle, you must wave. It doesn’t matter if you know them or not.


This is my favorite horse. He is not bothered or perturbed by Arno, and will touch noses with him.


I tell myself that he knows me because he always comes over to say hello.


I am amazed the landscape around here does not resemble a crispy  piece of toast considering the near drought conditions we have had for two or three summers.




Arno after the mission was completed…


Thanks for looking and please share pictures of your stomping grounds and puppies.

Undercovercalico in the house,
Hey, I’m hungry can you fry me a mouse?

Please remember not to rec Pony Party, hang out, chat, and then go explore the diary list.

Lapis Lazuli and Smoke

(FP’ed 3:45 AM, September 23, 2007. – promoted by exmearden)

The outdoor tank serving as the home for a family of harbor seals was relatively quiet.  Only a few straggling tourists wheeling strollers filled with cookie-crunching toddlers were pointing fingers at the slowly lolling seals.

The very oldest, Smoke, swam by, her blue-white cataract eyes open, and her well-worn pattern through the water predictable and safe.  Always safe. She glided to the far end of the tank and diffidently sank to the bottom where sleep awaited.

One of her offspring stood silent sentry upright in the water above her. As vigilant and expressionless as a Buckingham Palace guard, his gaze never faltered, his posture never changed.

A man rapped on the glass.  “Is that seal dead?” he asked his mate, both dressed in the uniform of the day – tee shirts bearing garish signage covering overhanging bellies, blue jeans never intended to serve as work clothes, and athletic shoes which will never be worn for athletics.

As if in acknowledgment, Smoke wafted a flipper, subtly turned her head and drifted upwards.  Released from duty, her now-elderly son glided off after bestowing his mama with a graceful somersault.

Smoke stretched her torpedo torso and aimed among the rocks at the bottom.  Usually bare except for some waving sea grass and sea weed, today she stopped short.

There, feeling and tasting and exploring the bottom on particular, discerning feet was the loveliest of blue lobsters!  Two elegant, foot-long feelers oh-so-slightly tapped and tested and tuned.  Mitten claws were slightly open.  No aggression, but instead, the goat-like browsing of the flora of the bottom of the green fringed tank.

The lobster, all glistening and gleaming with the many hued brilliant blues of lapis lazuli, watched Smoke watch him.  They were two creatures with blurry, hazy gazes sizing up one another.  Friend?  Foe? Partner? Alien? Neighbor?

Lapis Lazuli extended a feeler, then took a small, careful, deliberate step toward Smoke.

Entranced, Smoke remained prone, her face intently watching the movements of the lobster engaged in his own chorus line of feet, expertly coordinated and timed in a complex dance.

The lobster approached a bit more briskly now.  Straight on, forward, but with mittens still soft, slightly ajar, inquisitive, a bit unsure, but not afraid.

Smoke waited patiently.  She, of course, was to be greeted and feted, as was her due, being the wise and old Smoke seal.

The blueness dazzled, and even Smoke was impressed by the radiance of the blue shell.  A feeler extended, rose and delicately fell to touch – just so – the end of Smoke’s nose.

She acknowledged the greeting with a flick of whisker and stillness.

Lapis continued.  Two feelers tapped, tapped, tapped, “Hello!”  The chorus of nimble legs and feet beat out a welcoming tattoo.  The rhythm of the dance was mesmerizing.

The blue and the grey enjoyed their private moment of kairos.  Then they drifted apart, each returning to a separate world in the tank.  Smoke sleepily returned to her fellow family of seals sleeping in heaps in a corner of the tank.

Lapiz Lazuli, flush with the success of a new friend found, continued on his exploration, and he next turned his attention to the rocky wall of the tank.  Bravely, courageously, he headed straight up the wall, legs gaining a purchase among the mossy crevasses.

As he gained the summit, he took time to award himself with lovely bits from the waving green fauna surrounding him.  After a savored meal, he peered over the edge of the ledge, lifted up his carapace and plunged downward.  Bold.  Unafraid.  Master of his world.

Emmanuel Todd: ‘Iran is not dangerous’ (but Sarkozy is)

In yet another fascinating interview, demographer Emmanuel Tood (best known for his prediction – based on demographic trends – of the Soviet Union collapse, and his more recent predictions of the “end of the US empire“) discusses Iran at length, and suggests that demographic trends in the Muslim world, and in particular in Iran, suggest a massive weakening of the influence of religion over their populations, rather than the opposite.

Bringing you one of our famous bilingual two-column diaries from the European Tribune

Dans « L’invention de l’Europe », j’avais montré que la montée de l’alphabétisation des populations ne suffit pas à expliquer, à elle seule, la baisse de la fécondité. Pour observer une chute du nombre des naissances, il fallait qu’à l’alphabétisation s’ajoute une diminution de l’influence religieuse.


In “The invention of Europe”, I had shown that increasing literacy rates in a population was not enough, on its own, to explain dropping fertility rates. To actually see a drop in birth rates, you needed a reduction in religious influence in addition to growing literacy rates.


Si on observe dans de nombreux pays musulmans des taux de fécondité proches de deux enfants par femme, la montée de l’islamisme que nous observons aujourd’hui ne masque-t-elle pas une réalité plus profonde, à savoir un ébranlement de la croyance religieuse ? As we can see in many Muslim countries fertility rates very close to 2 children per woman, this suggest that the rise of Islamism actually hides a deeper reality, i.e. a profound weakening of religious belief.

He notes that such a transition is never simple or peaceful but that, compared to our own experience in Europe, the Muslim world’s own behavior is rather restrained and consequences of the upheaval of such a transition period are rather benign, overall.

Il y a plus de différence démographique entre la France et l’Allemagne qu’entre la France et l’Iran !

 Nous avons fait une étude comparée de l’Iran et de la Turquie. La Turquie, plus proche de l’Europe, reste dans ce domaine moins moderne que l’Iran. L’étude des minorités kurdes en Turquie, en Syrie, en Irak et en Iran montre que, partout, ces communautés ont une surfécondité. Parmi elles, une seule s’est modernisée démographiquement et alignée sur le coeur du pays : il s’agit des Kurdes d’Iran.

Dans ce contexte, les attaques actuelles contre l’Iran apparaissent absurdes et oppressantes. L’Iran n’est pas le danger !

There’s a bigger gap, demographically speaking, between France and Germany than between France and Iran!

We’ve compared Iran and Turkey. Turkey, which is geographically closer to Europe, is less modern demographically than Iran. For instance, the study of the Kurdish minorities in Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran shows that, in each country, they have higher fertility rates than the country they reside in – all, except in Iran, where the Kurdish minority has modernised demographically and is aligned on the rest of the country.

In that context, the current attacks on Iran appear absurd and oppressive. Iran is not a threat today.

Le cas du Pakistan est problématique. Ce pays est en retard en termes de fécondité, possède l’arme nucléaire et se trouve au début d’une explosion islamiste. Pourtant, les alliés américains prennent ces données avec beaucoup de légèreté Pakistan is a lot more worrying. The country is late in its demographic evolution, has nuclear weapons, and is in the midst of an Islamic explosion. And yet these facts are treated with carelessness by its American ‘ally’.

This reminds me of the sad joke that the “Eurabia” concept is, considering that fertility rates in Iran, Algeria, Turkey or Morocco are now all lower than in France. But again, that reflects widespread ignorance about demographic trends and what they may mean – where Todd brings truly compelling data.

One might note as well the added hypocrisy of demonizing countries and being surprised that their populations rally around their (opportunistically nationalistic and populist) leaders, not to mention the double standard inherent in a discourse that explicitly puts countries on a target list – while using missionary language (the ‘axis of evil’) and then points to their hostile reactions as proof of their danger…

Todd has little more to say about the USA beyond what he said earlier, but has a few choice words for Sarkozy:

Je n’ai pas changé d’avis. Les États-Unis sont en situation de perte de puissance : ils n’ont pas réussi à prendre le contrôle de l’Irak et n’ont pas empêché la reprise d’autonomie de la Russie. A la limite, la seule conquête des américains c’est Nicolas Sarkozy ! Mais ils sont en train de perdre les Anglais…


I have not changed my mind: the USA is losing power: it could not take control of Iraq, could not prevent Russia from regaining its autonomy. In a way, the USA’s only conquest lately has been [French President] Nicolas Sarkozy! They are even losing the English…


Les commentateurs politiques comparent la manière dont Nicolas Sarkozy exerce le pouvoir et le bonapartisme, une sorte de droite autoritaire spécifique au génie national.

Le moment est venu de s’interroger sur la dimension internationale du bonapartisme. Les deux Bonaparte nous ont valu plusieurs invasions du territoire national, la politique extérieure de Napoléon III a mené à la défaite de Sedan.

La provocation généralisée avec les autres pays européens et la morgue agitée de notre gouvernement, ajoutées à ses prises de position sur l’Iran, commencent à m’inquiéter.

Pundits in France compare Sarkozy’s behavior in power with bonapartism, a kind of right wing authoritarianism infused with a strong belief in France’s genius.

It’s time to worry about its international implications. Both Bonapartes [NB: the better known Napoleon after the French revolution, and self-proclaimed Emperor Napoleon III who ruled France between 1851 and 1870] brought France repeated invasions of its territory and Napoleon III’s policies led to the defeat in Sedan [France’s humilating defeat against Prussia in 1870].

The current attitude of permanent provocation against other European countries and the noisy arrogance of our government, together with its attitude towards Iran, are really worrying me.

British Army Chief: “Our opponents…are Iraqi nationalists”

“Our opponents in the main are Iraqi nationalists, and are most concerned with their own needs – jobs, money, security, hope. And the majority, therefore, I would suggest are not bad people.”

General Sir Richard Dannatt, head of the British Army, speaking about the Iraqi resistance (via) during a recent speech at the Institute for International Studies (IISS) in London.

Channel Four news showed a film of him making the remarks:

(via lenin)

When the head of the British Army describes the “majority” of the Iraqi resistance as “Iraqi nationalists” and “not bad people”, thereby totally deflating the official government narrative about the ‘insurgency’ being primarily composed of crazy al-Qaeda/takfiri fanatics, it’s surely big news.

However, whilst a search for ‘general richard dannatt’ on Google News brings up plenty of articles discussing his speech, a search for ‘general richard dannatt “not bad people”‘ produces but a single Guardian article, which buries the quote in a passing mention three paragraphs from the end.

It seems inconceivable that the mainstream press would report a speech so heavily and yet almost unanimously fail to mention one of its most important details, but it appears that this is what has happened. A Google search for ‘general richard dannatt “not bad people”‘ confirms this.

Who needs censorship when you have a press that is perfectly willing to ignore statements from a top military official in order to preserve the official government line all by itself?

Cross-posted at The Heathlander

Doing it for Ourselves 1.1

Last week I posted the first of this fledgling series here. This series is about the broad theme of self reliance and sustainable living. Each week’s post will have a different topic or focus, though I hope people will use the comments to talk about whatever their related interests and specialties might be or ask questions that others can answer. Today’s installment will focus on preservation, or how to make the things you have at home last.

Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members. Society is a joint-stock company, in which the members agree, for the better securing of his bread to each shareholder, to surrender the liberty and culture of the eater. The virtue in most request is conformity. Self-reliance is its aversion. It loves not realities and creators, but names and customs.  ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson from Self Reliance

But lo! men have become the tools of their tools. ~Henry David Thoreau from Walden

Preservation is the activity of maintaining an object in its existing state, protecting it from harm and deterioration. In other words, it is the things we can do to make our possessions last, whether cherished heirlooms and mementos from family and travels or the things we use and don’t want to have to replace all the time, such as furniture, because of wastefulness and expense.

Many of the activities involved in preservation have to do with good common sense. Preservation is very similar to preventative medicine in principle, in fact it is also called preventative conservation.

First, it is important to know what causes things to fall apart, or to deteriorate. Here’s a basic list:


get link Mechanical:
Direct physical forces (theft, vandalism, poor handling, poor storage support or display mounts, vibration, abrasion)

source Environmental
Disasters:  flood, fire, earthquake, tornado
Long term incremental: improper light/radiation, improper temperature, improper humidity

enter site Chemical
Pollution and pollutants:  Nitric acid, sulfuric acid, ozone, salts, chlorine, formaldehyde, smoke,
Improper cleaning products: bleaches, oxidants, metal tarnish strippers, aluminum based metal cleaners, detergents, solvents, solvent and oil based furniture polishes
Unstable prior repair materials: Super glues, epoxies, impure polyvinyl acetates, cellulose nitrates, rubber cements, adhesive tapes, staples, straight pins, steel paper clips Biological
Pests (insects, rodents, birds, bats) mold and fungi

comprare vardenafil generico spedizione veloce Inherent vice
The object itself is made of poor quality or incompatible materials. Examples include:
Newsprint, wood pulp papers are highly acidic; Low binder paints, the binder deteriorates leaving powdery pigment; High soda content glass, crizzles and develops glass disease; Cellulose nitrate- imitation ivory, tortoise shell, old film negatives WHAT YOU CAN DO
The following is a brief outline of steps you can take to insure the long term preservation of objects. Links are provided at the end of this essay where you can find more detailed information, or you can ask questions about specifics in the comments.

go 1. Control the environment
Relative Humidity & Temperature:
Extreme changes in humidity and temperatures and extreme levels of both accelerate chemical and physical deterioration processes. Try to maintain a stable %RH with swings no greater than 10%. The cooler the temperature the more ideal, but a range of 68 to 72 degrees F is a good rule of thumb. Some materials, such as photographic negatives, are best preserved in cold storage.

High moisture can cause warping, mold growth (RH>68%), corrosion – chemical processes
Low moisture can cause shrinkage and cracking
路 HVAC systems, Dehumidifiers, Humidifiers
路 Buffer from the extremes of winter lows and summer highs
路 Buffering includes the use of cabinetry, silica gels, other sorbing materials

UV Radiation
UV radiation causes discoloration including bleaching/fading and accelerates the degradation of organic materials
Avoid exposure to direct sunlight (20,000 lux)
Use UV filters on windows and Fluorescent lamps (700 lux)

Sensitive materials: watercolors, organic dyes  (50 lux)
Medium sensitivity: Oil paints, acrylics, durable dyes (150 lux)
Low sensitivity: inorganic materials – stone, metal, ceramics, some glass

Infrared radiation: can cause heat build up

click here 2. Security from Theft and Disaster
路 Alarm systems – security, fire, water, carbon monoxide
路 Fire extinguishers, good drainage
路 Disaster preparedness plan for your home
路 Disaster Response kit for your home 3. Proper storage and display
路 Storage areas should be on ground level if possible, not in basements or attics.
路 Storage should be kept environmentally controlled, secure, clean and pest free
路 Food and beverages should not be allowed in storage areas
路 Ideally storage should be dedicated to that purpose
路 Ideally objects should be stored within enclosed cabinets or containers
路 Only use inert, stable, safe storage and display materials
路 Objects should be provided with structural support if required with rigid mounts, padding or other support materials. Examples of good storage materials include:

*Polyethylene plastics – bags, sheeting, boxes (zip locks are polyethylene)
*Acrylic plastics – plexiglass
*Acid free cotton paper tissues
*Pure un-dyed cotton fabrics – muslin
*Polyester fabrics and fiber fills
*Coated and sealed shelving or mounts
*Non-off gassing or incompatible materials
*Unbleached cotton thread, twine or string
*Unbleached cotton fabric twill tape

路 Avoid chemically reactive storage and display materials, which include:

*Polyvinyl chlorides (PVC)
*Untreated wood, oak – acidic
*Offgassing adhesives, paints, varnishes & other coatings
*Wool felt fabric
*Acidic papers
*Rubber bands
*Masking or cellophane tapes
*Staples, metal paper clips, safety pins

Tips for displaying objects and art:
*Keep sensitive materials displayed and stored away from sources of light, heat
*Use UV filtering on display case glazing and frame glazing and use appropriate lighting
*Avoid attaching objects on display with nails, pins and tacks
*Use clear sticky wax to secure objects such as glazed ceramics and glass to shelving
*Use support stands, rings and other supporting materials to cushion and stabilize objects

use of clomid fertility drug 4. Proper Handling
Most damage to objects results from human klutziness or rambunctious pets and kids. There are several steps you can take when handling and moving objects to help prevent their damage.

路 Secure any loose parts first or remove them and handle them separately
路 Avoid haste, and plan out where you are going
路 Get help if the object is heavy or awkward
路 Don’t overload a box or mix heavy and fragile items
路 Use a support box, tray, hangar and cushioning if possible
路 Make sure hands are clean and dry and/or wear gloves
路 Use both hands to carry
路 Don’t lift an object by its weak points – rims, handles, projections
路 Keep the object away from ink, other liquids, food or sharp objects
路 Be careful of any jewelry or watch you might be wearing
路 Always wear gloves when handling metals, photos or fragile papers

affects of accutane and menopause 5. Inspection, Maintenance and Cleaning
路 Clean regularly to remove dust and detritus from storage and display areas.
路 For storage areas, use white liner material such as a white sheet on shelving to be able to see soiling or insect activity
路 Use sticky traps and other monitors to evaluate the presence of pests.
路 Don’t use mothballs or other chemical pesticides on objects
路 Cleaning of floors and shelves is best done with a well filtered vacuum
路 Avoid sweeping as it just redistributes dust in the air – acidic and abrasive
路 To clean objects use a soft lint free cloth or a low pressure vacuum with plastic screening and soft brushes

o Furniture/Wood: hard wax based polish no more than once a year. Overwaxing attracts dust. Avoid solvent based spray polishes and oils. Use a soft cloth or vacuum to remove dust. Watch for lifting and cracking, fading and warping
Be careful of spills and scratches. Vacuum upholstery and drapery.

o Baskets and other fiber objects: brush and vacuum, avoid water and other chemicals

o Glass, Ceramics and stone: wipe with a soft cloth or vacuum with brushes

o Metals: avoid overpolishing. Do not use quick dip polishes (SO2) Some polishes are less aggressive and abrasive (Hagerty’s, pacific silver cloth)

o Leather: avoid waxes or soaps. Keep away from sulfur based materials (rubber, hair, wool)

o Mixed materials: vacuum with soft brushes

For more information here are some good on-line resources:

Conserve O Grams
Technical Bulletins provided  from the National Park Service

Smithsonian Museum Conservation Institute, Taking Care brochures

Preparing, Protecting, Preserving Family Treasures
From the Library of Congress

Northeast Document Conservation Center
Technical bulletins/leaflets specializing in paper, books and photos

Conservation and Art Material Encyclopedia Online (CAMEO)

Archival storage materials and supplies
Light Impressions (especially good for photo preservation) 

University Products

Gaylord Bros.

I hope this info will be helpful to you all.  If you have any questions about things that are broken or falling apart, besides your own selves, I’d be happy to try to answer any questions or offer advise or resources. I normally charge big bucks for this stuff, so take advantage of me! hahaha

Race, Gender, Bigotry, and the Presidential Primary

An argument one can occasionally hear being made runs like this: a woman or a black man would enter the general election for the Presidency at a disadvantage due to (supposedly) widespread misogyny and racism. Under this logic, of the top three, being a white male, John Edwards is presented as the best candidate. This argument was made in a particularly irksome troll diary the other day, and a little digging uncovers it elsewhere on the internets.

There are many, and many good, reasons to support John Edwards, as I do. This, however, is not one of them, for the simple reasons that it’s morally reprehensible, that the candidate disdains it and that, lastly, it’s not supported by actual polling data.

Details over the fold.

(Originally posted at Daily Kos; the HTML rendering here is somewhat messed up, so you have to, alas, scroll to see the tables)

Bigotry is a fact of American life and in American politics. It is an affliction both to its victims and its practitioners. Most certainly, it’s not a phenomenon confined to our place and time. Over a century ago, Victor Hugo wrote this:

Superstition, bigotry and prejudice, ghosts though they are, cling tenaciously to life; they are shades armed with tooth and claw. They must be grappled with unceasingly, for it is a fateful part of human destiny that it is condemned to wage perpetual war against ghosts.

The essence of bigotry is dehumanization and depersonalization; the Other becomes objectified and categorized. This, as Hugo says, we must struggle against, certainly as Progressives. It is morally poisonous to base a self-willed choice, such as a preference in a primary, on surrender to the presumed worst instincts of others.

Notably, this is not a moral capitulation John Edwards endorses. Asked about precisely this during the YouTube debate, he replied:

“Anyone who won’t vote for Hillary because she’s a woman or Obama because he’s black, don’t bother voting for me. I don’t want your vote.”

Most importantly, the perception that Americans have reservations about the idea of a woman or a person of color in the Oval Office is severely overstated. To be sure, there are people who hold these views; there just aren’t enough of them to make that much of a difference, and several other factors present higher obstacles to a candidate from a disfavored group. The Pew Center conducted a poll in the first half of August to get to the bottom of this perception. It shows that there are quite a few traits inherent in a candidate’s persona that will disincent a slice of the electorate from voting for them.









“Regardless of the specific candidates who are running for president, we’d like to know how you generally feel about some different traits. First, would you be more likely or less likely to support a candidate for president who [see below], or wouldn’t this matter to you? How about if a candidate [see below]?”















































































More likely Less Likely Wouldn’t matter Trait differential Combined positive/neutral
Is a woman 15 12 72 + 3 87
Is black 9 6 84 + 3 93
Is Hispanic 9 15 75 – 6 84
Is Mormon 5 25 66 – 20 71
Is Muslim 3 45 49 – 42 52
Is an Evangelical Christian 19 16 60 + 3 79
Does not believe in God 3 61 34 – 58 37
Is Catholic 13 7 79 + 6 92
Is Jewish 9 11 79 – 2 88


Source: Pew Research Center for the People & the Press and Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life survey conducted by Schulman, Ronca & Bucuvalas. Aug. 1-18, 2007. N=3,002 adults nationwide. MoE 卤 2.

There are some methodological issues with this poll, chief among them that there is no explicit control group – it is implicit in the poll’s design that a white, Protestant, heterosexual male polls at the baseline 100%, which is probably why there is no control question on whether those traits would make anyone more or less likely to vote for someone possessed of those attributes – and what is known as the interviewer effect.

The interviewer effect is a well-established variable in the social sciences, and is defined in laymen’s terms as the influence on responses of being asked questions by a live person. In face to face or phone surveys, respondents tend to give answers seen as socially desirable due to a measurable impulse to gain the approval of, or to not offend, the person asking the questions. Given the odium attached to admitting racial or gender or religious bias, it’s likely that these results don’t give a completely numerically accurate picture of actual attitudes as far as candidate race and gender are concerned.

There is, however, an inadvertent control variable embedded in these poll results, and that is attitudes towards Catholics, given that the last Democratic nominee, John Kerry, was Catholic. Based on the (untested) assumption that bias against Catholics would affect Kerry’s results to the same degree as bias against women and minorities would affect those of Obama, Clinton and others, comparisons can be made on the effect of inherent traits on comparative electability. Let’s take another look at that data, also including Hispanics on account of Bill Richardson.




















































More likely Less Likely Wouldn’t matter Trait differential Combined positive/neutral Kerry differential
Is a woman 15 12 72 + 3 87 – 5
Is black 9 6 84 + 3 93 + 1
Is Hispanic 9 15 75 – 6 84 – 8
Is Catholic 13 7 79 + 6 92 -/-


From that, we can assert that John Kerry started out with a pool of 92% of Americans from which to draw votes (the poll does not screen out registered or likely voters, and for the purposes of this analysis, that pool is assumed to consist of individuals more likely to vote for a candidate or who say a given trait makes no difference in their voting preference). A black candidate very slightly outperforms that number with 93%, within the margin of error; a woman at 87% underperforms it, just barely outside the margin. A Hispanic at 84% significantly underperforms, which is frankly something of a surprise and not, as far as I am aware, a subject of public discussion.

Also of note is that belonging to a specific demographic group doesn’t necessarily only create a burden for a candidate. For both women and blacks, the balance between those who say they’re less likely and those more likely to vote for such a candidate is actually slightly positive at 3%, meaning that for both, the percentage of respondents more likely to vote for such  candidate is higher than that of those who will not. This balance is more positive for Catholics, slightly less so for Evangelicals, slightly negative for Jews, slightly more so for Hispanics, and rises into double digits for Mormons, Muslims and Atheists.

There are several conclusions to be drawn from this. First, gender, religion and ethnicity have a definable impact on electability, as do presumably many other factors not a part of this survey, such as military service, socio-economic status, educational attainment, sexual orientation and so on. However, and notably, those factors do not diminish the pool of persuadable voters below the 50%+1 threshold for any of our top candidates. Equally, all of these generic factors – being a woman, an African-American, and a Hispanic – leave a larger pool of voters than does being an Evangelical Christian, respectively, 87%, 93%, and 84% versus 79%, let alone being a Mormon at 71%, a Muslim at 52% or an atheist at 37%. Clearly, there is bias in the American electorate, even strong bias; it seems, however, that there is something of a perception gap in the kommentariat as to where that bias is directed.

It’s my belief that John Edwards is the best general election candidate, based on a combination of his persona and his issues platform, and to a far lesser degree on the fact that the last three Democratic Presidents were Southerners. I have significant reservations about Senator Clinton, arising in part from her staggering negatives; it’s not apparent to me how one can get oneself elected when 45% or so of the electorate say they would never consider voting for one. This, simply put, has never happened. As far as Senator Obama is concerned, there are some legitimate concerns to be voiced about his experience and leadership skills at this moment in his career, though conversely, I think he will be President one day.

However, none of these weaknesses, as I personally perceive them, of the other candidates stem directly from their race or gender. Obama is as electable as John Kerry, even slightly more so; Hillary, slightly less, but her being a woman does not, based on the hard polling data, preclude her from being elected.

If any of these candidates fail in the general election, it won’t be because they happen to belong to a given socio-demographic group. It will be because of other factors. As you make your primary choices, by all means, consider whichever factors you wish in making that choice; but race and gender shouldn’t be among them.

Pony Party: Coffee, Coffee, Coffee

I love coffee, even crappy coffee. I don’t remember the exact age at which I started drinking it regularly, but I grew up in a town with a coffee shop culture, probably because at that time there were a lot of shift workers. It was just coffee and donuts, it came in a white utilitarian cup. I did not get my coffee horizons expanded until a trip to Spain and Portugal at age 19.

These days you can even get fair trade coffee at Costco.

A few random coffee facts…

Americans are number one in coffee consumption, drinking 400 million cups of coffee per day.

Drinking coffee might reduce you risk of liver cancer.

It might also reduce the likelihood of getting gout.

I know there are negatives associated with coffee, I am simply going to avoid discussing them.

Annoying sexist Folger’s commercial from the 70’s. It seems kind of funny now… in a I can’t believe he said that way.

Weird Folger’s commercial.

Inspirational music from my younger days to help you wake up and seize the day. These are, the Redskins, the video is lame, the music is great.

Undercovercalico is in the house after working all night.

Please don’t rec Pony Party, stay to chat and hang out, and then go check out the recent diaries.

Cowbody Environmentalism Is For Sissies

Let me say it straight out.  I am not real hot on gentlemen farmers who prefer others get their hands dirty while they look at Norman Rockwell paintings on their walls of a time that never was.  A time when happy cows frolicked in green meadows and happily gave their milk to tiny infants and playful children.

Such folks probably never milked a cow nor smelled much of the other stuff that cows produce.  Norman Rockwell himself was a strangely cynical illusionist who would have shocked the pants off the 1950’s puritans if they knew he had used his mistress in his Saturday Evening Post covers.

When I was very young, going to a one-room school in high desert country, the older kids used to make fun of one pioneer lady who survived very harsh winters burning what she delicately called “buffalo chips.”  Much nicer than calling them “cow pies” or that other word.

Even then it seemed a wonderment to me just as I was startled in my dotage when my doctor told me his small village in India got all its electricity from anaerobic digesters when he was growing up.

The tunnel-visioned “wind and solar” crowd that has lost peripheral vision much beyond hilarious “clean coal” or nuclear power that would poison the planet for eons or even stealing food from a hungry world to grow crops for ethanol might try to stop smelling the manure so many politicians produce in abundance and think about naure’s goodness while its still fresh.

Please to note the “fresh.”  That is crucial.  The residents of San Francisco who carry plastic doggy bags around to pick up their doggy’s poop are doing a fine thing. It is mighty fine the city of San Francisco wants to use the doggy poo for producing methane. But perhaps the planners don’t know 90% of the methane has escaped into the atmosphere.  That methane is a far more potent greenhouse gas than the carbon that is emitted by tailpipes and smokestacks burning fossil fuels.  Probably be just as well to burn the dry cow pies, like the pioneer lady who gathered them up for heating and cooking.

Frolicking cows and pigs in the meadows can’t be prevented from belching and farting methane into the atmosphere though even that effluence can be reduced by medication.  They can, however, be prevented from burning the grass and polluting the run-off with feces by utilizing that feces to produce fuel and fertilizer and fiber.

Fertilizer?  Isn’t that what the happy livestock are extruding in the pleasant meadows?

Well yes and no. Fresh manure burns crops.  The first anaerobic digesters devised centuries ago in southeast Asia were longitudinal boxes buried in the ground to produce an improved fertilizer.  The methane produced was more a curiosity than a desired product.

Today’s more advanced technology can produce methane or ethanol in abundance and even some hydrogen.

But the cows and pigs and other livestock can’t run free amd frolic in the meadows like they do in the Norman Rockwell paintings.

Norman Rockwell must be loving it from where he is with his mistress.  If that weren’t allowed up there, it wouldn’t be  heaven.

Best,  Terry

Geothermal Power Is Just Regional As You Know

Like New Hampshire for instance.  And Texas.

The region where geothermal power might be developed is Earth.  Not much chance on cold planets and other heavenly bodies. 

I have generally found heavenly bodies cold as ice but that is personal.  Environmentalists generally seem to have the same problem. 

“A Boston-based geothermal company is exploring the potential to develop a 10-megawatt plant in the North Conway area over the next two years.<<


Well that’s a rather modest start on hot dry rock technology that the worthies at MIT called something else so as not to be associated with hot dry rock.

Unlike the small thinking types that inhabit New England, flat earthers in Texas think big:

“Because most oil and gas wells are quite deep, they are warmed by the natural thermal gradient of the earth. In 2004 the U.S. produced over 5×1010 bbl (that’s 2,100,000,000,000,000,000,000 gallons!) of “waste” water along with the oil and gas production, primarily from the Gulf States with temperatures high enough to produce electricity. This hot water could be used to generate power directly, without impacting oil and gas production. Some estimates suggest up to 5000MW of additional power could be generated in Texas alone — that’s more than 10 times the amount of power used by the entire State of Alaska!”


Even flatter-earthers in Florida seem to have some ideas along the same lines.

“Nuke ’em,” say many environmentalists.

I personally would rather not.  There is far more power to be mined underground for free if folks would just do it.

Well the drilling and stuff costs some but you know what I mean.

BTW the DOE has zeroed out all research on geothermal power.  Who needs it says Bush?

Best,  Terry

The Morning News

The Morning News is an Open Thread.

From Yahoo News Top Stories

1 Feds target Blackwater in weapons probe
By MATTHEW LEE, Associated Press Writer
1 minute ago

WASHINGTON – Federal prosecutors are investigating whether employees of the private security firm Blackwater USA illegally smuggled into Iraq weapons that may have been sold on the black market and ended up in the hands of a U.S.-designated terrorist organization, officials said Friday.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Raleigh, N.C., is handling the investigation with help from Pentagon and State Department auditors, who have concluded there is enough evidence to file charges, the officials told The Associated Press. Blackwater is based in Moyock, N.C.

A spokeswoman for Blackwater did not return calls seeking comment Friday. The U.S. attorney for the eastern district of North Carolina, George Holding, declined to comment, as did Pentagon and State Department spokesmen.

2 Powers have “serious” talks on Iran sanctions
By Arshad Mohammed, Reuters
Fri Sep 21, 9:06 PM ET

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Major powers said on Friday they had “serious and constructive” talks about new U.N. Security Council sanctions aimed at trying to force Iran to halt its uranium enrichment activities.

But the officials of the five permanent Security Council members and Germany said they will keep pursuing a “dual track” approach to Iran — trying to persuade it to abandon enrichment via negotiations while considering new sanctions.

Western nations, which suspect Iran may be seeking to develop an atomic bomb under the cover of its civil nuclear program, have demanded Tehran suspend its uranium enrichment, a process that can produce fuel for a bomb.

3 Deal reached on cutting ozone-damaging emissions
Fri Sep 21, 10:39 PM ET

OTTAWA (Reuters) – Delegates from almost 200 countries agreed late on Friday to eliminate ozone-depleting substances faster than originally planned, the United Nations said.

The agreement was reached at a conference in Montreal to mark the 20th anniversary of the Montreal protocol, which was designed to cut chemicals found to harm the ozone layer. The layer protects the Earth from ultraviolet radiation.

The United States — backed by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) — had urged delegates to move the deadline for phasing out production and use of hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFC) for developed countries to 2020 from 2030 and to 2030 from 2040 for developing nations.

4 Protest monks call for prayer vigils in Myanmar
10 minutes ago

YANGON (AFP) – A Buddhist group claiming to be aiding monks drive an escalating protest movement in Myanmar called Saturday for nationwide prayer vigils in a bid to turn up the heat on the military regime.

The monks’ peaceful protests, which have drawn thousands of people onto the streets clapping and smiling in Yangon and other cities, have turned into the most prolonged show of defiance in nearly 20 years against the junta.

Deeply respected in the devoutly Buddhist country, the monks have breathed new life into the anti-junta movement after initial street protests broke out one month ago following a massive hike in fuel prices.

5 Fujimori awaits extradition to Peru
by Paulina Abramovich, AFP
1 hour, 5 minutes ago

SANTIAGO (AFP) – Former Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori awaited Friday to be extradited from Chile to Peru to face trial on charges of corruption and the killing of 25 people by death squads during his rule.

A Peruvian police airplane flew out of the border city of Tacna late Friday on its way to Santiago to pick up Fujimori hours after Chile’s Supreme Court ordered his extradition.

The decision, which cannot be appealed, will send Fujimori back to his home country after seven years in exile to stand trial over alleged massacres and rampant graft during his 1990-2000 rule.

From Yahoo News Most Popular, Most Recommended

6 US bars attorneys’ access to detainees
By BEN FOX, Associated Press Writer
Fri Sep 21, 11:07 PM ET

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – Attorneys for at least 40 Guantanamo Bay prisoners have been barred from visiting or writing their clients because of a judge’s order dismissing legal challenges to the men’s confinement, the U.S. Department of Justice said Friday.

A Justice Department lawyer informed the attorneys of the new restrictions in an e-mail that cited Thursday’s dismissal of their cases by District Court Judge Ricardo Urbina in Washington.

“In light of this development, counsel access (both legal mail and in-person visits) is no longer permitted,” Justice Department lawyer Andrew I. Warden said in the e-mail.

7 Protests over Rumsfeld at Stanford
By TERENCE CHEA, Associated Press Writer
Fri Sep 21, 6:53 PM ET

SAN FRANCISCO – Thousands of Stanford University students, faculty and alumni are protesting the conservative Hoover Institution’s decision to appoint former U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld as a visiting fellow.

The Stanford-based Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace announced earlier this month that Rumsfeld, who served as President Bush’s defense secretary for almost six years, would join a task force that will focus on issues related to “ideology and terror” in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

An online petition contesting the appointment on the grounds that Rumsfeld clashed with the university’s core values had more than 2,500 signatures Friday.

From Yahoo News Most Popular, Most Viewed

8 Heavyweights panic as woman dives for sumo ring

Thu Sep 20, 12:05 PM ET

TOKYO (Reuters) – A woman invaded a sumo ring — a sacred arena from which females are banned — in Tokyo during a major tournament, domestic media said on Thursday, then was pulled down by a referee and one of the sport’s huge wrestlers.

The middle-aged woman dashed from the side of the Kokugikan sumo stadium on Wednesday and shoved away a female security guard before rolling onto the ring just as a bout was set to begin, the Yomiuri newspaper said.

The Japan Sumo Association insisted that though the woman did enter the raised platform around the batting ring, she did not set foot on the ring, or dohyo, itself.

From Yahoo News World

9 Taiwan’s ruling party chairman resigns
Associated Press
28 minutes ago

TAIPEI, Taiwan – The chairman of Taiwan’s ruling party resigned Saturday after prosecutors indicted him on graft charges, while the island’s vice president, facing similar charges, said she would fight the allegations.

Yu Shyi-kun, chairman of the Democratic Progressive Party, denied charges that he misused funds during his tenures as premier and presidential chief of staff between 2000 and 2005.

However, he resigned Saturday pending trial at the Taipei District Court, according to a statement from his office. The resignation was effective immediately, the statement said.

10 China Comes Out to Play
Fri Sep 21, 4:10 PM ET

Beijing is boiling. A year before China’s capital hosts the 2008 Summer Olympic Games, its economy is swelling at an annual rate of 12%. Skyscrapers and vast shopping malls are springing up alongside the 28 million new trees that have been planted in an attempt to counteract the 3 million vehicles that clog the city’s streets and whose fumes contribute to pollution so bad that new arrivals invariably develop a racking cough that can plague them for months. More than anything else, perhaps, it is the human tide sweeping Beijing that is remaking the city, with migrant workers from tiny villages in every corner of China standing wide-eyed on the streets, lured by the hundreds of thousands of jobs the boom has created. Then there are those from even farther afield–venture capitalists from San Francisco, artists from Brussels, chefs from Rome, legions of gimlet-eyed businessmen from Taipei, Berlin and Tel Aviv–all drawn to make fortune or fame or maybe just to say “I was there the year that Beijing welcomed the world.”

The Olympics have been used before to solemnize a nation’s vision of itself. The 1964 Games in Tokyo announced that a new powerhouse had been rebuilt from the ashes of war; the ones in Seoul, 24 years later, that a country of the developing world had achieved modernity. But the weight of expectation and symbolism carried by the 2008 Olympics is something else. For the billions watching around the world, the Olympics will be a time when a resurgent China shows its most confident face–and a moment that offers a unique opportunity to pressure the Chinese authorities on everything from environmental protection to the country’s policy toward Sudan.

For many ordinary Chinese, the Games mark the ability of their nation to shrug off two centuries of humiliation by foreigners. “In the 19th century, China used to be called the sick man of Asia,” says Li Weiling, 51, a checkout clerk at a Beijing supermarket. “The Olympics will totally change that. Hundreds of thousands of athletes, reporters and visitors will see China with their own eyes and realize China is not a backward country anymore.” Among China’s dissidents and democrats, meanwhile, there has been hope that the attention paid to their nation as the Games approach would lead to a relaxation of tight controls on political and social expression. As for those who live in Beijing, the Olympics will signify the transformation of their city–until recently one whose sinews and shape had been constant for hundreds of years–into a place that aims to rival New York or London as an iconic world city of the new century. The 2008 Olympic Games, in short, are changing the way in which all of us, in China or thousands of miles from it, think about a city, a country and–because that country has nearly 23% of the planet’s population–the world.

From Yahoo News U.S. News

11 The Legacy of Little Rock.

By JUAN WILLIAMS, Time Magazine
Fri Sep 21, 4:10 PM ET

The 50th anniversary of the Little Rock school crisis is a powerful lesson in the complicated calculus of social change. People on all sides of the civil rights issues in 1957 were shocked by the sight of white mobs and the Arkansas National Guard, under orders from Governor Orval Faubus, blocking nine black children from entering the city’s Central High School. When President Dwight Eisenhower sent in the 101st Airborne to protect the students, some feared this and other efforts to desegregate the nation’s schools might signal the start of a second civil war. But the Governor backed down, and on Sept. 25 the nine became the first blacks to enroll at the high school.

But there is hope. Fifty years after critics charged one Republican President with risking a civil war by sending federal troops into a Southern city to enforce integration, a Republican President is taking on the problem of underperforming big-city schools and what he calls the “bigotry of low expectations.” President George W. Bush is seeking renewal of the No Child Left Behind law, which holds schools accountable for teaching every student and narrowing the achievement gap regardless of a child’s color, income or family background. Despite its shortcomings, like training students how to pass standardized tests instead of instructing them how to think critically, the President’s plan is worthy simply for insisting that all children can learn. Fifty years after U.S. troops had to escort nine black children to school in Little Rock, the issue is still how to take race out of the equation when it comes to educating every American child.

Williams is a senior correspondent for NPR, an analyst for Fox News and the author of Enough.

12 Reining in the Corps of Engineers
Fri Sep 21, 2:35 PM ET

In the pantheon of dumb Army Corps of Engineers boondoggles, a $112 million flood-control scheme in Missouri’s southeast bootheel ranks among the dumbest. It would drain more wetlands than all American developers drained last year, and the Corps has admitted that the town it’s supposed to protect will flood just as often (once every 10 years) if and when it’s completed. The Corps also admitted that its original economic rationale depended on a math error. In private e-mails, even the agency’s top lobbyist described it as “an economic dud with huge environmental consequences.”

Now a federal judge has made it official, shutting down work on the levee-and-pump project and ordering the Corps to undo the millions of dollars’ worth of work it’s already done. In an extraordinarily harsh opinion, D.C. District Court Judge James Robertson accused the Corps of cooking the books of the project’s benefit-cost analysis in a desperate effort to justify construction: “More disturbingly,” his opinion reads, “the Corps has demonstrated its willingness to do whatever it takes to proceed with this project.”

The official motto of the Corps is “essayons,” French for “let us try,” but when it comes to large-scale construction projects pushed by friendly Congressmen, “whatever it takes” is closer to the mark. Independent investigations – including one by the Pentagon’s inspector general – have repeatedly caught the Corps skewing its analyses to justify wasteful and destructive projects that keep its employees busy and its congressional patrons happy. The agency’s manipulation of the Missouri project, Judge Robertson wrote, “gives new meaning to the phrase ‘result-oriented decision making.'”

13 US govt collects data on Americans overseas: Washington Post
33 minutes ago

WASHINGTON (AFP) – The US government is compiling electronic files on the travel habits of millions of Americans who take trips overseas, The Washington Post reported Saturday.

Citing documents obtained by a civil liberties group and statements by unnamed government officials, the newspaper said the retained data included travel companions, persons with whom Americans plan to stay abroad, the personal items they carry during their journeys, and even the books that travelers have carried.

The personal travel records are intended to be stored for as long as 15 years as part of the Department of Homeland Security’s effort to assess the security threat posed by all travelers entering the country, the report said.

14 White House hopefuls court powerful gun lobby
by Karin Zeitvogel, AFP
35 minutes ago

WASHINGTON (AFP) – Members of the powerful US National Rifle Association (NRA) on Friday grilled presidential hopefuls on how far they would go to protect Americans’ right to bear arms.

“We believe that God, guns and guts made our country free and we’re fighting to keep all three,” NRA member Ray Oostdyk, from Virginia, said in between speeches mainly by Republican contenders vying for their party’s nomination for the 2008 presidential election, including Rudy Giuliani.

“The NRA speaks for the gun owner, the American patriot who still supports the premises our founding fathers created this country upon,” added John Jenkins, who had traveled from the midwestern state of Indiana to be at the convention, called “Celebration of American Values”.

15 Anglican leaders hope to avoid schism over gay clergy
by Russell McCulley, AFP
Fri Sep 21, 6:24 PM ET

NEW ORLEANS, United States (AFP) – Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams said Friday he hoped to avoid a split within the global Anglican communion following crisis talks with the US church over its liberal stance on homosexuality.

Leaders of the US branch of Anglicanism, the Episcopal church, said they expect to have a response to conservative critics of the church’s stance by early next week, when the meeting of the House of Bishops here closes.

They also expressed hope of avoiding a schism.

From Yahoo News Politics

16 US report on Iraq corruption made public
by Bryan Pearson, AFP
Fri Sep 21, 9:17 AM ET

BAGHDAD (AFP) – A damning report by the US embassy detailing corruption in the Iraqi government was made public on Friday, days ahead of a meeting between Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and US President George W. Bush.

The draft report, posted on the website, paints a grim picture of graft in all government departments, many of which, it says, are controlled by criminal gangs and militia.

Maliki’s office, it says, has shown an “open hostility” to allowing independent investigators to probe corruption cases.

17 US reviews rules for private security in Iraq
Fri Sep 21, 4:46 PM ET

WASHINGTON (AFP) – The United States Friday announced a review of the rules of engagement for guards protecting US personnel in Iraq, after 10 people died in a shooting involving a private security firm.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told reporters she had ordered a “complete review of how we are conducting our security details … how we are providing security to our diplomats.”

“It will be a full and complete review … including rules of engagement,” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told a briefing later.

18 Iraqi forces take lead in only 8 percent of Baghdad: US general
by Jim Mannion, AFP
Fri Sep 21, 2:22 PM ET

WASHINGTON (AFP) – Iraqi forces have taken the lead for security in only about eight percent of Baghdad’s neighborhoods more than eight months after the start of the US troop surge, a senior US commander said Friday.

Major General Joseph Fil said violence has declined sharply in the city and more than half of its 474 neighborhoods, or “mahalas,” are under the joint control of US and Iraqi forces, up from about 19 percent in June.

But the percentage of neighborhoods that have moved to what the military terms the “retain” phase of the security operation, in which Iraqi forces are in the lead and US troops are on standby, has remained stubbornly small.

19 Lawmakers in agreement on kids’ health bill
Fri Sep 21, 5:15 PM ET

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. congressional leaders on Friday said they reached agreement on legislation to expand a health-care program for children in low-income families, setting up a potential showdown with President George W. Bush who has vowed to veto it.

The bill would add $35 billion over five years to provide health care for as many as 10 million children in need of health insurance coverage. It also would provide coverage for pregnant women and new dental-care benefits.

The children’s health insurance program aims to help children in working families who cannot afford private health insurance but who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid.

20 Giuliani: I support right to bear arms
By LIBBY QUAID, Associated Press Writer
Fri Sep 21, 9:19 PM ET

WASHINGTON – Republican Rudy Giuliani sought to reassure the National Rifle Association of his support for a constitutional right to bear arms as rivals Fred Thompson, John McCain and Mike Huckabee contended the former New York mayor is no friend of gun owners.

In a direct appeal Friday to the powerful lobbying group, Thompson, McCain and Huckabee stressed their backing for gun rights and record of siding with the NRA. Giuliani, who once referred to the NRA as “extremists,” tried to explain his shifting views on the issue.

The NRA’s support is prized as the group blankets its 4 million members with ads, mailings and phone calls. Before the 2008 election, it hopes to increase its numbers.

21 Romney scolds GOP in ad, open letter
By JIM KUHNHENN, Associated Press Writer
Fri Sep 21, 10:17 PM ET

WASHINGTON – Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is scolding his party in a nationally broadcast ad Sunday and in an open letter to party leaders that asserts that the blame for Washington’s dysfunction does not rest just with Democrats.

The 30-second ad, the same one he began running this week in New Hampshire, will air during NBC’s “Meet the Press,” between appearances by Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton and former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, whose new book, “The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World,” blames the Bush administration for runaway spending.

The media push casts Romney as an agent of change, a recognition that even Republicans have grown weary of their government.

22 Former NBA coach announces Congress run
Associated Press
Fri Sep 21, 11:41 PM ET

PEORIA, Ill. – Former NBA coach and commentator Dick Versace is looking for a new job: congressman.

The 67-year-old Versace, a Democrat, said Thursday that he will bid for the 18th Congressional District seat in central Illinois. Incumbent Republican Ray LaHood announced in July he will retire when his term runs out in 2009.

Versace said he will tour the district in a 28-foot motor home called the “Common Sense Express” after he formally announces his intention to run for office at a news conference in the next couple of weeks.

From Yahoo News Business

23 Mattel apologizes to China over recalls
By ALEX VEIGA, AP Business Writer
Fri Sep 21, 11:07 PM ET

LOS ANGELES – Mattel Inc. tried to save face Friday with Chinese officials, taking the blame for the recent recalls of millions of Chinese-made toys as it strives to mend a strained relationship with the nation that makes most of its toys and fattens its profit.

The world’s largest toy maker sent a top executive to personally apologize to China’s product safety chief, Li Changjang, as reporters and company lawyers looked on.

“Mattel takes full responsibility for these recalls and apologizes personally to you, the Chinese people, and all of our customers who received the toys,” Thomas A. Debrowski, Mattel’s executive vice president for worldwide operations, told Li.

The unusual move reflects how invested El Segundo-based Mattel has become in China.

24 GM-UAW close to retiree health care deal
Fri Sep 21, 11:17 PM ET

DETROIT – General Motors Corp. and the United Auto Workers are close to an agreement on a historic deal that would transfer the automaker’s retiree health care costs to a trust managed by the union, according to a person who was briefed on the contract talks. The details of the plan haven’t yet been worked out, said the person, who requested anonymity because the talks are private.

An agreement on the health care trust is the linchpin of the negotiations, which began in July and have already gone a week past their original deadline.

UAW President Ron Gettelfinger told members Friday that he is trying to speed up negotiations with General Motors Corp. and wants to reach a contract agreement without a strike.

From Yahoo News Science

25 Rare hummingbird spotted in Wisconsin
Associated Press
Fri Sep 21, 8:35 PM ET

BELOIT, Wis. – Birdwatchers are descending on a rural area near this southern Wisconsin community following the sighting of what is believed to be a green-breasted mango, a type of hummingbird commonly seen in parts of Mexico and Central America.

“It’s really just an astonishing occurrence,” Chuck Hagner, editor of Birder’s World magazine published in Brookfield, said of the bird being spotted this far north.

“It would be rare if this bird showed up on the Mexican border in Arizona,” added birdwatcher Barbara Williams of nearby Rockford, Ill.

26 China could be top wind market in three years: Vestas
By Emma Graham-Harrison, Reuters
Fri Sep 21, 11:10 AM ET

BEIJING (Reuters) – China could become the world’s top wind power market in three to five years but will grow faster if it reforms its subsidy system, executives of major wind turbine maker Vestas said on Friday.

Chief Executive Ditlev Engel, in China to open the second and third in a series of seven plants due to come on line by the first quarter of 2008, said he was convinced Vestas could compete with cheaper local rivals on quality.

But the company, the world’s biggest wind turbine manufacturer, made its $80 million investment with an eye on both Chinese and export markets. Turbines not sold in China could be integrated into Vestas’ global supply chain, he added.

27 NASA probe may have found Martian caves
Fri Sep 21, 11:04 PM ET

WASHINGTON (AFP) – A NASA spacecraft found seven possible cave entrances on Mars, triggering interest in hunting for other caverns that might be hiding life on the Red Planet, the US space agency said Friday.

While the possible caves discovered are too high in altitude to host life, scientists say caverns elsewhere on the Red Planet could be underground habitats or even one day become shelters for astronauts.

Images from the Mars Odyssey orbiter showed seven dark, nearly circular spots between 100 meters (328 feet) and 250 meters (820 feet) wide on the slopes of the Arsia Mons volcano, located near the planet’s highest peak.

One thing I try to do with these pieces is collect things that can inspire your own essays.  Plenty to be outraged about in this collection.  Yahoo was perfoming crappy for me last night, hope it’s better for you today.

Statistics 101: Part 1 Introduction

re-posted, with edits, from daily Kos

Yesterday I posted a diary on statistical graphics which drew some notice.  I offered to re-post the whole series from dailyKos, and a couple people said I should, so I  will.

This series will not be for the statistical experts, it will be for those who want to be able to understand some basic statistics, without a lot of heavy-duty math.  I’ll try to emphasize aspects I think will be of interest to Kossacks, including how to tell when someone is misleading you with statistics. I welcome comments, suggestions, and thoughts both from people who are reading this as an intro to statistics and from the more statistically literate.

In today’s diary, I will discuss measures of central tendency.  See you after the fold.

There are various ways to classify variables.  One useful way is to distinguish between continuous and categorical data.  Data is continuous if it can (at least in theory) take on any number.  Data is categorical if it can only take on certain numbers.  For example, weight, income, age and IQ are continuous.  Political party, hair color, and marital status are categorical.

When you have continuous data, two things that you often want to know are “What values are likely?”  and “How spread out are the values?”  Today, we will look at the first question, which, in statistician’s language, is called central tendency.  The most common measure of central tendency is the mean, which is often called the average.  The other commonly quoted measure of central tendency is the median.  We’ll look at those two and a couple others.

The mean is probably  familiar.  Add up the numbers, divide by how many numbers there are, and you’ve got it.  So, for example, if the IQs of the people in your family are

155  (that would be you)
135  (your sister)
70  (her wingnut husband)
then the average is (155 + 135 + 70)/ 3 = 120

The median is the number that splits the data into two equal halfs, with half being higher, and half lower (there are slightly more technical definitions, but this will do for our purposes).

Two other, less commonly used measures are the mode and the trimmed mean.  The mode is the most common value, and the trimmed mean is the mean after you throw out some extreme values (typically the highest 10% and the lowest 10%). 

When do you want each?  When do you want to use none of them?

There are some situations where no measure works well.  One situation is when the data are multimodal.  That means that the data have common values that are separated by some uncommon values.  For example, if you had a bunch of athletes from different sports (basketball players, football players, and jockeys), and were interested in their weights, then no measure of central tendency would be good. 

But, more often, you want some measure of central tendency, and have to decide which one.

The mean is a bad choice if the data are skewed, which means that there are some extreme values.  One common example of this is income.  Some people make a whole lot more than the average person, but no one makes that much less.  For instance, if the average income in the USA is $30,000 per year (I made that up) then there are some people who make millions more than that, but the poorest people make $30,000 less.  When the data are skewed, the median and the trimmed mean are good choices.  (You don’t see the trimmed mean much, but it can be very useful).

The mode is sometimes also a good choice.  Suppose, for example, you are reporting on a country where nearly everyone is a peasant making almost nothing, and there are a few multibillionaires making a lot, and a few more people in the middle.  Like this

Income  Number of people
$100 per year  1,000,000
$1000 to $100,000 per year  10,000
More  500

then the mean would be distorted by the few people making  huge amounts, and the median would be distorted by the people making a middle amount; the mode would be $100 per year, and that would be a good representation of the income.

Another thing that often goes wrong with the mean is to average things that can’t be averaged.  The most common is to average percentages.  This is a bad idea.  I can get into why if people ask, but this diary is already getting very long, so I will stop here and wait for questions, comments and so on. OK, people have asked for an explanation of why averaging percentages is bad, so here is one (with made up data). Suppose the vote in some national political race is as follows:
  State  Democrat Republican
  Calif  60%   40%
  NY  65%   35%
South Dakota 35%  65%
  Alaska  40%  60%
  (other states data too)

If one averages the percentages, one would get 50% each, but that isn’t right. A percentage is a form of a fraction, and you have to add the numerators and denominators and then form a new percentage, that is, add up the NUMBER voting Dem and Repub. and then get the percentage from the total. 

What about the trimmed mean?  Well, it’s sort of a cross between the mean and the median.  With the median, the only thing that counts is the middle value.  With the trimmed mean, the entire middle portion of the data is counted.  That’s useful when you want to get a good sense of the distribution, but don’t want to have it distorted by a very few high values. 

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