Archive for December, 2005

Brazilians to NY

Trading Status for a Raise” in The New York Times covers the move of many educated Brazilians to the United States. I have a soft spot for Brazil. I generally have laissez-faire feelings about immigration. I remember hearing several months ago that many Brazilians arrive via Mexican border crossings. Being a fan of “Ironbound” singer-songwriter Suzanne Vega, I enjoyed reading about mix of Brazilians and Portuguese in Ironbound in Newark.

Tangentially related, I finally watched City of God last night. The time jumps and digressions, devices that often hurt movies, were artful and effective. It combined great deal of action while leaving me with the feeling of knowing the main characters, and they are numerous. It came out a long time ago, and many people have seen it. I have little of substance to add. I just liked it.

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Michael M. on December 31st 2005 in General, Movies


The New York Times is all over happiness these days. “In Pursuit of Unhappiness,” an op-ed in by Darrin McMahon, and “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” an op-ed by Timothy Wilson, both appeared recently. I have at least a couple of friends who think happiness is the purpose or goal of life. I doubt it. Reading these two reminded me of an older article, “Against Happiness” by Jim Holt. Happiness turns us nasty. Maybe being nasty makes us happy, too. Although familiar with the purpose of the ninja, I am less sure about the purpose of non-ninja humans.

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Michael M. on December 31st 2005 in General

Katrina Coast coverage

On Gulf Coast, Cleanup Differs Town to Town” and “Silent Nights on the Gulf Coast,” an op-ed by John Grisham, are running in The New York Times. Katrina dominated Christmas conversations. My family live far enough from the Gulf to have escaped total destruction, but most had limbs and trees down and a week or two without power. A few had visited the Coast. South of the railroad tracks, everything is gone. It is a different kind of destruction, sudden and total, than New Orleans experienced. I worry that the media coverage will fade while the people continue to suffer.

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Michael M. on December 26th 2005 in General

St. Stans

The New York Times picked up an AP story about STL Polish community landmark St. Stanislaus Catholic Church. The parish has had greater independence than most for a long time, and the archbishop has been trying to take it over for a few years. A site about saving the parish has more information. The recent turn was an overflow midnight mass. STL restaurateur and man about town Steven Fitzpatrick Smith attended. THE TRUTH IS… covered the mass, too. The story involves a rebel priest, excommunication, an archbishop and millions of dollars.

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Michael M. on December 26th 2005 in General


I saw The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe with most of my family yesterday. We missed the first few minutes of it, but I do not think they were so important. I enjoyed the movie. It looks great, too. The talking animals are very smooth and convincing. The children’s acting drew me into the movie. A few of the scenes were clearly filmed on soundstages with backgrounds added later, and the children should have been portrayed differently at the end of the movie. My complaints are few and small, though. Many years after reading the book, the story is still great, and the movie tells it well.

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Michael M. on December 24th 2005 in General, Movies

EtOH newspeak

As Young Adults Drink to Win, Marketers Join In” in The New York Times is remarkable for the level of newspeak.

Bud Pong may soon expand into more markets, said Francine Katz, a spokeswoman for Anheuser-Busch Companies Inc.

“It’s catching on like wildfire,” Ms. Katz said. “We created it as an icebreaker for young adults to meet each other.”

But Ms. Katz said Bud Pong was not intended for underage drinkers because promotions were held in bars, not on campuses. And it does not promote binge drinking, she said, because official rules call for water to be used, not beer. The hope is that those on the sidelines enjoy a Bud.

The recent tournament in Philadelphia was sponsored by Bing Bong, a company that sells portable beer pong tables for $150. In the past year, Bing Bong has sold more than 2,000.

“It was something a lot of people needed,” said Tom Schmidt, the 27-year-old chief executive. He added that he wanted to turn the game into a socially acceptable barroom sport, like darts.

“I realize that beer pong was born out of binge drinking,” Mr. Schmidt said. “But I want to make sure it’s not synonymous anymore with binge drinking. Without the proper rules and regulations, we could get banned.”

It reminds me of how sneaky Anheuser-Busch, a company that also does good works around here, can be.

Needless to mention, I am no fan of beer pong.

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Michael M. on December 23rd 2005 in General

Devolutionary dead end

Intelligent Design Might Be Meeting Its Maker” in The New York Times includes a point I have thought for a while. Although claims about scientific research are aired frequently, intelligent design advocates have little to show. Prejudice within the scientific community might preclude publication in major journals excepting some amazingly overwhelming findings, a point that ID advocates often make. The problem, though, is the lack of ID research that makes the point moot.

The Templeton Foundation, a major supporter of projects seeking to reconcile science and religion, says that after providing a few grants for conferences and courses to debate intelligent design, they asked proponents to submit proposals for actual research.

“They never came in,” said Charles L. Harper Jr., senior vice president at the Templeton Foundation, who said that while he was skeptical from the beginning, other foundation officials were initially intrigued and later grew disillusioned.

“From the point of view of rigor and intellectual seriousness, the intelligent design people don’t come out very well in our world of scientific review,” he said.

The John Templeton Foundation has a page about topics and another one that addresses this topic more directly. I am not very familiar with the organization, though. This response to recent press indicates that the foundation does not advocate for ID.

I have involved myself in this debate personally. My progress, at best, is slow. This controversy is cultural, not scientific. I tried expressing this angle to ID advocates. The harshness and dismissiveness of many believers in evolution hurts them personally. Science teachers, however, should not teach ideas with poor empirical support, ID being one example, in classrooms. The debates around ID overwhelmingly involve teaching, not actual research. Many ID advocates are told that there is real doubt among scientists based on experiments, and they believe that they are being told the truth. I have asked for examples of a scientific research program and scientific findings that provide reasons for considering ID. The responses included further assertions that they exist with no examples, purported examples that appeared false after more scrutiny and descriptions of the biased scientific culture. I just want examples.

The lack of these examples is becoming increasingly clear. It is what I like most in the linked article. The vision expressed publicly by the Discovery Institute is that real ID science will begin. There is a mixed listing of publications purportedly in favor of ID. They include many publications that are not real scientific articles, though. “Articles Supportive of Intelligent Design Published in Peer-Reviewed Scientific Journals” is a shaky heading. Several of the listed articles are reviews, not original research. They are summaries of previous work published in journals that also have peer-reviewed new work. It is sad that the Discovery Institute chooses to represent them this way.

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Michael M. on December 23rd 2005 in General

STL and Diebold

The City of Saint Louis selected Diebold as the supplier of electronic voting machines. This choice is awful. A post by Rob Thurman covers many of the problems. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has coverage. You should email the mayor. Contact him. Also contact him another way. Find your alderman. Contact the Board of Election Commissioners. Stop this decision before it harms local democracy.

Updates: As reported on /., Walden O’Dell resigned from Diebold recently. The discussion following the story has quite a lot of coverage. O’Dell has an STL connection. Before moving to Diebold, he was an executive with STL-based Emerson.

The Board of Elections is a body appointed at the state level. The were appointed by Governor Matt Blunt. Edward R. Martin heads the board. He replied promptly and kindly twice. According to him, Diebold was the best choice for compliance with the Help American Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA) after their review.

Mayor Francis Slay has also been responsive, too. The board has not shared technical details of this system with City Hall. I was disappointed by the mayor’s description of the new system. Slay supports moving such responsibilities from the state to the city level. This voting machine decision seems like a great opportunity to demonstrate the problems with the current separation. I requested that the mayor bring public attention to this decision.

I am beginning to think that HAVA is leading to serious problems. Local officials are facing mandates to upgrade voting machines. January 1 is the deadline for compliance with voting systems requirements of this act. Section 301 includes auditing measures. I do not know how well the accepted systems meet these requirements.

Update 2: An editorial published today at STLtoday also questions this decision.

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Michael M. on December 21st 2005 in General

Katrina and Popeyes

A post lamenting the status of Popeyes in the aftermath of Katrina shows the love. I also found a story on PBS‘s NewsHour. Mayor of New Orleans Ray Nagin mentioned Popeyes when addressing evacuees. Watch the video. Love that chicken.

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Michael M. on December 21st 2005 in General

Dover decision

I heard about the decision in the Dover case on NPR‘s All Things Considered yesterday afternoon. The New York Times has coverage, too. I do not agree with all parts, but the basics look right. Voters replaced the members of the Dover school board who pushed through this mess. An appeal would surprise me. I would like to see this decision applied to a larger jurisdiction, though.

“I think the big lesson is, let’s go to work and really develop this theory and not try to win this in the court of public opinion,” Dr. Dembski said. “The burden is on us to produce.”

It has been the obvious thing to do since the beginning.

Judge Jones wrote, “It is ironic that several of these individuals, who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the I.D. policy.”

More than ironic, I find it sad.

Eugenie Scott, also quoted in the coverage, will speak at WashU on March 22.

Update: /. has coverage including a link to a press release from the Discovery Institute.

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Michael M. on December 21st 2005 in General


My school received mention in “A Scientist, Gazing Toward Stockholm, Ponders ‘What If?’” in The New York Times. It tells the story of the almost discovery of H. pylori as the leading cause of stomach ulcers and the almost treatment of them with bismuth, part of the current regimen, over 50 years ago. It was another reminder of how strong the history here is and make me hope not to fail that tradition. Unfortunately, the old efforts never succeeded. The Nobel Prize in Medicine awarded this year was for stomach ulcer research in the 1980s. It was also great to see such a clinically important discovery win when basic science, which I love, has dominated lately.

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Michael M. on December 15th 2005 in General

Singing lessons

Take Off Your Emotional Clothes and Sing” in The New York Times was a fun read. I sang tenor on “With You” from Pippin in chorus in high school. My feelings about musicals are mixed. The article reminded me how much I like that song. I used to sing often. I was too shy to sing except in choruses, but I miss it.

The singing covered in this article is far beyond singing as I know it. I looked up some of the singers. Most have web pages and are very accomplished. One of them, Jennifer Sheehan, is an STLian. I had not heard of her. I hope she performs here again soon.

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Michael M. on December 15th 2005 in General

Katrina’s Coast

A post at Simul Justus et Peccator, my friend Batch’s blog, led me to this editorial in The Sun Herald. The New Orleans disaster overshadows the Mississippi Gulf Coast one. It is terrible. Batch lost his house. All the people need help. Instead we get stories on the fraud and “Bright Spot on Gulf as Casinos Rush to Rebuild” in The New York Times.

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Michael M. on December 15th 2005 in General

Ohio learning

How One Suburb’s Black Students Gain” in The New York Times profiles the programs to encourage achievement in Shaker Heights, Ohio. The problems is that their success is qualified. Shaker Heights is an affluent place. The community averages are high, but the gap remains.

For every positive statistic there is a sobering one. Blacks’ SAT scores here are still nearly 100 points behind the national average for whites (1,068) and 246 points behind the average of whites in Shaker Heights (1,222). The average grade for a black Shaker Heights senior is C+, and it is B+ for whites. The high school is about half black, yet blacks make up 31 percent of the students in honors classes and 11 percent of those in A.P. classes. As Corbin Sykes, a MAC scholar with many A.P. courses, says, “In all my classes except weightlifting, there’s just a couple other African-Americans.”

I became curious about some of the people profiled in the article. Alisa Smith, one of the parents, is Al Roker‘s sister. She has Bahamian ancestry. The gap between African-Americans with significant foreign heritage and ones without is evidence that this problem is cultural and surmountable. I wish we knew how.

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Michael M. on December 14th 2005 in General

More doctors

Stealing From the Poor to Care for the Rich” in The New York Times criticizes the recruitment of foreign doctors to the United States. It argues that we should increase the number of doctors by admitting more medical students and opening new medical schools. By taking doctors from other countries, we add to international problems and restrict career choices for Americans. The piece focuses on doctors, but there are similar foreign recruiting problems in nursing and probably other health professions. Although I am training for research, I agree.

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Michael M. on December 14th 2005 in General

Venimus Vidimus Roccimus

A /. comment about the golden record put aboard the two Voyager space probes made my day recently. It also features rock and roll hero of STL and humanity Chuck Berry. This Voyager record should be available for purchase. I cannot find it, though. I did check out Murmurs of the Earth, a book about making the record, from the library. According to an Amazon review from a few years ago, the CDs were out of print. They probably still are.

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Michael M. on December 11th 2005 in General, Music, Recorded

Atomic Devolution

There is a post at 52nd City about Mark Mothersbaugh‘s upcoming visit to Atomic Cowboy. I like Devo. The soundtracks of The Royal Tenebaums and The Life Aquatic are good, too. The event is so close to Christmas that I doubt I can go, but I wish I could.

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Michael M. on December 11th 2005 in General, Live, Music

Seigenthaler defamer nabbed

Even with all the noise, I enjoy /. for its nerdy comments. A recent post covered the unmasking of the Wikipedia contributor who defamed John Seigenthaler. I blogged a while back. This comment shows how easy tracking down the guilty party was. Given his published statements, I would not expect Seigenthaler to be able to do this investigation himself, but I would think he could consult a capable friend or hire a detective before going to the media with the story and complaints over ISP privacy laws. In a funny twist, Brian Chase, the defamer, and Daniel Brandt, his unmasker, both have Wikipedia entries. Another comment seems to be from Brandt, but maybe we learned something about identity from this controversy. His profile on /. matches well, though.

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Michael M. on December 11th 2005 in General

Digital trust

My suspicions were aroused by “Snared in the Web of a Wikipedia Liar” in The New York Times. A newspaper with extensive archives has reasons to attack Wikipedia. I like many things about The New York Times, but the paper often predictably comes down on the side of old media.

Somebody included nasty rumors in the entry on John Seigenthaler. He wrote this piece in USA Today about his experience. In it, he wrote “that Wikipedia is a flawed and irresponsible research tool.” The obvious problem with this criticism is that all research tools have shortcomings. Seeing this tendency to label a source as reliable or unreliable bothers me. While we often must make decisions and go, this oversimplification cannot serve us well. In so many respects, information is uncertain.

Seigenthaler also complained about the lack of carrier liability. He brings in broadcasters and publishers for comparison. If anything, Wikipedia and ISPs are more like television hardware manufacturers or paper mills than the media companies.

I understand Seigenthaler’s motivation. He was accused of involvement in the assassinations of the Kennedy brothers, people close to him. Whoever wrote it wronged him. Although the author is currently anonymous, he admits that he could file a lawsuit against the person who defamed him. He should. He also should understand the nature of these new tools.

In related news, a post on /. points to new policies for Wikipedia.


Michael M. on December 5th 2005 in General


Moody? Cranky? Tired? Feed Me!” in The New York Times claims that the use of hunger as an explanation of bad mood and behavior is growing. I can relate. There have been times when I did not feel particularly hungry, but my mood was awful and eating quickly improved it.

Before I started school here, I filled out a questionnaire for an introductory booklet of all incoming students. Along with the standard questions about hometown and previous education, it asked for a one word self description. I wrote, “Hungry.” I thought I was being simultaneously flippant, serious and clever. “Hongry,” an alternate spelling and pronunciation indicating particular intensity, would have been even funnier to me, but use of dialect is so easily misinterpreted that I often shy from it.


Michael M. on December 3rd 2005 in General

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States.