Thursday, January 31, 2013

Is caffeine OK?

To continue my notes from yesterday, I will have to acknowledge that now we have Vijay Singh's bout with IGF-1 to contend with.

I still have trouble pretending that this is an issue. Every professional, you would think, does all they can to improve his/her performance in their own field. Naturally there are limitations, normally involving actions that actually bring harm to others.  In the case of PEDs, the only harm, if any, is to the user himself.  Taking PED's does not guarantee anything for the user other than quicker healing and perhaps greater strength, but do not negatively affect other people.

An argument could be made that the users of PEDs are not the strongest or fastest or best. If they were, they would not need these supplements. So maybe the use of PEDs is really an attempt to level the playing field.

Whatever the case may be, let's stop pretending that we need purity in athletics.  If we extended our PED logic to the rest of our lives, we would be banning caffeine, sleeping pills, vitamin waters, even quality food, for those things merely allow us to do what we otherwise would not be able to do.

By the way: it has nothing to do with PEDs, but Pete Rose does belong in the hall of fame. He was the best, and nobody ever tried to throw a game that they had bet they would win.  Did his bets perhaps make him try harder than the others? Perhaps. Does that mean its bad to exert greater effort?

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Enhancing Performance?

Front page of sports section of Albany Times Union of January 30, 2012 had two headline articles. The headlines were "AHL players OK with PED testing" and
"A-Rod denies new PED claims".  Beneath one of them was a pointer to an inside article: "Ray Lewis denies PED use".
How nuts are we? Viagra and Cialis ads all over the place, Beyonce faking it at the inauguration, and we cry "let's be pure" to the sports world?

The CBS station in Miami says today "As for the New York Yankees, there were reports late Tuesday the team was looking into whether it could void A-Rod’s contract with the team"(see here.) Perhaps that is pointing the finger where it should point: massive payments to top athletes. Would baseball players go after these drugs to improve performance at a $50,000 a year job? I'll bet Rodriguez's contract had enough incentives in it to push anyone to do whatever they could to improve performance. I don't know if he did or didn't. That doesn't matter to me. What does matter is how the American public is quietly gulled into paying massive salaries to entertainers (of all types).

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

That stuff falling from the sky...

The image below was snipped from the National Weather Service web page this evening.
Read carefully!
If they do not know, who does?
The red item here appeared as a letter to the editor in the Albany Times Union today.

Math of gun law flawed hypothesis

If a gun control law saves even a single life, it’s worth it. As a mathematician, I call this logical fallacy reasoning by incomplete hypothesis.

My favorite example of this form of unreason is the following.

Adolf Hitler’s persecution of the Jews drove many of them out of Europe who otherwise would have remained in Germany to be killed in Allied bombing raids. We can therefore conclude that Hitler’s persecution saved Jewish lives and was therefore worth it. Note that I’ve left the Holocaust out of the hypothesis.


Regarding  this letter, I, also as a mathematician, pose two questions.

First, if there was a fallacy by incomplete hypothesis, then what was missing? I'll accept the Hitler item as a definition by example, but nowhere in the letter is any missing information regarding gun laws.

Second, compare the opening conditional statement in the letter to its converse: "If it's worth it, then a gun control law saves at least a single life". This does force us to acknowedge that to the person making the statement, being "worth it" is not the same as "saving a single life." Should that be the case, what is it that makes a gun control law "worth it"?

Monday, January 28, 2013

What's your anti today?

Over the past few days it has begun to hit me that our news media has a "thing" about what I will call the anti-approach to news. The papers, web, and TV have all hit me with anti-tax, anti-spend, anti-gun, anti-abortion, anti-fracking, anti-gay marriage, anti-smoking, anti-big business, anti-immigration, anti-Muslim, anti-this, anti-that, and, yes, even anti-Bush.
Does the American public have a rather negative view of things these days? Could we as a society perhaps begin to view our roles in life as promoting what we would like to see rather than merely continually chastising that with which we disapprove? This really hit me when I read items about people who are against flu shots. I mean, anti-flu shot? I guess in the ideal world everyone who wanted a flu shot would get one. (What really flabbergasts me is those who have said they would get one if insurance paid for it, otherwise they would not.)
The antis are really taking over, so it seems. The anti- that really bothers me is the anti-intellectualism that is taking over our society. Paul Stoller wrote a good article entitled "My Struggles With Anti-Intellectualism" that appeared in The Huffington Post on May 8, 2012 (click here). In it, he writes "There is a deep tradition of anti-intellectualism in American cultural and political life. It has a long history, spreading its messages into every nook and cranny of American social and political life. We are the "can-do" nation that values "common-sense" solutions to our problems. We are suspicious of "egg heads," dreamers and "pointy-headed" intellectuals ..."
Written by Susan Jacoby, "The Dumbing of America" appeared in The Washington Post on February 17, 2008. In it, she states "Americans are in serious intellectual trouble -- in danger of losing our hard-won cultural capital to a virulent mixture of anti-intellectualism, anti-rationalism and low expectations. "   This article is a must-read, and it actually reminded me of a book by Richard Hofstadter called Anti-intellectualism in American Life. I have not read it, but I will.

Counting my own years in school, I spent 50 years in classrooms. I will be one of the first to point out that there has been a creeping ever-stronger anti-intellectual tide washing over our schools. I attribute part of it to a law of unintended consequences: if you want more horses to be able to jump the fence, lower the fence. (It's easier than raising then ground, and doesn't require stronger horses.)

In a culture of anti-intellectualism, it is much easier to adopt a position against something that is, than in favor of something that isn't.  Anti-intellectualism is most likely the source of the "anti"-culture.

Robert F. Kennedy is quoted as saying "Few are willing to brave the disapproval of their peers, the censure of their colleagues, the wrath of their society. Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence. Yet it is the one essential, vital quality for those who seek to change a world that yields most painfully to change."  He was onto something, but what he could have added is that moral courage together with great intelligence is stronger than any weapon of battle. Gandhi knew. 

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Does this work?

Hyper Smash
This video was created in Geometer's Sketchpad, and shows the trace of the midpoint of the segment connecting two points moving in opposite directions on concentric circles.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Kudos to The Bay State, I Hope..

Massachusetts is going to consider, as part of a bill, requiring gun owners to have liability insurance on their guns. I mentioned this in this blog back on December 24, and now I can mention it again with an least a smidgen of hope.

I do find it unfortunate that Massachusetts will not vote on this as a stand-alone bill. The website masslive.com has an AP story this morning that says "The initiative is included in a gun control measure which would also change standards for gun licenses and outlaw large capacity magazines."  Unfortunately this will prevent the issue from being judged on its own merits, (Which seems to be getting rarer and rarer in our political world of "buy-my-vote")

A different AP story in the Albany Times Union states "Craig Baenziger, who works at a gun- and ammunition-seller in North Attleboro, Mass., called Northeast Trading Co., said requiring liability insurance for guns makes little sense because it targets people who buy the weapons legally instead of going after criminals who illegally possess them."  This is at least one more instance of gun advocates hiding behind criminals. I was brought up to believe that the criminal element does try to hide itself among the law-abiding people, but using the criminal element as a shield and an excuse for inaction is in itself just plain despicable. I suppose Mr. Baenziger is also against speed traps because they mostly just force good drivers to slow down and they miss most of the speeders anyway.

Remember: automobile insurance pays for the costs of damage and injury caused by owners and operators of vehicles. Gun insurance could and should do the same. What's fair is fair.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Wish I'd written that...

This letter to the editor appeared in the Albany Times Union of 1/14/2013. I'd wish I'd written it...

Are guns a lure or a deterrent?  

Gun owners are complaining that publication of their home addresses puts them in danger from criminals in search of guns. But gun groups have been saying for years that a home known to have a gun is safest, because criminals will steer clear of it. Come on, folks, you can’t have it both ways.


Sunday, January 13, 2013

The 2nd Amendment? The 29th Amendment?

Those who hide behind the Second Amendment ought to recognize that earlier in the US Constitution sat Section 2 of Article 4, which was subsequently changed via the 13th Amendment.
To use as a rationale for an interpretation of the Constitution the intent of the Founding Fathers must acknowledge the society within which they lived. Semiautomatic weapons with large ammo clips did not exist. Slavery did. Not only did they not use any powers of prophesy as regards weapons, they accepted the ownership of one human being by another.
In many respects they were quite good, but the Founding fathers were not omniscient, and they recognized that there words might need to be corrected. They built in the process for amending their work.
Perhaps the time has come to correct their words regarding the "right to bear arms."
Anyone ready to help the campaign? Ready for the 29th Amendment?

Friday, January 4, 2013

Kids with guns??!!???!!

Daniel Akst, in the Albany Times Union of January 4, 2013, has an op-ed column entitled "Our kids deserve a fair shot" (see here) in which he claims to see the need for requiring school students to carry guns and learn all about them.  I would like to think this article was meant for a satire magazine, but there is nothing in the article nor near it to indicate that it is anything but serious.

He writes " Just as the answer to offensive speech is more speech, the answer to a firearm is another firearm — or a couple dozen, which is about how many should be in the average classroom."
Can you imagine? He claims that this would also stop bullying, because "even the smallest, most socially awkward child can put a bullet between the eyes of his or her tormentor if properly armed."

Is this guy nuts or what?  Shootings of 20 or more in a school over a year would be the norm unless the entire school's resources went into everything from flak jackets to bullet proof vests to armored lockers (after all, a student who left his gun at home should not find it too easy to steal someone else's).

Akst's article was in the LA Times on Dec.28, one week ago, yet I do not recall hearing or reading anything about it in the intervening week. That surprises me, as news of a truly wacky nature generally travels pretty fast. Maybe the New Year's festivities got in the way..

I did a bit more exploring regarding Mr. Akst, and I discovered that back on July 29, 2012, in Newsday (a Long Island publication) he wrote " Children get hold of a weapon. It's awful." Alas! A bit of evidence for the satire theory!! You can find that article here. In the article he was commenting that guns are a leading tool of suicides and that eliminating guns will help alleviate the suicide rate.

A bit more exploring uncovered Mr. Akst's authorship of a book entitled Temptation: Finding Self-Control in an Age of Excess. I have not read this book, but in a bit of googling I did uncover the comment "Suicide prevention is probably one of the best arguments for gun control - and a good example of how people sometimes need to be protected from themselves."

By then I was almost convinced that the article I read this morning was indeed a farce. I am convinced that the author intended it as such, but I am not convinced that all readers will take it as such. There are people who will use this article as evidence of another NRA supporter and feel good as a result. I have heard people say, in all seriousness, that if people in schools were armed there would not be as many school shootings. I find it scary, but I find it more scary for a newspaper to feed them "evidence".

A major problem in communication is when creators of a message presume to know how recipients of the message will receive it.  After 30+ years in a classroom, I know that what is intended to be heard and what is actually understood by the listener can be worlds apart. That, right there, is the number one reason why constant student-to-teacher feedback is needed and why lecture classes succeed only sporadically.

I would respect the Albany Times Union much more had they had a side-bar comment giving some information about Mr. Akst and alluding to the tongue-in-cheek nature of his column. Immediately below Mr. Akst's column is another column entitled "Hydrofracking panel will put children first". Is that one for real or just for "fun"?

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Fiscal Cliff

"The evidence is clear: Cutting taxes will have beneficial effects. Tax cuts will keep government spending in check and will provide the incentives necessary to produce a highly skilled, productive work force that enables high economic growth and rising standards of living."
The above quote is from an article entitled "The Double Benefit of Tax Cuts" from The Wall Street Journal. You can find it here.
This quote is stipulated on the belief that when government gets less income it will be more restrained in spending. Is that true?

Just a question: why does almost everybody believe that the solution to any taxing-spending debate is extremely obvious and that anyone else who doesn't agree with them is just stupid?