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    Friday, September 30, 2005

    Update on Typhoon Damrey

    Dakini was right, "There's always thousands of people swept away here in the rainy season, or buried under mudslides." Fox reports on a little of the aftermath.

    Typhoon Damrey, which came ashore early Tuesday with winds of up to 63 mph, was the worst storm to hit Vietnam in a decade, leaving at least 41 people dead.

    ...More than 900 feet of sea dikes were breached in Vietnam, inundating villages along the coast from Hai Phong to Thanh Hoa...

    At least 25 people remain missing from Yen Bai, provincial flood control official Nguyen Dinh Vo said.

    More than 100 people were injured in the flash flooding triggered by Typhoon Damrey...
    It looks like the death toll is far less than it could have been, because over 300,000 people were evacuated before the storm hit, but obviously such a storm severly hurts.

    I remember the scenic view out of Cat Ba last summer as I stayed on the island. The limestone mountains/islands jutted out of the bay just like dragon's teeth. Vinh Ha Long truly is aptly named. The people were kind. Quite a different lot than in Hanoi or other northerners. They lived in harmony with the ocean and with tourists. An interesting combination. Some spent their whole lives on floating houses and shrimping boats. Others ran discotheques and hotels.

    The teens I talked with split into two categories...those who embraced their fate of life on the island and those who longed for something else. The world for most ended where the beaches started. Their education was minimal and they accepted the reality that they would do the same job their father/mother did, get pregnant early, and raise a family like their parents did.

    Or maybe their acceptance made the reality.

    The other minority group of teens realized Cat Ba was a small island in a big world, and dreamed of going to college, moving to Hai Phong or, if lucky, farther, and experiencing something new. However, they were stopped because they had no money. Instead they sold books, ice cream, or gave massages to help the family pay the bills, every night dreaming big aspirations and every morning waking up to the same life.

    I loved the people of Cat Ba, and wish often that I can someday return and help those who want to have the experience of achieving goals off the island. I loved the people that love the island and the sea. They taught me about the superfluous nature of so much tangible belongings. I loved the scenery...the rainforest was breathtaking, beaches beautiful, and water warm.

    I will drop a line to those I know in the area and hopefully gain some experiences to share. Pray for everyone affected by the typhoon (and hurricanes in America) as I will.

    Wednesday, September 28, 2005

    And now, without further ado: the Google PC

    A couple weeks ago Matt at Action-at-a-distance, Dennis, and I were discussing the viability of a Google OS. I felt strongly then that Google not only could make an OS, but would. However, Dennis, who is much more computer saavy than I am, put me in my place. The little things are too problematic for Google to do it.

    However, now I've found this. Instead of making an OS, Google will go for the PC. It's a little different twist on my idea, but I think it can and will happen.

    And now, without further ado: the Google PC by ZDNet's David Berlind -- In writing Now's the time for the network computer, my colleague and fellow blogger Dana Gardner has it all wrong. OK, maybe half wrong. The network computer bit is 100 percent dead-on. It's the Oracle part he has wrong.To everybody including Novell CEO Jack Messman who thinks Microsoft's forthcoming version of Windows (Vista) will be [...]

    Just look at it like this:

    Google has used AJAX (in Gmail for example) to make websites run like applications.
    Verizon gives broadband access over its cell phone access worldwide.
    Xdrive and other companies give gigabytes of online storage. There's even
    GMail Drive that turns your Gmail account space into hard disk storage space.

    What does application ability, storage space, and boundless connectivity equal?? Sounds like a computer to me...

    Tuesday, September 27, 2005

    Typhoon Damrey

    The Rice Bowl has a recent post on the eminent landfall of Typhoon Damrey in North Vietnam. Two points are worth repeating (the whole post is worth reading):
    Most families don't have more than a change of clothes, a few chickens, agricultural equipment and a matress.

    ...in rural Vietnam, you are doing pretty well if your corrugated iron roof is attached to the walls of your house with large rocks and a bit of string, and if you have running water, you are doing very well.
    and in the comments:
    I certainly hope that if the Norwegian government aids America's recovery from the hurricanes, they also extend a little bit of spare change to Vietnam. Vietnam is much less able to help rebuild itself than most western countries. And the damage in dollar terms will always be less here, but that does not factor in the human cost.
    There's always thousands of people swept away here in the rainy season, or buried under mudslides. They are poor people. It's not news worthy. It doesn't even get reported.
    The outpouring of support for America as we go through two hurricanes in such a short period of time is humbling. What has hit me most is Sri Lanka, who received so much aid from the USA after the tsunami, vocally remembering our help, and while still rebuilding, offering S25,000 in aid for our hurricane victims. In the bible there is a story about the widow's mite, teaching the moral that 10 cents from someone with nothing is worth as much or more than $100,000 from someone who has everything. Truly Sri Lanka has proven the worth of the widow's mite again.

    Secondly, Typhoon Damrey (luckily) is not nearly as strong as Hurricanes Katrina or Rita. This is very lucky for the people of Vietnam. Tropical Storm Risk (TSR).com says the storm is currently a tropical storm. Here's a picture
    It's mostly been a tropical storm, but strengthened to a category 1-2 typhoon before hitting the chinese island. That dropped it back to tropical storm strength. It strengthened a little and hit Vietnam as a cat-1 typhoon. The
    BBC reports that Typhoon Damrey has winds of 83 mph (133km/h). This is far weaker than Rita, with sustained winds of 125 mph, or Katrina, with winds of 145 mph.

    Do not take this comparison to downplay the severity of Damrey. The BBC reports that
    With winds of 83mph (133 km/h) and a storm surge that was feared to be as high as 18 feet (5.5 metres), a lot of the preparation work was in vain as Damrey lashed the coast, breaching dykes in some areas. Electricity supplies were cut and trees felled while some homes lost roofs, though early reports had no news of any casualties.

    Now over land Damrey is weakening rapidly, but is still forecast to bring torrential rain to north and east Thailand, Laos and Cambodia.
    Dakini at The Rice Bowl was correct in reminding us about flooding and mudslides. We must all pray for the displaced people of north Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand.

    Monday, September 26, 2005

    A Vietnamese Supreme Court Justice?

    A couple months back I posted my philosophy on supreme court nominations. The basic underlying argument is that the 9 justices should be the best judges, regardless of political leaning, race, religion, or gender. However, I generally opposed a nomination of a woman to replace Justice O'Connor because I feared the precedent that it would lead to court quotas. I said:
    I don't want someone to say, 4 justices must always be female, 1 must be asian, one hispanic, one african-american, etc. That neuters the court, because it doesn't allow the 9 most qualified judges to sit.
    Well, now that Judge Roberts has been magically transfered into Justice Rehnquists' replacement, the same sentiments apply. We still have the problem of quotas. I would have felt much better had Judge Roberts been confirmed/not confirmed as Justice O'Connor's replacement and chief justice (even if it's only in voice) than to say he is replacing Rehnquist. That way a man replaces a woman, then becomes chief justice, and if later a woman replaces Rehnquist ... fine.

    However, that's over a done with. So I call your attention to a pick for O'Connor's replacement that has started to be thrown around by pundits not willing to give the pick outright to a woman or Gonzales --- Viet Dinh.

    Judge Viet Dinh is a GREAT candidate in some regards. He has taught law at Georgetown and been Assistant Attorney General. He graduated, like Roberts, magna cum laude from Harvard Law and is young--just 37 years old.

    Plus, he's Vietnamese. He was born in 1968 in Saigon, Vietnam and escaped to America when he was 10. He understands the plight of the immigrant and the refugee. He puts another minority on the bench. He gives an Asian voice in an arena where previously there has been none.

    And best of all, he starts another precedent! Judge Roberts clerked for Justice Rehnquist and guess who Viet Dinh clerked for...you guessed it! Sandra Day O'Connor!

    Seriously, I don't like the idea that maybe all supreme court justices must come from Harvard and clerk for the justice they are replacing, but I think that is a very unlikely precedent. What he does is satisfy the desire for a minority, and silence the left's call that the past indicates the future. The knock on Judge Roberts is that his time in the government and with Justice Rehnquist shows him extremely conservative. Well, Viet Dinh can use his time with O'Connor to argue he is moderate. That takes the teeth out of some of the democrats' bites.

    Also, he specializes in constitutional law and corporate law, both issues where experitise would be great on the bench (Kelo?). I will try to do more research into his actual views on subjects, but as for now, he's my nominee.

    Update on Rita 2

    Well, it looks like my family made it out safely. Rita turned so far east that all they got was a little wind and some sprinkles--no real rain. They never lost power, although some people around them did, and when it was all over there was nothing more than a lot of leaves and a few small branches on the ground.

    Needless to say, I'm relieved. If Rita had turned north later, it would have hit Houston dead on, and been much stronger.

    My friend Dennis knew of an acquaintance that spent 14 hours on the road trying to get out of Houston, and 45 minutes driving back home when they gave up. Crazy.

    Maybe God's telling us not to rebuild New Orleans...it's in bad shape. Or at least move it a little. How many times in the history of a world has a city been destroyed and rebuilt?? Pundits are talking on TV about the historic move of Americans to the seashore. Maybe this will reverse the trend??

    Friday, September 23, 2005

    Update on Rita

    Talking to my parents right now. They are staying in Houston. My mom stood in line for two hours this morning to buy a generator at Home depot before they closed for good. Some guy convinced the manager to let him in line to buy a part for his toilet, because it was his family's only toilet, and then the guy bought a lot of other stuff. The manager chewed him out for being dishonest. It's nice to know that people are still wicked. They've already heard of looting in Galveston. Hurricanes really show people's true nature.

    Front of house before Hurricane Rita

    Here's the front of my house. The boards on the bottom windows used to be my ping pong table.

    Thursday, September 22, 2005

    Evacuating Houston

    I'm talking to my dad right now and my family might not be able to get out of town before Rita. Here's a picture of the freeway right by my house.


    Right now the thinking is to get to College Station and stay with my friend Vinh who is at Texas A&M Medical School and his wife Polly. However, I'm very concerned that their window to leave is over. My dad says the news is reporting heart attacks and strokes from people who are trying to drive in 100 degree heat without air conditioning to save gas, and cars running out of gas because of all the idling. Texas is only opening the southbound lanes for northbound traffic for 100 miles on I-45, meaning that things will get very crazy.

    I just talked to my friend Matt, blogger at Action-at-a-distance, who's staying in Houston. He wanted to leave at 3am this morning, but he saw that all the people who left yesterday evening are back in their homes. Some people are taking 13 hours to go from South Houston to North Houston. He's going to his in-law's house and staying there with a matress to protect from flying objects. He says his cell phone has been down for two days. He thought about taking an airplane from Austin, but he said the tickets were going fast as he looked at them.

    My mother said there was only one airline ticket available for any airline going anywhere in the lower 48 states.

    My best friend Dennis, from Revelation-Interactive, a programming company, is also staying. His grandmother evacuated from Galveston to Huntsville, but he and his parents are staying put. He says most of the people in his neighborhood are staying put. They haven't even boarded up their windows. Just trimmed trees.

    It looks like Harris county might not get the eye, but I'm still worried.

    Blog Censorship

    The French have done something right.
    Reporters Without Borders' "Handbook for Bloggers and Cyber-Dissidents" is partly financed by the French Foreign Ministry and includes technical advice on how to remain anonymous online. It was launched at the Apple Expo computer show in Paris on Thursday and can be downloaded in Chinese, Arabic, Persian, English and French.
    It is the inevitability of a free market that will eventually put pressure on censors. China, who I have issues with over almost everything (esp. Tibet and other human rights violations), is by far the worst censor (although Iran is not far behind...could they be in league together?).

    Does anyone remember the old "Anarchists cookbook" that every junior high school kid had or wanted?? Just as that was downloadable from nearly every "cool" BBS in the early 1990s, so this will find its way ubiquitously into China, Iran, and other censor-states. Blogs will be the vehicle for change and freedom. Feels kinda good.

    Global Voices Online calls it
    "the first truly useful book I’ve seen aimed at the kinds of bloggers featured here at Global Voices every day: People who have views and information that they want to share with the world beyond their own national borders."
    In the final chapter, we see a written report of what we already know (although our government continues to court these regimes)--
    Aptly, Juilen [Julien Pain, editor] concludes with a final chapter entitled: “Internet Censor World Championship,” in which the Chinese government is the hands-down winner, followed by Vietnam, Tunisia, Iran, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, and Uzbekistan.
    It's nice to see that somebody realizes the extreme fanatical censorship that Vietnam has. Last year, I could not write freely from an internet cafe, because everywhere I went, they posted signs that said talking about the government, or democracy would get you kicked out of the cafe and possibly thrown in jail.

    Here's to another step in the eventual freeing of world thought and action through blogging.

    Wednesday, September 21, 2005

    Government Political Correctness

    Who says Bush's regime is racist. My laboratory, which receives funding from USAMRIID, even though we're at a private instiution, received word today from USAMRIID that we must have a written document stating our use of minority-owned and operated sub-contractors in preference to other sub-contractors. When told that we operate wholly in house, and only buy supplies from distributors, not using sub-contractors in any way, USAMRIID told us we must write up the document anyway.

    So, instead of just buying supplies from whoever can make the best petri dish, or has the cheapest agar, we have to bend over backwards and pay MORE to ensure that the business goes to minority suppliers.

    I'm sick of hearing about Government racism.

    Tuesday, September 20, 2005

    Hurricane Katrina Relief Concert

    If anyone is in Las Vegas, or will be at the end of October (24 Oct), my brother is helping put together a benefit concert for Hurricane Katrina Evacuees.

    Monday, September 19, 2005

    Must read Op-Ed in the NYT

    I am a member of Be A Witness, an organization dedicated to calling attention to the genocide in Darfur. I urge all of you to join, if you have not, and please read this op-ed. Unfortunately, it's all too true.

    Op-Ed Columnist

    A Wimp on Genocide

    Published: September 18, 2005

    President Bush doesn't often find common cause with Cuba, Zimbabwe, Iran, Syria and Venezuela. But this month the Bush administration joined with those countries and others to eviscerate a forthright U.N. statement that nations have an obligation to respond to genocide.

    The Century's First Genocide

    It was our own Axis of Medieval, and it reflected the feckless response of President Bush to genocide in Darfur. It's not that he favors children being tossed onto bonfires or teenage girls being gang-raped and mutilated, but he can't bother himself to try very hard to stop these horrors, either.

    It's been a year since Mr. Bush - ahead of other world leaders, and to his credit - acknowledged that genocide was unfolding in Darfur. But since then he has used that finding of genocide not to spur action but to substitute for it.

    Mr. Bush's position in the U.N. negotiations got little attention. But in effect the United States successfully blocked language in the declaration saying that countries have an "obligation" to respond to genocide. In the end the declaration was diluted to say that "We are prepared to take collective action ... on a case by case basis" to prevent genocide.

    That was still an immensely important statement. But it's embarrassing that in the 21st century, we can't even accept a vague obligation to fight genocide as we did in the Genocide Convention of 1948. If the Genocide Convention were proposed today, President Bush apparently would fight to kill it.

    I can't understand why Mr. Bush is soft on genocide, particularly because his political base - the religious right - has been one of the groups leading the campaign against genocide in Darfur. As the National Association of Evangelicals noted in a reproachful statement about Darfur a few days ago, the Bush administration "has made minimal progress protecting millions of victims of the world's worst humanitarian crisis."

    Incredibly, the Bush administration has even emerged as Sudan's little helper, threatening an antigenocide campaigner in an effort to keep him quiet. Brian Steidle, a former Marine captain, served in Darfur as a military adviser - and grew heartsick at seeing corpses of children who'd been bludgeoned to death.

    In March, I wrote a column about Mr. Steidle and separately published photos that he had taken of men, women and children hacked to death. Other photos were too wrenching to publish: one showed a pupil at the Suleia Girls School; she appeared to have been burned alive, probably after being raped, and her charred arms were still in handcuffs.

    Mr. Steidle is an American hero for blowing the whistle on the genocide. But, according to Mr. Steidle, the State Department has ordered him on three occasions to stop showing the photos, for fear of complicating our relations with Sudan. Mr. Steidle has also been told that he has been blacklisted from all U.S. government jobs.

    The State Department should be publicizing photos of atrocities to galvanize the international community against the genocide - not conspiring with Sudan to cover them up.

    I'm a broken record on Darfur because I can't get out of my head the people I've met there. On my very first visit, 18 months ago, I met families who were hiding in the desert from the militias and soldiers. But the only place to get water was at the occasional well - where soldiers would wait to shoot the men who showed up, and rape the women. So anguished families sent their youngest children, 6 or 7 years old, to the wells with donkeys to fetch water - because they were least likely to be killed or raped. The parents hated themselves for doing this, but they had no choice - they had been abandoned by the world.

    That's the cost of our passivity. Perhaps it's unfair to focus so much on Mr. Bush, for there are no neat solutions and he has done more than most leaders. He at least dispatched Condi Rice to Darfur this summer - which is more interest in genocide than the TV anchors have shown.

    One group, www.beawitness.org, prepared a television commercial scolding the networks for neglecting the genocide - and affiliates of NBC, CBS and ABC all refused to run it.

    Still, the failures of others do not excuse Mr. Bush's own unwillingness to speak out, to impose a no-fly zone, to appoint a presidential envoy or to build an international coalition to pressure Sudan. So, Mr. Bush, let me ask you just one question: Since you portray yourself as a bold leader, since you pride yourself on your willingness to use blunt terms like "evil" - then why is it that you're so wimpish on genocide?

    E-mail: nicholas@nytimes.com

    More about Fit BYU

    More about Fit BYU

    I traveled to Dallas today for a medical school interview with UT-Southwestern.  Always looking to cut costs, I flew America West and stopped over for one hour in Phoenix.  While there, I had the opportunity to read the September issue of Men’s Fitness.  Unfortunately, the magazine is little more than ads for nutritional supplements.  The article on the fittest and fattest colleges in the United States took up a total of four pages, counting graphics.  Ads in the magazine easily quintupled that.  

    The spot reserved to talk about BYU was one paragraph long.  There was another paragraph for the fattest college, University of Louisiana-Lafayette.  The article did not discuss specific results, or methodology, except for the broad categories.  It measured amount of exercise (on average) the students participate in per week, the amounts of fast food, alcohol, and smoking consumed per week, average weight gained or lost over four years, and I don’t know what else.  

    I guess the bummer is that Men’s Fitness is a FITNESS magazine, and hoped—no, expected—to read in more detail about the study, what BYU’s strengths and weaknesses are, and how other universities fared.  Oh well.

    However, it is worth noting that besides being the nation’s fittest university, BYU also took home the prize for “Biggest Loser,” because the average graduating senior lost 8.6 lbs from his or her original weight upon entering college.

    Saturday, September 17, 2005

    Medical School Interviews

    I'm very sorry for the spotty reporting the last couple weeks. I am currently in Dallas, Texas interviewing at UT-Southwestern Medical School. Last week I spent four days in Houston because I interviewed at UT Medical Branch (Galveston).

    Although I will blog about the schools, my likes and dislikes, and such, I WILL also blog about my volunteer effort at the Astrodome. My friend, Matt, who runs the blog at Action at a Distance and goes to law school at the University of Houston, went with me. We spent six hours helping evacuees at the Reliant Center while they waited in line for FEMA.

    The experience was one that benefitted me more than those I served. I had some intimate experiences talking with a group of Vietnamese from Orleans Parish. All of this will be forthcoming in a day or so. Until then, keep up the giving of aid to victims of Katrina, wish me luck on further interviews (UT-Houston and Baylor coming up), and pass along anything interesting.

    P.S. I'm still working on this Haloscan stuff, so comment using the blogger comments. I really wanted Haloscan only for the trackbacks. Thanks.

    Thursday, September 15, 2005

    BYU's Utterly Stupid Administrators

    I day or two ago I talked up BYU's accolades, but made the caveat that I would continue to lambast the administration for their idiocies.

    Well, today I do.

    I have written in the past (a couple weeks ago??) about the stupid parking pass decision made this year by some idiot in the administration who obviously did not graduate from elementary school. BYU's PR director had the audacity to get on the radio and defend the decision after public outcry the first week of the semester. With apologies to Newsnet, the student-run news service at the university, I want to reprint an op-ed piece in it's entirety.

    By Mike Saito

    To be honest, I was flabbergasted by BYU's free parking policy. The worst part is the fact that BYU has students who ride the bus make up the lost parking permit income. This policy has serious flaws and will not help reduce traffic congestion, pollution and neighborhood parking problems.

    Flaw one is a historical fact. Free parking never reduces congestion; it simply encourages people to drive more.

    Flaw two is a serious one. The scheme to make up the lost parking permit income by UTA-pass sales means that the bus users, who contribute to the reduction of traffic congestion, air pollution and parking lot maintenance costs, are charged for their good work. Those who create congestion, pollute and damage the pavement are let go of their responsibility without any user fee. This means those who buy bus passes are taxed twice: they pay for the bus pass and at the same time they pay for the maintenance of parking lots.

    Flaw three is ultimate nonsense. Parking office manger Greg Barber says students already have enough financial worries. Has he ever thought that those who purchase bus passes have enough financial worries? The free parking policy systematically discriminates against those who use the bus and contribute to the improvement of the community and environment. It is a shame that BYU created a policy that promotes social inequality.

    Flaw four is a lack of understanding the parking problem here. The real problem is not the parking fee. It is the location of student parking lots. It is the geography of BYU campus. Practically all lecture halls are located at the south end of the campus, while large student parking lots are located at the north. The BYU administration thinks a 15-minute walk is easy. Well that logic hasnÂ’t made sense to students for many years. Such a statement shouldnÂ’t be made by the people who park at premium locations without even paying a dime.

    There is a better solution that directly targets the campus geography-related parking problems, promotes social equality and teaches the basic economic principle of user costs to students. Charge a transportation systems fee to all – students, faculty and staff. Yes, faculty and staff should also pay because they too contribute to traffic congestion and air pollution. Besides, they are already enjoying parking at premium locations. Once the fee is paid, give them a “free” parking and “free” bus pass; let them have alternatives. This way, both students who drive and students who ride the bus pay for their user costs. No one gets a free meal. Use the pooled fund to provide shuttle service between the student parking lots and the lecture hall area of campus, either by BYU owned vehicles or by negotiating with UTA.

    I give a grade of F to those who came up with this flawed free parking policy. As an alumnus of BYU, I cannot remain silent about this nonsense. If BYU gives free parking to those who drive to school, it should give free bus passes to students who donÂ’t. Refund $60 to all students who purchased bus passes!

    Mike Saito is a professor of transportation engineering in the Civil Engineering Department at BYU.

    I cannot agree with the flaws he points out more. Parking, already horrible, has becomeunconscionablescioable this year. More cars, more pollution, more mad drivers looking frantically for parking before class...not building the "christlike virtues" BYU purports to do.

    I, however, have a different solution than Dr. Saito. A general parking fee is a good remedy, but I think a gradated fee based on proximity fits the market better. BYU just built a massive underground parking lot in the center of campus. Faculty and staff have more parking than ever. I say you designate a few parking lots as "visitor," and combine the rest. No more A (faculty) C (freshman) Y (general student) and G (graduate student) lots. Make lots A, B, C, or D lots based on proximity. Those with the highest demand cost the most (A) and those farthest away cost the least (D). Allow faculty and staff to buy stickers before the student body, so they can get parking spaces most convenient.

    This solution not only makes the parking equitable, but turns it into a profitable endeavor for the school. If parking lots on 800N (just south of campus) are the most demanded lots (which they are), sell them for $100 or $200 a year. Sell the D lots (probably north lots) for the base $60 price. Since price is variable on demand, BYU will always make money, can raise or lower price per year, and provide professors with ample parking (provided they don't want to keep biking like our FIT professors do now). Use profits from the parking passes to subsidize bus passes, but not making them free (perhaps $20). This provides incentive for students and faculty to take the bus system, but also provides some sense of ownership, so thousands of passes are not printed needlessly. Overhead stays low.

    In the end, everyone will be happy. Those who value parking will pay what they feel is the value, and drive to school. Those who cannot or will not, can buy affordable bus passes. BYU makes money off of the system, allowing better maintenance of the parking lots. Everybody wins.

    Wednesday, September 14, 2005

    Unconstitutional Pledge

    The news came down an hour or so ago, but a federal judge in San Francisco has ruled that precedent set two years ago means the pledge is unconstitutional because it forces people to say "under God."

    First, the Volokh Conspiracy has a good look at the logic of "precedent" in this situation and "vacating" vs "reversing" a decision.

    Secondly, this decision brings up a question: How many people in the minority must be protected by the majority in a democratic republic?? What if 49% of America disagreed with saying "under God"?? What if it was only one person? Some readers may think this is an easy question, but I disagree. It seems that if 49% of America disagreed with a pledge that had "under God" in it, that might have some weight behind changing it. However, if only 1 in 280 million people objected to saying "under God," and the rest supported the phrase as an integral part of pledging their allegiance to their country, I don't feel there is legal standing to strike the phrase. You then have one person deciding the fate of a country where everyone else believes differently.

    So if most people in the US believe "under God" is legit, and actively support it, what next? The constitution was written to provide a system of majority rule without trampling on the minority. This prohibits the tyrannical governments the founding fathers were revolting against. But if you deign to the whims of the minority in excess, doesn't the system become minority rule?

    Ultimately I am not insinuating that only 1 person in the United States, because of personal beliefs, wishes not to say "under God." What I do feel, is that such an issue affects so many people in such a personal way, that it should not be decided by courts--especially because other personal ways of excusing one's self are possible (standing for the pledge without saying it, omitting objectional parts while repeating it, etc.).

    This is not civil rights. A person cannot excuse his or her skin color. There was no viable alternative for that debate. But with viable alternatives, change should be enacted through legislation, not judication. The constitution provides for the protection of rights of minorities, but do not guarantee their opinions will become law for all.

    Let those who oppose "under God" in the pledge continue to recuse themselves from reciting that part, and form coalitions to raise support for legislation changing the pledge. Then, when the majority of Americans agree with their view, laws will pass and the pledge will change. A true democratic process will have been enacted. In the meantime, those in the minority may use personal means to recite the pledge without the offending phrase ...

    ...or move to another country who's pledge more closely adheres to their beliefs. Nobody's making anyone stay here.

    The Fittest College

    My alma mater, Brigham Young University, recently received the distinction of being named the nation's fittest campus according to Men's Fitness Magazine. Now, having gone to BYU and still working there as staff, I have grown accustomed to BYU's accolades. We don't win national championships in football or basketball, nor do we have amazing PhD programs (we don't have many at all).
    Nevertheless, BYU still ranks in the top 75 schools in the nation (where PhD programs pull weight in the rankings) because of our great undergraduate education, we're usually the #1 Stone Cold Sober School (in which the student body takes great pride), and we have the #1 college library in the nation (which I must attest for. Our library is amazing, and far better than ANY other college library I've ever been to).

    So, I must say that I'm not surprised that we're the fittest campus. The student population is 98% Mormon (according to BYU demographics), and students sign an honor code in which they promise to live the standards of the Mormon church. This means almost all students don't drink, smoke, use tobacco, or drugs. In addition to the "dont's," BYU has a very large intramural program, mandatory physical education classes, and probably near the most Gold's Gym/24 Fitness/other fitness centers per capita in Provo, Utah. The streets are full of students biking or running at all hours of the day or night. And, honestly, it's not hard for me to eat healthy at school. My daily lunch usually consists of 1-2 fresh fruit, 8-10 oz yogurt, 1-2 bagels, and juice.

    For a full list of accolades showered on this oft-forgotten private school nestled in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, go here.

    Please excuse this horn-tooting. I've seen many a student from Harvard or elsewhere brag about how great a school they have, and I don't disagree, but sitting in classes with professors is only one small part of the undergraduate education. I have and will continue to rant about stupid things BYU's administration does, but I have to give credit where credit is due. BYU's faculty is great, intelligent, and challeges students, the learning atmosphere is top-notch, and fellow students are kind and fun-loving.

    Tuesday, September 13, 2005

    Women vs. Men

    The post at Action at a distance got me thinking about the earning disparity between men and women in the USA. What I found became a little larger than a comment, so I am posting it on my blog.

    So, if
    Women in the United States who are 30 to 44 and who hold a university degree — meaning a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, doctorate or medical degree — make only 62 percent of what similarly qualified men do.

    That’s a lower rate than in all but three of the 19 countries for which numbers are available. The nations with greater inequity in pay are Germany, New Zealand and Switzerland.
    So I went to the site of the study to look at the numbers myself.

    Women 30-44 years old, irregardless of education, earn 60.2% of men’s earnings. When 55-64 years old, women, irregardless of education, earn 62.4% of men’s earnings. So, the AP report that women make 62% of what similarly qualified men do is mostly accurate, although they were off by 2%.

    But then I wondered if they accurately reported that such a rate is lower than in all but 3 of 19 countries for which numbers are available. Is this a uniquely American phenomenon?

    Switzerland was less than America, but Germany really wasn’t. Moreover, Britain was also less than the US, but left out of the report. In fact, it seems far more than only 3 countries have averages less than the USA. I quickly looked at 6 of the 21 (not 19) countries, and found 4 were lower than America—Britain, Switzerland, Canada, and Germany. The two that were not, France and Korea, were also two of the highest in the study.

    Here’s what I found:

    Country, age, percentage, age, percentage
    USA: 30-44, 60.2%, 55-64, 62.4%
    Britain: 30-44, 55.6%, 55-64, 59.4%
    Switzerland: 30-44, 54.4%, 55-64, 50/8%
    Canada: 30-44, 59.4%, 55-64, 60.8%
    Korea: 30-44, 74.4%, 55-64, 75.4%
    France: 30-44, 73.8%, 55-64, 66.6%
    Germany: 30-44, 56.4%, 55-64, 59.2%

    A quick glance shows you can also throw the Netherlands into the mix with New Zealand. So, 6 countries, out of 21, are worse than the USA.

    I was still skeptical, so I looked at it in a different light.

    These charts show that if upper secondary education is set as the bar, than generally across the US, people under that level of education make about 67% what people with upper secondary education make. Receiving a tertiary degree automatically gives about 70% more earning power over an upper secondary education. Comparing to the mean of all countries, the disparity in earning power between levels of education in America is more than other countries (see 78% earning power below upper secondary and 148% above) but our maximum earning potential with a tertiary degree is far greater (170% vs. 148%).

    These statistics also show a disparity between men and women. Men below upper secondary make about 65% while women make 62%. Men with tertiary degrees make about 173% what they do with upper secondary education while women make 164%.

    All the numbers seem to show a general disparity between men and women at similar education levels and ages. This should be a great injustice right? We should stand up and fight for equal pay, right? Well, I thought, if this is the case, I must look into my personal profession.

    Medicine. I want to be a doctor. I am applying to medical schools and interviewing at them right now. All the statistics reported above include MD degrees. So, if these statistics tell the whole story, medicine should mirror them.

    First, the American Association of Medical Colleges reports that in 1960-1, 7% of students who applied to medical school were women, and 7% of students accepted were women. Medicine has made great strides in encouraging women to pursue medicine. In 2003-4, 50.8% of applying students were women, and 49.8% of accepted students were women.

    The AAMC reports states that
    The disciplines with the lowest percentage of women residents remain the surgical specialties and the highest percentages are obstetrics and gynecology and pediatrics. Although women now represent 75% of all residents in obstetrics and gynecology, the proportion of women ObGyn residents among all women residents has remained steady at 9% for over a decade. Similarly, since 1988, between 4% and
    5% of all women have been enrolled in general surgical residencies at any one time; with the increasing numbers of women medical school graduates, the proportion of women among all general surgery residents has increased from 10% in 1988 to 25% in 2003.

    … In contrast, Family Medicine experienced an increase in the percentage of all women
    choosing that specialty from 9.6% in 1988 to 12.2% in 2003; women now represent 51% of Family Medicine residents. Thus, women continue to fill an increasing number of positions of residency and subsequently clinical practice as the number of graduates and residents increases; but within the population of all women residents, they select specialties in approximately the same proportions that they have chosen for decades.(emphasis added.)
    The average age of someone entering medical school is 24 years old. This means that physicians 30-44 years old graduated, on average, 2-16 years ago. The percentage of women choosing residencies has not increased during this time although the actual number of women physicians has increased from 36% to 44.2%.

    The highest residencies plus specialties, by percentage of total women, in 1993 and in 2003, are
    Internal Medicine, 27.1%, 28.5%
    Pediatrics, 15.2%, 15.0%
    Family Practice, 10.2%, 12.3%
    OB/GYN, 10%, 9.8%
    Psychiatry, 8.3%, 7.0%

    The highest residencies plus specialties, by percentage of total men, in 1993 and in 2003, are
    Internal Medicine, 31%, 31.6%
    All Surgery, 20.5%, 18.1%
    Family Medicine, 7.3%, 8.2%
    Anesthesiology, 6.6%, 6.0%
    Radiology, 5.1%, 5.7%

    According to Physiciansearch.com, the average salaries of each specialty are:

    Internal Medicine: 160,318
    Pediatrics: 149,754
    Family Practice: 147,516
    OB/GYN: 248,294
    Psychiatry: 174,658
    All Surgeries (average): 340,658
    Anesthesiology: 301,802
    Radiology: 347,380

    Therefore, the average salary of a female doctor in 2003, in one of the 5 specialties that make up 72.6% of all female physicians, is $169,224.60.

    The average salary of a male doctor in 2003, in one of the 5 specialties that make up 69.6% of all male physicians, is $233,225.11.

    These numbers show that on average a female physician makes 72.56% what a male physician makes. However, it also shows a gaping hole in the numbers sited earlier by the AP report. Salaries can never be compared solely on the basis of age and educational degree because different sexes choose to pursue different vocations and, in the case of medicine, different specialties within a vocation. Personally, I found far more females in my history classes at college than in my microbiology classes. Most of the women in my history classes wanted to be high school history teachers, while most women in my microbiology classes wanted to be a college professor, dentist, or doctor. Obviously, the vocational preferences of sexes show a large disparity in earning potential. Ultimately, the numbers cited by the Organization for Cooperation and Development are so broad as to be meaningless and so misconstrued as to blind the public from the true fact:

    The disparate numbers highlight how societal and genetic influences cause women to pursue vocations with a smaller earning potential than men in western countries.

    Stupid Polls

    I hate polls like this. And I also shake my head that CNN is using it as it's title story right now.

    I think the issue of race is overblown in the aftermath of Katrina. People, when put in stressful and dire situations, will speak and act from their core. This is often neither logical nor correct in substance. Although slavery was formally ended 140 years ago, and the civil rights movement ended segregation 40 years ago, there is undeniably still racial tensions in many parts of the US and many individual Americans can be called racist.

    It is these underlying tensions that come to the surface during a situation like Katrina. Because of stress, people talk before thinking, and assume things based on individual opinions and prejudices without taking the time to explore the actual events.

    First, polls with plus/minus 6 percentage points are never statistically accurate, and (in my opinion) should never be reported. In every basic statistics class you learn that a poll is not indicative of a general population unless it is +/- 3% or less. Most polls reported on tv don't meet this requirement, explaining why actual voting results often are opposite poll results.

    It also means that you have a theoretical 12 point swing in every number. In the poll on CNN, assuming that it is accurate (which I just stated it isn't), 20% of blacks and 29% of whites blame Mayor Nagin. However, it could just as accurately been 26% of blacks and 23% of whites. This is still within the margin of error.

    All in all, such polls should be discarded as useless.

    If race is an issue, than it stems not from racism, but the situation of our society that makes it hard for a segment of the population to increase in wealth, who 140 years after obtaining economic freedom (sort of, reconstruction is another beast) still make up a large segment of the lowest economic class in Louisianna. It is an issue that Louisianna is generally regarded as the most corrupt state in the US in politics and law enforcement. It is an issue that race relations in the area are still strained because when segregation ended, many whites took their children to private schools and so their is a large racial divide in the makeup of private vs public schools in the area.

    These issues contribute to the racial makeup and tensions of New Orleans today. It has been far too costly politically for messing up the aftermath of Katrina than anyone sanely would have pursued because of personal prejudice. There is too much at stake--supreme court nominees and presidential elections of 2008--than either party would give up because of racism. Some people in govt might be racist, but they're also power and money hungry. Race may have played a roll in the demographics of those stranded, and racism may have played a roll in that as well, but let's look at this logically--racism did not play a roll in the rescue efforts.

    Thursday, September 01, 2005

    Does Global Warming Cause Hurricanes??

    Recently I was listening to Democracy Now as they interviewed a scientist that was saying hurricane frequency and intensity is increasing due to global warming. I have been following Hurricane Katrina and her aftermath intently on both CNN and FOX and both news organizations have also spouted this doctrine.

    Since I had never heard of this before, I decided to do some research. If it is true, we Americans hold a large share of the blame and, regardless of blame, need to fix it.

    First, we must realize that this holds political ramifications because Bush rejected the Kyoto Protocol.

    The Protocol calls for reductions of up to 70% current CO2 emissions. Bush nixed it because it would be too costly for American businesses. Coincidentally, some environmental groups say the accord is actually bad, whereas we should increase reforestation to use the CO2.

    Regardless, the current debate is about hurricane intensity and frequency. The Geophysical fluid dynamics laboratory, part of the US Dept. of Commerce, says that
    the hurricanes that do occur near the end of the 21st century are expected to be stronger and have significantly more intense rainfall than under present day climate conditions.
    This is based on a recent study by Thomas R. Knutson and Robert E. Tuleya at the laboratory.
    According to this latest study, an 80 year build-up of atmospheric CO2 at 1%/yr (compounded) leads to roughly a one-half category increase in potential hurricane intensity on the Saffir-Simpson scale and an 18% increase in precipitation near the hurricane core.
    Scientists have been saying this before, however.

    Commondreams.org reports that Dr. James McCarthy from Harvard warns that
    "As the world warms, we expect more and more intense tropical hurricanes and cyclones," said James McCarthy, a professor of biological oceanography at Harvard University.

    Large parts of the world's oceans are approaching 27 degrees C or warmer during the summer, greatly increasing the odds of major storms, McCarthy told IPS.

    When water reaches such temperatures, more of it evaporates, priming hurricane or cyclone formation. Once born, a hurricane needs only warm water to build and maintain its strength and intensity.
    Over the past 100 years, the average ocean temperature has risen 0.6 C and sea levels have risen 3.1 cm.

    Time reports that
    More-frequent hurricanes are part of most global warming models, and as mean temperatures rise worldwide, it’s hard not to make a connection between the two. But hurricane-scale storms occur all over the world, and in some places—including the North Indian ocean and the region near Australia—the number has actually fallen. Even in the U.S., the period from 1991 to 1994 was a time of record hurricane quietude, with the dramatic exception of Andrew.
    It also reports that hurricane speeds have increased about 50% in the past 50 years.

    Kerry Emanuel at MIT has a recent model that the half degree increase in ocean temperatures have doubled the number of destructive North Atlantic storms and increased North Pacific storms by 75% although past models should have increased destructive power only 10%.

    However, not everyone agrees. Chris Landsea at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Hurricane Research Division, has questions.
    Storm winds are virtually impossible to measure directly, and techniques for estimating them indirectly have changed over the years. To adjust for those changes, Emanuel reduced wind estimates in the 1950s and 1960s.

    But Landsea says the unadjusted figures show no overall trend, raising doubts over whether Emanuel's model is making the right corrections. Although winds from that period looked too low in the past, Landsea says that wind estimates may actually have been too low in the 1970s through to the early 1990s.
    The Cooler Heads Coalition wrote in 1998 that according to Dr. William Gray of Colorado State University,
    hurricane activity follows a natural 20 to 40 year cycle that is correlated to changes in ocean currents. The 1940s and 1950s, for example saw many land-falling tropical storms. From 1947-1960 there were 14 land-falling storms, but from 1960-1988 there were only 2. We are now in a period of heightened hurricane activity.

    The mechanism that controls the Earth’s most important and largest ocean current, known as the thermohaline circulation, is salinity...

    When salt content is high the ocean current is strong, pushing the salt particles through the system rapidly, preventing the build up of salt. This weakens the ocean current leading to greater salinity which in turn strengthens the current again.
    Dr. Gray also points out the problems with statistical modeling (those of us who have taken statistics should already know never to trust any statistics).

    As models predict farther into the future,
    small modeling errors either in the measurements or in the physics grow over time becoming nonlinear and the whole thing "blows up on you."

    The greatest problem with the models, however, is the failure to correctly model water vapor feedback, Gray said. Water vapor feedback accounts for 85-90 percent of the warming in the models, according to Dr. Gray...Dr. Gray believes that as carbon dioxide in the atmosphere increases there is a slight reduction in water vapor to balance the carbon dioxide pick up.
    Junkscience.com reported last year that hurricane trends aren't that alarming when you take them in context. It shows this graph that puts the number of hurricanes in context by decade and strength since 1900.

    So maybe the incidence of hurricanes has increased recently, but the number of landfalling hurricanes is given in this chart, and it shows a different trend.

    It reports that
    According to The Most Intense Hurricanes in the United States 1900-2000 only 28 of the listed 65 events occurred since 1950. The Deadliest, Costliest, And Most Intense United States Hurricanes From 1900 To 2000 (And Other Frequently Requested Hurricane Facts) indicates that fully half the years when no hurricanes struck mainland U.S. are after 1950 (10 of 19). The most hurricanes to strike in one year were six in 1916 and 1985. There were five in 1933, and four in 1906, 1909, and 1964. Three hurricanes struck the U.S. in one year a total of sixteen times. Ten of these sixteen times occurred during the sixteen years from 1944 to 1959.
    What does this all mean?

    Well, it means that global warming may increase the intensity of a storm, but models predicting this increase may also be founded on large assumptions. That would make their predictions about as good as a guess. It also casts doubt on the long range predictions that are causing all the stir. The armageddon predictions. Hurricane models just aren't that reliable when you start predicting far into the future.

    It also means that we should take the accusations of increased incidence with a grain of salt also. Yes, we are seeing more, but we also have increased detection methods. Landfalling hurricanes (I would say the ones that really matter) show quite a different trend.

    Should we be worried about global warming?? Yes, and no. I'm much more worried about the toxic effects of fumes than the warming effects. Reforestation seems like a good idea to me. I love the outdoors. Lord knows the mountains near Provo need more trees. They're bald.

    Should we blame Bush for Katrina?? Heck no. Regardless of whether he signed the Kyoto Accord or not, global warming may have played into her ferocity. Signing the treaty would not have reduced emissions enough to have changed that outcome. We can yell at him for not signing it at all, because it's not very considerate of the environment, and definite pandering to big oil and coal, but not link him to Katrina. We've all done this, and it's a long time in the making.

    I feel for the residents of the south, and those still suffering. New Orleans is a war zone. The federal government must take some blame in the poor rescue efforts. I place it on Congress (and it is a Republican congress) who have created this new Dept. of Homeland Security and allocated $5 billion to beefing up airport security (which we all hate) while cutting the budget for first-responders (the paramedics, ambulance drivers, firemen, etc. that respond first to a terror attack or natural disaster). More first-responders would have changed this outcome. Some of that blame also falls on Bush for making the budget, but Congress must approve it. They had they're chance to nix him.

    Ultimately I pray we learn our lesson, and I pray the people of New Orleans get out alive.