Saturday, January 08, 2011
I'll be taking my iPad with me, so posting will continue sporadically. See, I'll be wet most of the time...
Anyway, enjoy the middle of winter. I'll be working, sort of, on my photography and videography portfolio. The best thing about visual arts is the rehearsals.
Friday, January 07, 2011
Q. In 1868, when the 39th Congress was debating and ultimately proposing the 14th Amendment, I don't think anybody would have thought that equal protection applied to sex discrimination, or certainly not to sexual orientation. So does that mean that we've gone off in error by applying the 14th Amendment to both?
A. Yes, yes. Sorry, to tell you that. ... But, you know, if indeed the current society has come to different views, that's fine. You do not need the Constitution to reflect the wishes of the current society. Certainly the Constitution does not require discrimination on the basis of sex. The only issue is whether it prohibits it. It doesn't.
A lot of people on the left and even the right are interpreting this to mean that Scalia believes the Constitution endorses misogyny, which is an interpretation you have to stretch a bit to include, altho I can see how and why, and even understand the degree of anger. I disagree with that sentiment, however. That does not mean I think Scalia should be NOW's poster boy or that Scalia is not a cad and a bigot.
I think Scalia's original quote was not incorrect. I read it as "The Constitution does not set aside women as a preferred class with respect to constitutional rights, and the 14th Amendment does not, either."
Thursday, January 06, 2011
One of psychology’s most respected journals has agreed to publish a paper presenting what its author describes as strong evidence for extrasensory perception, the ability to sense future events.
The decision may delight believers in so-called paranormal events, but it is already mortifying scientists. Advance copies of the paper, to be published this year in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, have circulated widely among psychological researchers in recent weeks and have generated a mixture of amusement and scorn.
The paper describes nine unusual lab experiments performed over the past decade by its author, Daryl J. Bem, an emeritus professor at Cornell, testing the ability of college students to accurately sense random events, like whether a computer program will flash a photograph on the left or right side of its screen. The studies include more than 1,000 subjects.
Basically, what Dr. Bem...and there's a SciFi name if I've ever heard one...did was turn a traditional memory test on its head, in the first phase of this study. He gave students a memory test consisting of vocabulary words, then gave them the list of words to study afterwards. Turns out the students scored higher on words they later studied more.
As I said, dicey methodology, but it advanced to a later study in which subjects were asked to predict which of two computer screens behind a curtain would present a picture. After the prediction was made, a random generator choose a screen. The outcome was slightly higher than that presented by chance (50%, of those of you who didn't do so good in statistics).
Interesting outcome, to be sure. It's hard to get really excited over slightly better odds of choosing in a simple "left/right" scenario, of course, but who's to say?
Still, the participants beat chance, by 53 percent to 50 percent, at least when the photos being posted were erotic ones. They did not do better than chance on negative or neutral photos.
“What I showed was that unselected subjects could sense the erotic photos,” Dr. Bem said, “but my guess is that if you use more talented people, who are better at this, they could find any of the photos.”
Dr. Bem has his critics. For example, a Dr. Hyman in Oregon claims it might all be a practical joke, which would reflect poorly on the Journal.
Wednesday, January 05, 2011
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) -- Just four days after thousands of dead blackbirds are found in Arkansas, residents in Sweden are cleaning up their own version of the unusual happening.
Officials in Sweden say about 50 birds were found in the southern Sweden city of Falkoping Wednesday morning.
Earlier in the week, another case of dead birds hit Louisiana, leaving those residents just as confused as others.
Now, the accepted wisdom is that somehow fireworks are responsible for the bird deaths, and the fish are dying of unusually cold water (possible effect of global climate change and the shift of the Atlantic conveyor in Sweden? Stay tuned).
Except....it's summer in Brazil. And New Zealand, which is also reporting tons of dead fish washing up on shores.
And fireworks would explain birds dropping out of the sky, ohhhhhh, sayyyyyy, one minute past midnight on the first, but many of these events are happening days after the last fizzles.
There are plenty of conventional, prosaic explanations for any one of these events, to be sure, but that all of them are happening about the same time in the same mysterious manner leads one to suspect there's something greater at work here.
So what the hell IS going on???
Tuesday, January 04, 2011
Since the bust in the market, insurers have portrayed themselves as the victims. They have filed hundreds of lawsuits over the past two years seeking to cancel policies they say weren't intended as estate-planning tools, as buyers purported, but were instead meant to enrich investors speculating on old people's lives. The industry also asked regulators to stop investors from wagering with their products.
Now, some investors are striking back. They are asserting that insurers' own agents and managers encouraged investor-driven sales to boost their compensation, and that the industry cried foul only when faced with big payouts on the policies and bond-market declines that made some policies less profitable than expected.
The investors want the insurers to be forced to honor the contracts, or to refund all of the premiums they have paid. Some are seeking punitive damages. The claims appear in filings in state and federal courts nationwide.
The irony is, of course, that this market was already in a tizzy not because of the financial shenanigans of the bond markets (bonds and annuities are usually the underlying instruments behind life insurance policies and included mortgage-backed securities) but because, well, people are living longer.
See, actuarial tables may be the last bastion of inefficiency in financial markets, because they rely on information after the fact: when a person dies, that's how long you know he or she has lived. The average age of people dying is compared to the numbers of people still living who are that age and that's one way life expectancies are calculated, or at least that's the basis for the calculations.
Radical changes...an epidemic or natural disaster...can appear nearly instantaneously. Subtle changes take months if not years to come to the fore. And there's the problem because these same rich people can afford the best medical care and thus confound the statistics which can adjust for income but have a much harder time adjusting for accumulated wealth. Remember, they've likely retired when they sell these policies so annual income is reduced significantly, but wealth continues to accrue.
So how does this affect you? Well, estimates of the current market for these instruments remains over $10 billion new policies every year. Not much, but if insurers are forced to recapture premiums and refund them to investors, the size of the market could make the AIG bust look like a run on a Bedford Falls building and loan.
And then, if no bailout is forthcoming, your insurance premiums-- car, life, and home-- will skyrocket.