31 December 2005

Justice For All & Affirmative Action

I pledge allegiance to the flag
Of the United States of America,
And to The Republic for which it stands,
One Nation under God, Indivisible,
With liberty and justice for all.

Justice for all. A noble goal. A goal worth working for. An ideal worth sacrificing for. Justice for all: a fine standard to hold our actions to. Let's see how the idea known as Affirmative Action measures up.

First, the definition, from Wikipedia:

Affirmative action (U.S. English), or positive discrimination (British English), is a policy or a program promoting the representation in various systems of people of a group who have traditionally been discriminated against, with the aim of creating a more egalitarian society. This typically focuses on education, employment, health care, or social welfare.

In employment, affirmative action may also be known as employment equity or preferential hiring. In this context affirmative action requires that institutions increase hiring and promotion of candidates of mandated groups.


So, how is affirmative Action just or fair? It's not. It's all about giving to the folks perceived as "have-nots" at the expense of those who are perceived to be "haves." At least in England they have the decency to call it what it is: discrimination. And it's only "positive" discrimination from a very narrow viewpoint. The fact that affirmative action and equal opportunity are so often said in the same breath is laughable: there's nothing equal about affirmative action.

Who wants to be hired or promoted based on the fact that they belong to a "protected" group? Certainly not me! If I ever thought that I'd been hired or promoted because I'm a woman, I'd have to step down & let the best candidate have the job. If I even stayed with a company that would give me a job based on my gender. I don't want to be someone's quota or token female. I want to be in a position that I earn.

The Washington Post, in an article on the Center for Individual Rights' campaign to do away with affirmative action, quotes Michael McDonald and Michael Greve:

McDonald and Greve say they are hostile to government-sponsored affirmative action on the philosophical grounds that it undermines efforts to create a truly colorblind society. They are irked by university officials who they say often lie about their efforts to give preferred minorities a leg up. And though diversity is a worthwhile goal, according to CIR leaders, it's overrated and should never trump a person's right to be judged on the basis of talent and character.

"I don't know where this idea came from that all races have to be represented proportionally in all professions," said McDonald, the more soft-spoken of the duo. "We're here to protect the rights of individuals who are being discriminated against through no fault of their own because of their skin."


Discrimination is against the law. The 14th Ammendment prohibits any laws "which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States". So why isn't Affirmative Action against the law? It clearly abridges the privileges of groups such as white males. Affirmative Action clearly isn't up to the ideal of "Justice for All."


Further Reading:
Wikipedia: Affirmative Action
American Association for Affirmative Action
Center for Individual Rights
Washington Post: Affirmative Action Under Attack
Washington Post: D.C. Public Interest Law Firm Puts Affirmative Action on Trial
The Constitution
Wikipedia: Pledge of Allegiance

24 December 2005

Then One Foggy Christmas Eve


Photos taken by Ritsumei, all rights reserved.

These photos were taken at Erb Park just before noon. Hope that everyone has a great Christmas!

23 December 2005

So THAT'S How it's Done


Step-by-step demo of magazine retouching

Interesting. I knew that they did something to make these pictures so "perfect" (if you want to call it that), but I had no idea what how much of a process that it really is! No wonder it's so problematic to base "beauty" on what's in the magazines: they're not Real.

200 Pound Baby


Photo from TSO.com
TSO.com: Baby Elephant Named

OK, I admit it, the uppermost thought in my mind is that this guy is cute! My next thought was that the 250 pound munchkin elephant (he started at about 200) looks mighty small next to Momma...

Wonder how much she weighs?

Three Words to Watch Out For

Chabad.org: Here are three words to look out for: If, Try and But. Spot them in your language and you’ve been caught red-handed being an unrepentant self-skeptic. These expressions are a warning that you don’t believe what you are saying, so what chance is there?

Digital TV for Everyone

I'm happy with the TV that I have now. Other than Stargate, I barely watch any TV at all, and I've never felt the need to get HDTV or any other fancy kinds of TV. But I guess that I'm in the minority in that, and it looks like they're going to be fundamentally changing the way that TV works.

Appleton Post-Crescent: Make the digital TV leap
DTV.gov

22 December 2005

Peanuts Profiles


I am Schroeder!


Which character are you?

Fact or Fiction

I'm feeling a little frusterated with the way that information is passed out in this country. It is so hard to sift through the various sources and find what is actually the truth. Often, I feel the best that I can do is to find opposing viewpoints, compare the sources they mention, and then make a guess.

For instance, there is this whole "Domestic Spying" uproar going on right now. I myself was upset when it came out. There is a huge risk to civil liberties, should this power be abused. But it does seem like it would come in handy for finding terrorists. And, as I listen to the debate, I wonder if President Bush might not be within his rights after all. But my frusteration is partly that there doesn't seem to be many "pro" stories - just stories about how terrible that it is. Worse, the first stories that I heard seemed to indicate that the President's "spying" was on regular citizens - I heard nothing about terrorists in the first reports. It was "domestic spying" rather than "wiretaps for national security in dealing with the Al Qaeda threat." That's a big difference to me. I don't mind the President authorizing people to listen in on Al Qaeda, in fact, I think that's probably a good idea, regardless of their citizenship or location.

The sensational slants that are often applied don't help matters any at all, and frankly, are just irritating. Just report the facts, OK? I'd like to be able to make up my own mind.

Articles on Wiretapping
Wikipedia: Wiretapping
NPR: Domestic Spying coverage
WAVY-TV:Bush has authorized NSA to spy on Americans
CNN.com: Bush: Secret wiretaps won't stop
MSNBC: Secret court judges to be briefed on spying
Chicago Tribune: President had legal authority to OK taps
Detroit News: Anti-terror spying may have gone on in US
Washington Post- Letters to the Editor: Battle over Domestic Spying

21 December 2005

Dancing in Snow


It's a snow-covered fountain full of dancing children.
Photo by Ritsumei, all rights reserved.


I went out and took a bunch of pictures today after the piano lesson where I am the student rather than the teacher. Got good and cold - still haven't recovered from that, but I also got some great pictures of Appleton, which really is very beautiful. I'll probably be posting some of the best ones to my Weather Underground gallery.

Thinking About Evolution

Given that the whole Evolution vs. Intelligent Design debate has been in the news so much recently, I did some thinking on the matter. At the beginning of the process, I found Evolution to be a little ridiculous. There are some pretty glaring problems: the one that bothers me most is that pesky Second Law of Thermodynamics: If things tend to become less and less organized over time, how on earth is Evolution going to somehow continually produce newer, better adapted species over time - by accident. I'll be the first to admit that I am at best a hobby physicist - all that math intimidated me, or I might have grown up into an astrophysicist rather than a piano teacher. Still, I enjoy reading Stephen Hawking's books and discussing experimental vehicles and power sources with my husband. Maybe somewhere some enterprising disciple of Evolution has taken on the Second Law and I just missed it. But I've never heard of that sort of work being done. At least not yet.

Thing is, I like to keep an open mind. As my own high school education lacked any kind of emphasis on Evolution, I went out and found a nice Evolution primer from a reputable source with a name that I recognize - in this case Berkeley and I did my best to set aside my skepticism while I read it.
Berkeley.edu: Evolution 101


Here's some of what I learned:

1. Evolution is a hypothesis. Even Berkeley doesn't tout Evolution as FACT. It's a work in progress.

2. Evolution - both macroevolution (the evolution of new species over long periods of time) and microevolution (changes within a species over one or more generations) happen by way of a couple of very basic processes: mutation, genetic drift, and natural selection. Microevolution, according to the Berkeley site, can lead to macroevolution.

Now for the Thinking Part:

Mutation
Evolution 101 has a glossary, which defines mutation as "a change in a DNA sequence, usually occurring because of errors in replication or repair." It goes on to say, "Mutation is the ultimate source of genetic variation." So, these mutations, these mistakes, are a positive thing. Interesting. I've also been reading Miscarriage: why it happens and how best to reduce your risks by Henry M. Lerner, M.D., OB/GYN. Chapter 2 is about chromosomal causes of miscarriages. Dr. Lerner writes that chromosomal miscombination is the number one cause of miscarriage, and talks about a couple different types. Abnormalities of chromosome number, abnormal chromosome splitting/nondysjunction, and translocations are discussed. Each of these things would be mutations, according to the Berkeley definition. Abnormal chromosomal numbers cause a number of problems, for instance that sperm with too much or too little chromosomes usually can't even fertilize an egg. Nondysjunction is when chromosomes split or pair up incorrectly, and it also leads to cells having the wrong number of chromosomes. Dr. Lerner writes:

"This situation will lead to the abnormal development of the embryo's structural or physiologic features. Usually, such an embryo will die and the pregnancy will miscarry. The most common example of aneuploidy see in living infants is Down syndrome, where each cell in the baby has three copies of chromosome 21.

...Trisomy - the presence of three copies of any of the chromosomes is the most frequent cause of first-trimester miscarriages. ... The chromosomes most often involved in these trisomies are chromosome 16, chromosome 21 (causing Down Syndrome), and chromosome 22. Why these chromosomes triple up more often than others is not known. It may be because other chromosomal trisomies are so lethal that they leave egg and sperm incapable of fertilizing one another - thus embryos with these chromosomal structures rarely form. alternatively, it may be that when other triosomies occur they result in miscarriages at such an early stage that not enough pregnancy material is recovered for their chromosomal makeup to be identified." (page 38)

The outlook an embryo with translocations in its chromosomes is equally grim. A lucky few will have "balanced" chromosomal translocations. These will probably survive into adulthood, but suffer from higher rates of infertility, miscarriage, and "fetuses with congenital anomalies". Not exactly good for introducing "positive" mutations into the species. And that's the best case scenario.

Dr. Lerner concludes his section on chromosomal abnormalities with these words:
This then is why abnormal chromosomal structures lead to miscarriages: Not only will abnormal chromosomes "miscode" for the development of the building blocks of all tissue, the proteins, but they will likely produce incorrect messenger signals as well. Either sort of biologic mistake - incorrect proteins or incorrect physiologic signaling - can be fatal to a developing embryo.

Genetic Drift
The Berkeley site comes right out and says that Genetic Drift is pure chance, and that it does not produce adaptations. Change, yes, but completely random change. Some organisms will leave more descendents than others, making their genes more common. So you might end up with a generation of people with big noses, if a large number of small-nosed parents are killed in accidents. Not exactly ground breaking "evolution." I'm really not sure how fluctuations in the frequency of any given trait in a population relates to evolution, even after reading Evolution 101, unless for some reason a trait goes extinct.

Natural Selection
Natural Selection is where I see the conflict with the Second Law of Thermodynamics. The idea is that there are different traits. The example used by Berkeley was green and brown beetles. So, if the predators can find the green ones, but the brown ones are better hidden, then there will be more brown babies, because the green ones are eaten for lunch. As this happens, there are more and more brown beetles, until you just don't find any more green ones. At the end of the "selection" there are fewer varieties of beetle than there were at the beginning. But somehow, over time, the pattern is supposed to create more variety? The example that Berkeley shows follows the Second Law - there is less variation at the end. But the principle that they were trying to teach doesn't seem to follow either the example or the law.


So, at the end of the day, I find that I am still unconvinced by Evolution, in spite of the fact that Berkeley's Evolution 101 was very well done and very interesting. And given that Evolution is a hypothesis, I don't understand the fuss about having a competing hypothesis or two.


Further Reading:
Berkeley.edu: Evolution 101
The Society for the Study of Evolution
Interactive Documenary: Becoming Human
PBS: Evolution
NY Times: The Evolution Debate
Institue for Creation Research
Mormanity's Blog: Dec. 19 - Would we fly to pieces?

20 December 2005

Snowflakes


Snow on my car 7 Dec 2005.
We didn't get much snow on the 7th, but it was pretty.

How Reliable is WPR, Really?

In October of 2005, WPR's "Here on Earth" broadcast incorrect infomration. I sent the following letter, but never received a reply, and never heard a correction broadcast. I am left wondering, how much do they REALLY care about reporting the truth? I sent them another letter today, so we'll see how quickly they respond this time.


On Thursday, October 6, 2005, you had a guest from Video Volunteers on your show. Near the end of the show, a caller made a comment:

"I had a question in regards to Video Volunteers, in regards to, in the Mormon community, which is very close in this country, and still practices polygamy in the fundamentalist groups... that there is still, like, child brides in the polygamy and I was wondering if there was any, you know --"

Jean: "That's true, that's true, right in our own country. Have you thought about that Jessica?"

Jessica: "Yea, I mean, I absolutely appreciate your drawing the discussion back to the United States in this way..."

The problem here is that it is absolutely NOT TRUE. Mormons, or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints do not practice polygamy. They haven't since 1890. As recently as 1998, Gordon B Hinckley, Prophet and President of the Church said, "I wish to state categorically that this Church has nothing whatever to do with those practicing polygamy. They are not members of this Church. Most of them have never been members. ... If any of our members are found to be practicing plural marriage, they are excommunicated, the most serious penalty the Church can impose."
http://lds.org/newsroom/extra/1,15505,4028-1---3-539,00.html

It is comments like the one that Jean Feraca made (quoted above) that continue to perpetuate the misconception that members of the Church still practice polygamy. In addition to the fact that the Church hasn't had any polygamous marriages since 1890 following an unsuccessful Supreme Court challenge to the laws passed between 1862 and 1887 making polygamy illegal, child brides were NEVER part of what happened. I find it disgusting that anyone would insinuate that such a practice had ever been part of what the Church - and my own ancestors - were doing. I don't appreciate being lumped into this fictitious group that is supposedly willingly participating in statutory rape.

From the Church's Media Room at lds.org:
There is no such thing as a "polygamous" Mormon. Mormon is a common name for a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Church discontinued polygamy more than a century ago. No members of the Church today can enter into polygamy without being excommunicated. Polygamist groups in Utah, Arizona or Texas have nothing whatsoever to do with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

When referring to people or organizations that practice polygamy, terms such as those listed above are incorrect. The Associated Press Stylebook notes: "The term Mormon is not properly applied to the other ... churches that resulted from the split after [Joseph] Smith's death."
http://www.lds.org/newsroom/mistakes/0,15331,3885-1-18719,00.html

There is more information about polygamy in Church history at: http://www.lds.org/newsroom/showpackage/0,15367,3899-1---2-539,00.html

Although the conversation on "Here on Earth" moved on quickly, there is still damage done to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in episodes like this one. For this to happen on Public Radio is especially damaging, because people recognize Public Radio as a source of good, accurate news. As this happened so close to the end of the show, there was really no way for me to call in and correct Jean Feraca in the matter, so now everyone that was listening to the show last Thursday has received false information and no correction, to my knowledge. I understand that you do not censor what your listeners say, but there is no excuse for Jean Feraca agreeing with the lies that the caller put forth.

I believe that "Here on Earth," Jean Feraca, and WPR owe the public an apology for this gross error. Additionally, I can not support an institution that allows such errors to stand.

History Repeats

The FlyLady suggests that we make a list of chores that we're going to do each day of the week. She calls it a "control journal." I have one, and I even use it occasionally. Today was one of those days. So, I'm upstairs in my bathroom, cleaning the mirror, and as I washed the toothpaste spots off, I thought how nice it is to have a clean house. My very next thought was how often I've had that thought while I'm doing the cleaning that I didn't want to do. I wonder how long it's going to be before I actually remember that it's worth it to take a few minutes to "swish and swipe," because the results are so nice when it's done.

So this lead to musings about how history repeats, and I've got a theory. (Doesn't everyone?) It seems like as soon as a generation starts to learn wisdom, they're old and then they die. So there are a couple of solutions to this problem that I can think of.

1. We could all live longer. Trouble is, this one's not really something that we control. Yes, we can control risks to an extent, but not all of them. It's not a Sure Thing. Unless you're Tookie Williams, you probably don't have your death on your calendar, and most of us aren't willing to go to the lengths that he did to get that appointment.

2. We could live backwards - start old and die young. I'm really not sure how this would work, biologically speaking, so I'll just move right along.

3. We could Study history. I'm not really talking about learning all the dates & names & places, although that would certainly be a start. The problem with learning only names and dates is that it's so easy to miss the Reasons. All those people who ended up being remembered by History had a Reason for what they did. And a lot of them wrote about it. I find it interesting that although I took an AP US History in high school, the teacher was more interested in assisting us to pass the test than she was in helping us understand the amazing heritage that we received from the Founding Fathers, or the incredible sacrifices that they made to bring this nation into being. We barely scratched the complexities of the Civil War.

I am left wondering, what would George Washington, Samuel Adams, John Hancock, or Abraham Lincoln think of the state of affairs now? Samuel Adams, for instance, was repeatedly offered wealth, power, and position, if he would only quit stirring up trouble in the colonies and go along with the Crown and its representatives. His refusal was so firm, and so irritating to the governor that when he offered pardon to the Colonists who would put down their arms and stop rebelling, he specifically excluded Sam Adams. I think that very few of our politicians today could be said to have that sort of personal integrity. So why do we keep sending them to Washington?

Is our own American government destined to become the same sort of tyrannical problem that the British government was in the 1700's? And what will we do about it?

Wires without Warrants

Tell me, is it really wise to allow still MORE powers, this time of questionable legality, to a government that is already bloated and gorging on the taxes and rights of the citizens?

I find it very odd to be agreeing more with the Democrats than with the President. My own Senator Feingold regularly irritates the living daylights out of me, and I have in the past written him and asked him to resign. (He didn't respond.) But this time, I think he might just (accidentally, perhaps) be right in his opposition to the domestic wiretaps without warrants that the President has somehow found "legal" standing to authorize. It's one thing to conduct your investigations in secrecy. I understand that it's important not to advertise your strategy to the enemy. But I am not ready to give up the oversight that the courts - the secret courts that are already in place - give to the process of finding criminals and terrorists.

I think that President Bush has gone too far with the spying without warrants. I doubt that it would be that hard to get the warrants for the people that are really a threat. For President Bush to call the leak a "shameful act" is a little bit ridiculous, in light of the problems with eavesdropping on citizens!

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