Friday, March 27, 2009

Reid Says Roberts 'Didn't Tell Us the Truth'

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid suggests Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts misled senators into believing he was not too conservative.
March 27, 2009

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Friday that Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts did not "tell us the truth" during his 2005 confirmation hearings, suggesting Roberts misled senators into believing he was more moderate than he really was.

According to, Reid complained about Roberts during a discussion hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.

"Roberts didn't tell us the truth. At least (Samuel) Alito told us who he was," Reid said, according to the article.

"But we're stuck with those two young men, and we'll try to change by having some moderates in the federal courts system as time goes on -- I think that will happen."

According to, while Reid said Democrats will try to bring more moderates to the bench, he said they will not try to block Republicans' ability to filibuster nominees.

The Dr. Fox effect explains why meaningless speeches get high ratings

The Dr. Fox effect
from Wikipedia

...Professor of law Deborah Merritt summarized the Dr. Fox Effect as it was observed in the first experiments:

"The experimenters created a meaningless lecture on 'Mathematical Game Theory as Applied to Physician Education,' and coached Fox to deliver it 'with an excessive use of double talk, neologisms, non sequiturs, and contradictory statements.'

At the same time, the researchers encouraged Fox to adopt a lively demeanor, convey warmth toward his audience, and intersperse his nonsensical comments with humor. ...

Fox fooled not just one, but three separate audiences of professionals and graduate students. Despite the emptiness of his lecture, fifty-five psychiatrists, psychologists, educators, graduate students, and other professionals produced evaluations of Dr. Fox that were overwhelmingly positive....

The disturbing feature of the Dr. Fox study, as the experimenters noted, is that Fox’s nonverbal behaviors so completely masked a meaningless, jargon-filled, and confused presentation."

Saturday, March 21, 2009

AIG scandal proves we are ruled by a government of men, not laws

Welcome to double-standard America

By David Sirota
March 21, 2009

United Steelworkers president Leo Gerard likes to say that Washington policymakers "treat the people who take a shower after work much differently than they treat the people who shower before they go to work." In the 21st century Gilded Age, the blue-collar shower-after-work crowd is given the tough, while the white-collar shower-before-work gang gets the love, and never before this week was that doctrine made so clear.

Following news that government-owned American International Group devoted $165 million of its $170 billion taxpayer bailout to employee bonuses, the White House insisted nothing could be done to halt the robbery. On ABC's Sunday chat show, Obama advisor Larry Summers couched his passive-aggressive defense of AIG's thieves in the saccharine argot of jurisprudence. "We are a country of law -- there are contracts (and) the government cannot just abrogate contracts," he said.

The rhetoric echoed John Adams' two-century-old fairy tale about an impartial "government of laws, and not of men." Only now, the reassuring platitudes can't hide the uncomfortable truth.

Last month, the same government that says it "cannot just abrogate" executives' bonus contracts used its leverage to cancel unions' wage contracts. As the Wall Street Journal reported, federal loans to G.M. and Chrysler were made contingent on those manufacturers shredding their existing labor pacts and "extract[ing] financial concessions from workers."...

According to New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, these allegedly inviolate AIG agreements promised bonus money the company didn't have and were crafted by executives who knew the firm was collapsing, meaning there is a decent chance these pacts could be invalidated under "fraudulent conveyance" statutes.

They also might be canceled via "force majeure" clauses allowing one party to rescind a pact in the event of extraordinary circumstances -- like, perhaps, the collapse of the world economy. (Note: BusinessWeek reports that corporations are already citing the recession as reason to invoke such clauses and nix their business-to-business contracts.)

But, then, those legal cases require a government that treats AIG's shower-before-work employees with the same firmness that it treats the auto industry's shower-after-work employees, not the government we currently have -- the one that believes "the supreme sanctity of employment contracts applies only to some types of employees but not others," as's Glenn Greenwald says.

Mind you, this double standard works the other way, too.

Congressional Republicans have long supported the laws letting bankruptcy courts annul mortgage contracts for vacation homes. Those statutes help the shower-before-work clique at least retain their beachside villas, no matter how many of their speculative Ponzi schemes go bad. But for those who shower after work, it's Adams-esque bromides against "absolving borrowers of their personal responsibility," as the GOP announced it will oppose legislation permitting bankruptcy judges to revise mortgage contracts for primary residences.

...Most of us know that the selective application of legal principles is as old as the Republic. However, lots of us are only now discovering that inequality is so pronounced that the time of day we bathe determines the enforcement and reliability (or lack thereof) of even the most basic contracts.

We are just realizing that for all the parroting of America's second president, we are ruled by a government of men, and not of laws.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Rick Steves: Mr. Rogers in Iran?

The other side of Rick Steves

He may seem like Mister Rogers. But in a revealing interview, the travel guru shares his daring views on Iran and terrorism, spoiled Americans and the best places to smoke pot in Europe.
By Kevin Berger
March 20, 2009

[Rick Steves is] so good-natured and devoted in his PBS travel specials to showing places that Fodor's would never send tourists to in their floral shirts that he's created a monstrous new travel industry. He's the apotheosis of the anti-Carnival Cruise crowd...

In short, Steves wants Americans to get over themselves. He wants us to please shed our geographic ego. "Everybody should travel before they vote," he has written. We should be represented by politicians who want America to act as a good global neighbor.

Steves' agenda is epitomized in his recent TV special on Iran. At the request of a friend in the United Nations to help "build understanding between Iran and the U.S.," Steves has produced a loving portrait of the demonized country. Characteristic Steves-on-the-street interviews open closed minds to the sophistication of Iranian citizens and their lack of antipathy toward Americans. In one scene, a man in a car pokes his head out the window and says to Steves, "Your heart is very kind." Steves is incredibly proud of his Iran film and is offering the DVD for $5 to any community group that wants to discuss it.

I recently caught up with Steves while he was killing time in the Tulsa, Okla., airport, where he had just given a talk about Iran, and was heading home to Washington state. In conversation, he was as ebullient as ever, fearlessly spelling out his views on globalization and terrorism, the scourges of tourism and the importance of decriminalizing marijuana.

Conservatives continue to harp that the U.S. shouldn't negotiate with Iran, and call Obama weak for even appearing agreeable toward the country. What can your Iran show say to American hard-liners?

When I made the show, I was not interested in endorsing or challenging the complaints we have about Iran's government. Maybe they do fund terrorism, maybe they do want to destroy Israel, maybe they do stone adulterers. I don't know. I just wanted to humanize the country and understand what makes its people tick.

When I came home after the most learning 12 days of travel I've ever had in my life, I realized this is a proud nation of 70 million people. They are loving parents, motivated by fear for their kids' future and the culture they want to raise their kids in. I had people walk across the street to tell me they don't want their kids to be raised like Britney Spears. They are afraid Western culture will take over their society and their kids will be sex toys, drug addicts and crass materialists. That scares the heck out of less educated, fundamentalist, small-town Iranians, which is the political core of the Islamic Revolution and guys like Ahmadinejad.

After all, this is a country that lost a quarter of a million people fighting Saddam Hussein, when Iraq, funded by the United States, invaded Iran. And they remember the invasion like it was yesterday to them. It's amazing: They have a quarter of our population and they lost a quarter of a million people, fighting Hussein. That's a huge scar in their society...

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Religious cancer patients use more life-prolonging care

Religious patients more likely to get intensive life-prolonging care
By Madison Park
March 18, 2009

Cancer patients who rely on religion to cope with their terminal illnesses are more likely to use intensive life-prolonging care, according to a study published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Aggressive treatments such as machine ventilation and resuscitation keep the patients alive, but they ultimately don't cure them.

"Religious copers may decide to undergo therapies with high risks and uncertain benefits because they trust that God could heal them through the proposed treatment," the study authors wrote.

Cancer patients who had high levels of religious coping were three times more likely to receive aggressive life-prolonging care.

"We're not saying every religious coper is likely to get aggressive care," said one of the authors, Holly Prigerson, director of the Center for Psychooncology and Palliative Care Research at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. "Most of them did not. Among those who were getting the most aggressive care, it was disproportionately a function of their being a religious coper."
How cancer patients cope
A new study finds that religiousness affected end of life treatments.

Percent receiving ventilation
High in religious coping: 11.3
Low in religious coping: 3.6

Percent receiving life-prolonging care
High in religious coping: 13.6
Low in religious coping: 4.2

Percent receiving resuscitation:
High in religious coping: 7.4
Low in religious coping: 1.8

Source: Journal of the American Medical Association

About 10 percent of those who had high levels of religious coping died in the intensive care unit, as opposed to 4.2 percent who had low levels of religious coping.

In this study, nearly 80 percent of the 345 patients with advanced stages of various cancers said religion helped them cope, and about 32 percent reported that their faith was "the most important thing that keeps you going."

More than half reported praying, meditating or taking part in religious studies. The study participants were primarily Christian and were followed until death.

The Coping with Cancer study, funded by the National Cancer Institute and the National Institute of Mental Health, examined the relationship between psychological and social factors and the end-of-life outcomes at seven medical facilities in Dallas, Texas; Boston, Massachusetts; West Haven, Connecticut; and Hookset, New Hampshire...

Personality disorder of Austrian father: controlling, ruling by fear, and able to ignore his own wrongdoing

Father Pleads Guilty in Incest Case
March 18, 2009

In a stunning turn of events, an Austrian on trial for imprisoning his daughter for 24 years and fathering her seven children pleaded guilty Wednesday to all charges against him — including negligent homicide — after hearing his daughter's heart-wrenching testimony....

A psychiatrist, meanwhile, told the court Wednesday that [Josef]Fritzl had a very serious personality disorder and would still pose a threat even at his advanced age if freed. Psychiatrist Adelheid Kastner recommended that Fritzl serve out his sentence in a psychiatric ward.
...Kastner, the psychiatrist who met with Fritzl several times and put together a psychological profile for the court, said the Austrian needed to control people. She said Fritzl had an ability to block out his crimes but knew what he was doing was wrong, acknowledging he had a guilty conscience when he went to bed at night and when he woke up in the morning.
"Fritzl is guilty for what he did," she said.
Fritzl had testified earlier this week that he had a difficult childhood and a bad relationship with his mother.
"The climate in his parent's house was marked by fear," Kastner said...

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Pope insists on controversial anti-condom policy

Pope in Africa reaffirms "no condoms" against AIDS
Tue Mar 17, 2009
By Philip Pullella and David Lewis

YAOUNDE, March 17 (Reuters) - Pope Benedict on Tuesday reaffirmed the Roman Catholic Church's opposition to the use of condoms in the fight against AIDS as he started a visit to Africa, where more than 25 million people have died from the disease in recent decades.

The Pope, who arrived to a tumultuous welcome in the capital of Cameroon, also said the continent's people were suffering disproportionately due to the global challenges of food shortages, financial crises and climate change.

"It (AIDS) cannot be overcome by the distribution of condoms. On the contrary, they increase the problem," he said in response to a question about the Church's widely contested position against the use of condoms.

The disease has killed more than 25 million people since the early 1980s, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa, and some 22.5 million Africans are living with HIV.

His words were some of his most explicit on the use of condoms to stop the spread of AIDS since his election in 2005.

The Church teaches that fidelity within heterosexual marriage, chastity and abstinence are the best ways to stop AIDS. It does not approve condoms but some Church leaders have been calling for allowing their use in rare cases between married heterosexual couples where one partner has the disease.

"The only solution is two-fold: the first is a humanisation of sexuality, a human, spiritual renewal which brings with it a new way of behaving among people and, secondly, a true friendship, especially for those who are suffering, a willingness to make personal sacrifices," he said.

He called for "correct behaviour regarding one's body".


The Pope was greeted by tens of thousands of dancing and singing people lining the 25 km route from the airport to the city.

With the number of practicing Catholics dwindling in the developed world, Africa is seen as vital to the Church's future. But the relationship is not without controversy, mainly over the condoms issue.

"At a time of global food shortages, financial turmoil, and disturbing patterns of climate change Africa suffers disproportionately," he told crowds on his arrival.

"More and more of her people are falling prey to hunger, poverty and disease. They cry out for reconciliation, justice and peace, and that is what the church offers them," he said.

Speaking to reporters on the plane, the Pope said the economic crisis was a product of a "deficit of ethics in economic structures"...

[I agree with the Pope that lack of ethics in economics causes poverty. But I disagree with his AIDS decree. The poor (and the rich) should be allowed to protect themselves from disease even if they aren't sexually pure.]

Friday, March 13, 2009

Let your listeners doodle during class or meetings

Turns out, doodling during class—or meetings—may actually help your concentration. (If only the same were true for texting.)
By Dina Fine Maron
Newsweek Web Exclusive
Feb 26, 2009

In a victory for absent-minded scribblers everywhere, one study now suggests that doodling can help your memory. Though research suggests multitasking or daydreaming can be distracting, psychologist Jackie Andrade of the University of Plymouth in England thought it might be a different story for a simple task like doodling.

She asked 40 adult volunteers to listen to a monotonous mock telephone message about a party. Half the participants were told to doodle (filling in some random printed shapes) while listening to the message and to write down mentioned partygoers' names but to ignore all the other information. The other half were told to do the same, except they weren't given the doodling option. Later all 40 listeners were asked what they remembered from the message on a surprise memory test. The results, published online Thursday in Applied Cognitive Psychology, suggest that the doodlers actually had better recall: on average they remembered 29 percent more information, and they also wrote down more partygoers' names accurately.

Andrade spoke with NEWSWEEK's Dina Fine Maron about the virtues of doodling, and why texting might be the anti-doodle. Excerpts:

MARON: Why do a study on doodling?
ANDRADE: I was interested in daydreaming, although we didn't actually measure daydreaming. When you have something really boring to do in a laboratory, you aren't just doing that task—you are thinking about shopping, picking the kids up from school, what you're going to have for tea. We don't usually take those things into account. Daydreaming takes up a lot of mental energy and can be distracting. I had the idea that maybe some small, simple task would catch just enough energy to keep you focused on the [main] task at hand, and though it wouldn't make the task you're doing less boring, it could help you focus.

What are the implications for someone in a school setting?
Doodling can be a good thing. If there's a choice between doodling and daydreaming, you're better off if your students are doodling. Of course, it's best if you aren't boring them at all, but doodling isn't necessarily a sign of your students being naughty—it's a sign that it may be hard for them to concentrate without something visual.

You are a professor, right?

So, in light of your findings, will you be more willing to allow your students to doodle in class?
I think I might be. If it's a sign of them being bored, then it would worry me a bit. Really, they're more likely to text each other, though.

Do you think texting also helps them with their memory?
No, I think not. I think that's them just being distracted.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Would you refuse life-saving treatment if stem cells made it possible?

Getting personal on embryonic stem cell ethics
USA Today
March 7, 2009

Would you refuse -- for your parent, your child or yourself -- a treatment for a terrible ailment because it was developed with embryonic stem cell research?

Would you want your doctor to keep you in the dark about such a treatment because he or she is morally opposed to it?

Before I get into the arguments about the ethics of embryonic stem cell research, I wanted to get those questions out there. The issues at hand are not just arguments for scientists, politicians, clergy and theologians. These are questions that you and I may one day face.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

California Teachers Association puts politics before the First Amendment

Peg Myers is facing an election in May as President of Chula Vista Educators.

I woke up this morning and found all the posts missing from my San Diego Education Report Blog.

Who could have done it?

My prime suspect is the last person who visited my most recent post. This person visited at 12:21 a.m. Interestingly, this person was using the same computer as the anonymous person who posted this comment just a few days ago:

Anonymous said...

Thank goodness for the perseverance of the attorneys in Shinoff's firm...some day this crazy nonsensical web site will come down!

The post on my blog that apparently triggered the erasure of my blog was about the deposition of Chula Vista Educators president Peg Myers.

A witness told me that Peg Myers used the word "crazy" to refer to me. Putting all the information together, I am suspecting Peg Myers, who is facing an election in May if she is to continue as President of Chula Vista Educators. It's perfectly understandable that wouldn't want her deposition to be exposed during the campaign.

I also know that California Teachers Association protects sitting presidents of CTA locals, and that CTA information has previously disappeared from my website.

This is the information I have about the anonymous visitor:

IP Address
Cox Communications
United States
Chula Vista
Time of Visit Mar 1 2009 12:21:31 am
Visit Length 10 minutes 6 seconds
Page Views 2
Time Zone UTC-8:00

UPDATE: Further research supports my conclusion. This person visited every single page of Peg Myers' deposition on SAN DIEGO EDUCATION REPORT WEBSITE, and also this page, which contains part of Robin Donlan's deposition transcript. Donlan and Myers were members of the "Castle Park Five."