Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Adoptee rights

I came across this article yesterday in the New York Times. It was written by a woman who was adopted and now has a son of her own. The son was having heart problems, and a critical decision in his treatment depended on whether he had a family history of a certain genetic disease. The mother, because she knew virtually nothing about her biological relatives, could not answer the question.

The author points out that the existing law, allowing for secret records, was designed to protect birth parents and adoptive parents, but not adoptees. She supports legislation pending in New Jersey that would allow adult adoptees access to their original birth certificates.

I completely see the author's point; it seems unfair that one would lack access to important medical records just because one was adopted. On the other hand, I worry that many birth mothers would be reluctant to consider adoption at all if they did not have the option of anonymity. Discouraging adoption doesn't help anyone, least of all the adoptee. Also, there are plenty of other people who can't get detailed data on their relatives because those relatives are deceased or geographically distant.

What do you think?

A modest proposal for the "Next Blog" button

If you're on an English-language blog, "Next Blog" should only take you to other English-language blogs. I cannot read Chinese or Russian or even Spanish, and I don't want to waste my time going to those sites.

Next Blog of the Week: Bama Hockey

Each week, I select a blog I found using the "Next Blog" button. Today's blog: Bama Hockey. The author set up the blog as a requirement for his English 101 course at the University of Alabama. On the blog, the author posts his assignments, which bear little resemblance to my old college English assignments and include a review of the movie First Blood (a Rambo film), a discussion of Snoopy's psychology, and an interview with himself. I wonder if the blog will continue in the spring, when presumably English 101 will have ended.


Sunday, November 27, 2005

Raise her gold and blue and cheer with voices true

If you weren't watching the Notre Dame/Stanford game last night, you really missed out. It should have been a blowout. It almost had not occurred to me that Notre Dame might not win. Yet with less than a minute remaining, Notre Dame was down 31-30. We scored a touchdown and made a 2-point conversion to bring it up to 38-31, which ended up being the final score. It was a little too exciting a game for my taste, but fun to watch.

Because of this win, Notre Dame is now eligible for a BCS bowl. They haven't officially gotten a bowl yet, but they almost certainly will get picked--humans, rather than computers, make the decision, and Notre Dame has huge appeal because of its national appeal and its comeback-from-10-years-of-sucking story.

I'm not even going to try to explain the system of BCS standings--if you want to know a little more, look here; if you want to know a lot more, look here. Basically, the system is supposed to put the 8 top college football teams in four postseason BCS bowl games, one of which will determine the national championship. The way teams are picked for the bowls is convoluted and bizarre and leads to a lot of whining about who "deserves" to go. If we really cared about deserving, we'd have a playoff system. The BCS rewards a combination of athletic accomplishment and general team appeal. Deal with it.

Go Irish!

Friday, November 25, 2005

Rapture Index

I came across this website, the Rapture Index, a while ago. Every day, it attempts to estimate the likelihood that the rapture (the event in which Christians are taken into heaven and non-Christians are left behind) will occur that day. The author assigns numerical values to 45 factors (examples: Inflation, Anti-Semitism, Volcanoes, Satanism), adds up the numbers, and comes up with the "Rapture Index." It's at 156 today, very high--anything above 145 means "Fasten your seat belts," because we're speeding toward the occurrence of pre-tribulation rapture.

Each day, the author comments on the factors that are in flux. Some of the explanations make sense--the "Flood" factor is up because of Hurricane Katrina. Others are less obvious: the "Antichrist" factor is down lately because of "The French no vote on the EU constitution."

If you like, you can also check out the Rapture Ready FAQ, guaranteed to offend everyone I know. One of the questions: "Is the Pope the Antichrist?" Answer: probably not, because he's not Jewish. Lovely.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Oh no! I missed Gilmore Girls!

Even the most dedicated fan of a particular TV show can miss an episode. When none of your friends happened to tape the show, what are you to do? You can't just go on to the next week of Lost without knowing what happened before--you would be mystified. Even more mystified than usual, I mean.

Television Without Pity is a wonderful website that provides comprehensive and humorous recaps of a variety of TV shows each week. The day after an episode, a brief "recaplet" appears to tell you the basics of what happened; after a few days, a full, multi-page scene-by-scene recap appears. They are almost always entertaining, whether you've seen the episode or not. Shows of interest to my readership that are covered include Lost, Gilmore Girls, Smallville, The Apprentice, Veronica Mars. and House.

Another feature of TWOP is its incredibly well-moderated forums section. There are forums for the covered shows, other shows currently on the air, and long-gone but brilliant shows. Unlike most internet forums, which are full of fights, grammar mistakes, annoying smiley face icons, off-topic conversations, and in-jokes, these forums are awesome. The moderators rule with an iron fist--when posters are off-topic, rude, or incomprehensible, they get warned or banned. The result is a set of forums that are civil and interesting.


Monday, November 21, 2005

Go ahead and sneeze

I just read the following story in my Employment Law book:

A guy was attending a meeting when he "felt a sneeze coming on." He tried to suppress the sneeze in an effort to avoid spreading germs. He failed, and as a result, his retina detached and he lost his vision in his left eye.

I plan to sneeze freely from now on.

Thanksgiving Traditions

I love holidays. I love elaborate meals, decorations, getting together with family, and holiday-specific traditions like gift-giving, egg-hunting, and trick-or-treating. I have recently decided that Thanksgiving, at least in my family, is lacking in the "decorations" and "holiday-specific traditions" departments. We do the basics--a big, delicious meal and some football on TV. But as much as I love TV and food, I think we need some special Thanksgiving activity to do every year.

So, I ask for Thanksgiving tradition suggestions. What do you do for Thanksgiving? What do you wish you did? What do you think would be fun? Be as creative as you can. The deadline is Thursday.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

I'm "Texas."

The book quiz site that warmfuzzy posted about recently has several other quizzes. In addition to to book quiz, there's the state quiz, the country quiz, the animal quiz, and, very weirdly, the trains and railroad quiz. The state and animal quizzes aren't very good, but I found them interesting enough when the alternative was paying attention in Evidence. Anyway, here are my results:

Country: Texas (yes, for the country quiz) ("You aren't really much of your own person, but everyone around you wishes you'd go away, so you might as well be independent. You're sort of loud-mouthed and abrasive, but you do have a fair amount of power. You like big trucks, big cattle, and big oil rigs. And sometimes you really smell. But it's not all bad, you're big enough to have some soft spots somewhere in all that redneck madness.")

Railroad: The Reading Railroad ("Despite what many people mistakenly think, you actually have no connection to Levar Burton.")

State: Iowa (I've gone back through this quiz several times, but I still haven't figured out how to get to Missouri)

Animal: Flamingo (apparently I'm "absurdly thin," I love shrimp, and pink is my favorite color)

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Reptilian shape-shifters run the world

Time for more weirdos. Today's topic: David Icke.

Like many conspiracy theorists, David Icke believes that the world is run by a secret, elite society that includes many government leaders. Unlike most conspiracy theorists, he believes that the government leaders in the secret society are really giant lizards.

Icke believes that George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, the members of the British royal family, and others are reptilian humanoids from the fourth dimension. Their DNA is a hybrid of reptile and human DNA, and they can "shape shift"--change from reptile form to human form--when they drink human blood. He claims to have heard eyewitness reports of people who have seen these shape-shifting events. He also claims to have done scientific research supporting his reptile theory.

According to Icke, this secret reptilian government is responsible for the Holocaust, the September 11 attacks, and just about every action the government takes.

Many people believe that Icke is a dangerous anti-Semite, arguing that when Icke says "reptiles," it is a code word for "Jews." This theory is bolstered by (a) the fact that his theories echo many other theories involving a secret Jewish ruling elite, (b) the fact that he has, especially in early writings, cited anti-semitic writings and praised far-right leaders, and (c) the praise he has received from various neo-nazi groups.

Going against this theory: (a) many of the members of the reptilian society are clearly not Jewish (George Bush, Queen Elizabeth), (b) he has a really elaborate theory about the reptilian race that makes it seem like he really is talking about reptiles, and (c) he publicly professes respect for the Jewish people.

Icke has a surprisingly large following, especially among New Age-type people and especially in Canada. Before he got into the reptile stuff, Icke was professional soccer player and later a BBC sportscaster in the U.K.

Want to know more? I first read about David Icke in the book Them: Adventures with Extremists, by Jon Ronson. Here is an excerpt. His own website is here. The wikipedia article about him is here.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Political Quiz Results

Economic results:

Matt –7.6
Nell –5.4
Scarlet Panda –4.3
Fishfrog –3.6
Leo & Squishy Burrito –3.5
Warmfuzzy –2.5
Washrambler –0.8
Cster +0.1

Social results:

Scarlet Panda –7.3 (but I don't even break traffic laws!)
Matt & Nell –5.9
Fishfrog –5.3
Washrambler –4.7
Leo –4.4
Squishy Burrito –1.8
Cster –0.5

Any surprises? Comments?

Cheer, cheer for old Notre Dame

This is a picture of my old school. I lived in a dorm just to the right of where the domed building is.

I wish I were there right now instead of sitting at my dining room table writing about the First Amendment and half-listening to the Navy game on NBC.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Cat Contest Winner...Matt!

This is Tiffany von Spindeleben, found by our very own Matt. I'd also like to give a shout-out to nell and warmfuzzy for their excellent guesses.

Tiffany's genetics:
C gene is the Siamese version (active only in the warm areas)
O gene is normal and functional.

Extra credit: Can anyone (other than Matt) explain Ms. von Spindeleben's appearance in terms of her genes?

Political Quiz!

Since I enjoyed hearing people's responses to the Belief-O-Matic a couple of weeks ago, I thought I'd post a new quiz for everyone: What's your political compass? It asks you a bunch of questions, then plots your political beliefs on a 2-dimensional graph--one dimension for your economic views and one for your social views.

My results:
Economic -4.25 (-10 is socialism; +10 is pure capitalism)
Social -7.25 (-10 is anarchy; +10 is authoritarianism)
My closest world leader on the graph: The Dalai Lama.
My most distant: a tie between George W. Bush and Saddam Hussein.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Ira Glass on TiVo

I love TiVo. I love Ira Glass (host of This American Life.) I just discovered that Ira loves TiVo, and now I love them both all the more. Ira on TiVo:

"Married people always want you to get married, people with kids always think you'll be happier with kids, and TiVo owners always believe your life won't truly begin until the day you get TiVo. God knows I believe that."

Read the whole
testimonial here.

I can't sleep.

For the past two weeks or so, I've spent several hours laying awake in bed, unable to sleep. I need help. Warmfuzzy had an entertaining and useful suggestion. Anyone else? What do you do when you can't get to sleep?

Cat Contest

What would a cat look like if it had the following genetics?

Gene C: the weird, semi-functional siamese version
Gene O: functional

The first person to find a picture of such a cat on the web and post the link in a comment wins.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Lessons in Cat Genetics, Part One: Siamese Cats

Sometimes science is fun. Example: the genes that control cat coat color.

Here is a really simplified way of thinking about cat color:

Colorless stuff --Gene C--> Black pigment --Gene O--> Orange pigment

To get past the first arrow (to make Black pigment), you have to have a functioning copy of Gene C. To get past the second arrow (to make Orange pigment), you have to have a functioning copy of Gene O.

Orange cats have at least one functioning copy of Gene C, so they can get past the first arrow. They also have at least one functioning copy of Gene O, so they can get past the second arrow. If you have an orange cat, congratulations!

Colorless stuff --Gene C--> Black pigment --Gene O--> Orange pigment

Black cats have at least one functional copy of the Gene C. But they can go no further, because they have no functional Gene O. Their pigment gets stuck at black. This is warmfuzzy's cat.

Colorless stuff --Gene C--> Black pigment

White cats (100% white, with pink eyes) have two nonfunctional copies of Gene C. They might have a good copy of Gene O, but there is no way to tell, because they can’t even get past the first arrow. [note: this is really rare; most white cats have colored eyes and have white fur for a different reason]

Colorless stuff

Siamese cats have a weird, semi-functional version of the Gene C. They can make black pigment, but not very well. Their Gene C has a mutation that causes the product of Gene C to stop working at high temperatures. The result? In the colder areas of the cat’s body, the cat can get past the first arrow. In the warmer areas, it can’t. So you end up with a cat that looks like this one. The cold areas (feet, tail, nose, ears) are black, and the warmer areas are not. (This cat also has a nonfunctional Gene O, so it can't make orange.)

Colorless stuff --Gene C, working in cold areas--> Black pigment in cold areas

True story.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Looks-based discrimination

I recently came across a law review article arguing that looks-based employment discrimination should be banned along with race-, age-, sex-, and disability-based discrimination. It pointed out that one's level of attractiveness is, like these other categories, largely immutable. It cited many studies suggesting that looks-based discrimination has a huge effect on hiring, promotions, and earnings--in some cases greater than the effect of race-based discrimination.

Of course, if looks are important to your job (model, maybe receptionist, etc.) the discrimination would be ok (just as blind people can't sue when they are denied positions as busdrivers.) But for most jobs, looks aren't really important.

Any thoughts?

A temperature poem

Those of us who grew up as red-blooded Americans tend to be unfamiliar with the Celsius temperature scale, sensible though it may be. We probably know what 0 and 100 are, and we retain some vague notion from elementary school science that you can convert to Fahrenheit if you use some formula involving weird fractions like "5/9" (or is it "9/5"?). None of that is much help if you're on vacation in, say, Manitoba, and you turn on the morning weather report, and you want to know what it means when the weatherperson says there will be a high of "21." For all of you, I offer this poem, which was on the wall of my 7th grade pre-algebra classroom.

0's freezing,
10 is not,
20's pleasing,
30's hot.

This will be my last temperature-related post for at least a week, I promise.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Red Pandas

Warm fuzzy asked me yesterday if "scarlet panda" had anything to do with red pandas. It does not. But red pandas are cute.

Indigo Children

There are many people in New Age-type groups who believe in a phenomenon known as "Indigo Children." Basically, the idea is that more and more of the children being born over the last 50 years represent an evolution of a new kind of human. In fact, they say, if your child was born after 1992, she is probably an Indigo. Indigos are creative, easily frustrated, and strong-willed. They are often diagnosed with ADHD. They have unusually large eyes as children. Also, their auras are indigo, rather than blue or violet.

There are many books and websites related to the Indigo Children, ranging from the benign (parents should find supportive environments for their gifted Indigo Children) to the bizarre (the pharmaceutical industry is conspiring with the Illuminati to suppress the evolution of Indigo Children with Ritalin.)

One aspect of this movement that I find interesting is that many (not all) proponents of the Indigo Children theory posit that Indigos are so special because unlike regular humans, who only use 2 strands of DNA, they use all 12 (or 22 or 144, depending on which website you look at). Another theory is that while we only use 20 codons (encoding 20 amino acids), Indigo children have activated an extra 4 codons. Fortunately, an industry has sprung up to allow all of us to use our extra DNA strands and codons for a reasonable price. You can activate more of your DNA strands by phone or in a private session. You can get codon activations for $54 each by e-mail.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

One year of perfect happiness

I heard this question once (I don't know where), and for some reason it popped into my head today:

If you could have one year of perfect happiness, but afterward you would remember nothing of the experience, would you take the year of happiness? Why or why not?