Sunday, February 06, 2005

Quote of the day

Bart: I'm only ten and I've already got two mortal enemies!

The Simpsons, Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein

Saturday, February 05, 2005

My Barbie doll's not as dumb as your terrorist

The recent revelation that one of Al-Quaeda's hostages was actually the Special Ops Cody action figure reminded me of the Barbie math scandal of 1992.

Surely you remember it? Mattel put out a talking version of Barbie that said "Math class is tough!" Not all parents with girls thought that this was cute.

A reporter from the Association for Women in Mathematics interviewed a (female) Mattel executive. The Mattel spokeswoman said that there was no intention to discourage girls from studying math and science. She also said that, since each doll spoke four phrases, and that there were 270 phrases in all of the Barbie dolls, that there was less than a one percent chance that a girl will get a "Math class is tough" Barbie.

When the AWM reporter pointed out that 4 divided by 270 is bigger than one percent, the Mattel executive said "I was never any good at math."

Thank heavens for GI Joe.

(Source: Association for Women in Mathematics Newsletter (1992), Vol 22 No 5, p. 12. Also, Mathematics Magazine (1993), Vol 66, No 1, p. 69.)

Baby-friendly states

Rich Lowry describes New York's successful fight against AIDS among babies in New York. In 1990, 321 babies were born with AIDS. In 2003 there were 5. All babies are tested at birth for HIV, and this has encouraged mothers to get tested during pregnancy. Unsurprisingly, since mothers love their children, those who tested positive took anti-viral therapy that kept their babies from getting infected. Equally unsurprisingly, organizations that hate children, like NARAL, fought the infant testing law tooth and nail.

Connecticut was the first state to test newborns for HIV. Most other states have no testing law or at most require that pregnant mothers be told about the test. Does your state protect babies from AIDS? If not, what is your state legislator doing about it?

Friday, February 04, 2005

Refocusing the CIA

The CIA and the Nazi War Crimes and Japanese Imperial Government Records Interagency Working Group are fighting an epic turf battle. Some people found this sort of thing amusing before 9/11. But for American citizens today, the CIA's refusal to play well with other kids in the intelligence pre-school is a national problem that threatens everyone.

Porter Goss has promised us a new, mission-focused CIA. He made a good start by forcing out CIA employees who were perceived to be trying to thwart the will of the President. As a former congressman, he should take the lead in preventing his agency from obstructing the will of Congress in this matter.

More details at the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Quote of the day

Every author really wants to have letters printed in the papers. Unable to make the grade, he drops down a rung of the ladder and writes novels.

P.G. Wodehouse, Over Seventy

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Shameless plug for a friend's book

Creating the "Divine" Artist From Dante to Michelangelo
by Patricia Emison

ISBN 90 04 13709 2
List price: EURO 112.- / US$ 160.-

Nowadays words like "genius" and "brilliant" are thrown around like confetti, and students threaten to sue for grades that are insufficiently stellar. But as Dr. Emison tells us, there was a time when words like "divine" were first used to describe the best artists of the day. Gripping prose, lots of memorable stories about the brainy and famous, and pictures of naked Renaissance people. What more do you want in a good read?

God and man and fluid dynamics

Paul Nevai, a mathematician at Ohio State, complains that God got a good notice in an obituary:

If an article deals with some religious aspects of the life of a mathematician, I would see no problems with it since that is part of a person's total picture. However, if an obituary writer injects a sentence such as "God gave her an easy death" ... I find it offensive, just as many readers of the Notices would feel if I elaborated on my views on religion in this letter.

This astounds me on so many levels! The "offensive" authors are two prominent Russian scholars, Gregory Seregin and Nina Uraltseva. They were invited to write about their late colleague Olga Alexandrovna Ladyzhenskaya by a prominent publication, the Notices of the American Mathematical Society. Surely they have earned the right to speak the truth as they see it. Not too long ago, that was considered the right and the duty of all scholars, even lowly Assistant Professors, and even undergraduates.

Is anyone surprised nowadays to meet college graduates who can't write coherently? Or do ninth-grade algebra? Is anyone really shocked anymore when a college invites a convicted terrorist to teach writing because she can offer students a "unique perspective"? Or when conservatives and Christians are excluded from academic jobs? Or when college course registrations have racial requirements? Or when dissenting freshmen at liberal campuses are hounded to suicide? Or when a student is thrown out of his dorm into a cold New Hampshire fall because he wrote things that an administrator disagreed with?

Unlike the obituary which so offended Dr. Nevai, these are all truly offensive situations with real victims. The letter-writer may be honestly offended by Seregin and Uraltseva's mention of the Almighty. But that doesn't make him a victim. Sadly, it simply makes him a bigot.