Saturday, September 15, 2007

Headline: Spy Master Admits Error

From the comments last night, Demetrius posted this link:
Spy Master Admits Error

Intel czar Mike McConnell told Congress a new law helped bring down a terror plot. The facts say otherwise.

Sept. 12, 2007 - In a new embarrassment for the Bush administration's top spymaster, Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell is withdrawing an assertion he made to Congress this week that a recently passed electronic-surveillance law helped U.S. authorities foil a major terror plot in Germany.
More here.

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Friday, September 14, 2007

Bits and pieces

Some new shared items

Looking past Talk Like a Pirate Day,

ARRR! WhereĆ¢??s me grog, wench?

we've been working on our Halloween section.

Want to hide a web page from search engines? Neck-breaker of a segue there, I know, but I did call this post "bits and pieces" for a reason. Anyway, I've been looking into the issue recently, and thought I'd pass the link along in case anyone might find it useful.

As I've mentioned in the comments, I'm busy familiarizing myself with new textbooks for the community college courses I will be teaching starting next week. This is why I'm not blogging much these days. It's also why, when I do post links, they might end up being more psychology-related than in the past. Our new intro textbook is by Dr. Philip Zimbardo, who was one of the principal investigators in the Stanford Prison Experiment. Just found a new article about that experiment, titled, intriguingly, "Are you evil?"

Back in March, Dr. Zimbardo was on The Daily Show to discuss his book The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil, and I transcribed that appearance here. I just found out that he will be coming to speak about that book here in Columbus next month, so that should be interesting.

Well, back to my school work now. Hope everyone has a good weekend.

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Charlie's High Springs Herald Guest Column

From the comments:

Does anyone know how to show people a High Springs Herald column? I can go to it at this page.

Thanks for the tip, Alachuan Monk!
Guest Column by Charlie Grapski: Look past headline to core of what I fight for

What does it take to have a democracy?

It takes citizens. But what does it mean to be a citizen?

Readers of The Herald have been able to follow my continuing struggles with those who run the city of Alachua.

But in the sensationalism of my being banished and banned, trespassed and charged, prosecuted and jailed, it is easy to lose sight of the more fundamental theme of my pursuits.
Click here for the rest.

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Thursday, September 13, 2007

Open Thread

Son in Ohio told us about this video--we thought it was pretty funny.

Updated shared items yesterday, and will add a few more later today.

Talk Like a Pirate Day is almost here.

Talk amongst yourselves.

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Back to School Open Thread

I went to campus today to pick up the textbooks and supplemental resources for the two psych courses I'll be teaching starting next Wednesday. When I got home, I set the stack on the table in front of the couch, intending to start going through them later today. On his way to pick up Daughter in Ohio from the bus, Demetrius said I should come take a look at my cat.

He said it looked like she was "holding court". We find this behavior amusing in that it is so predictable. "Mommy brought home something new and important looking--I must perch on it!"

By the way, I feel compelled to note that Cat Girl *does* actually have eyes. It's just that the flash on my phone's camera is pretty weak, so her eyes don't quite show up in this picture.

Talk amongst yourselves.

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Remembering Alex

When I returned from a quick run to the library earlier this evening, Demetrius told me the news that Alex the African Grey Parrot had died. I was stunned by the news, and the fact that he died suddenly, without having shown any signs of illness, brought back memories of our own African Grey's sudden death. So I suppose that's part of why this has hit me rather hard, but there's more to it than that. On the web site of The Alex Foundation, there is a tribute by Elaine Hutchison (PDF) that touches on some of what I'm thinking and feeling...

I never met Alex, but the world is a different place for me now that he is gone. Life seems duller, flatter…and less open to possibilities. But thinking about limited possibilities negates all that he accomplished in his life, and all that he will mean to future generations of parrots, people and animals in general.

Alex taught us many, many things about how the avian brain works. In doing so, he helped define the bonds between human animals and the rest of creation, illuminating a commonality that was unimagined before he showed us his truth. Alex opened the door into his mind—a mind that was so similar to ours that it seemed like coming home, and yet so different that it opened a thousand different doors to the universe.

He was both magical and miraculous. In his home, Alex filled the air with his watch-me-see-mehear-me personality. Alternately cajoling his parrot partners in their learning, and shouting out orders that sent lab assistants scurrying about his room, the atmosphere Alex created was charming and challenging and undeniable. His stupendous presence was a magical experience for those lucky enough to have known him.

For those of us who never knew him, we still felt the miraculous wonder of his being. Alex reached across what we thought was an impenetrable barrier---the barrier between human consciousness and avian consciousness. He reached out to us and let us know him. That is the miracle that was Alex.

His going will leave a huge empty space in the world of science. What he might have accomplished is dismaying in its semantics—the eternal unknowing of what might have been. But we can be grateful for what he was and what he gave to us.
This evening I discovered an article about Alex, based on an interview The Edge did with Dr. Irene Pepperberg. The ending of the piece made me smile, so I thought I'd share that tonight as well.
There are some things that the birds do that, colloquially speaking, "just blow us away." We were training Alex to sound out phonemes, not because we want him to read as humans do, but we want to see if he understands that his labels are made up of sounds that can be combined in different ways to make up new words; that is, to demonstrate evidence for segmentation. He babbles at dusk, producing strings like "green, cheen, bean, keen", so we have some evidence for this behavior, but we need more solid data.

Thus we are trying to get him to sound out refrigerator letters, the same way one would train children on phonics. We were doing demos at the Media Lab for our corporate sponsors; we had a very small amount of time scheduled and the visitors wanted to see Alex work. So we put a number of differently colored letters on the tray that we use, put the tray in front of Alex, and asked, "Alex, what sound is blue?" He answers, "Ssss." It was an "s", so we say "Good birdie" and he replies, "Want a nut."

Well, I don't want him sitting there using our limited amount of time to eat a nut, so I tell him to wait, and I ask, "What sound is green?" Alex answers, "Ssshh." He's right, it's "sh," and we go through the routine again: "Good parrot." "Want a nut." "Alex, wait. What sound is orange?" "ch." "Good bird!" "Want a nut." We're going on and on and Alex is clearly getting more and more frustrated. He finally gets very slitty-eyed and he looks at me and states, "Want a nut. Nnn, uh, tuh."

Not only could you imagine him thinking, "Hey, stupid, do I have to spell it for you?" but the point was that he had leaped over where we were and had begun sounding out the letters of the words for us. This was in a sense his way of saying to us, "I know where you're headed! Let's get on with it," which gave us the feeling that we were on the right track with what we were doing. These kinds of things don't happen in the lab on a daily basis, but when they do, they make you realize there's a lot more going on inside these little walnut-sized brains than you might at first imagine.

I hope Alex is somewhere cool. Eating lots of nuts. :)

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007


Today seems like as good a day as any to draw your attention to the link in the upper left hand corner of this page. If you click it, it goes to a page about the International Day of Peace (September 21).

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Monday, September 10, 2007

Happy birthday, listener!

Hope it was a happy one!

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More on B.R.E.A.D., Payday Lending, and Ohio Representatives

This is a follow-up to yesterday's post about Doing Justice in Ohio. The following excerpt comes from my church's September newsletter:

At that Nehemiah Action Assembly, Senator Ray Miller pledged to introduce legislation in the state house to curb PayDay Lending. You may have seen recent articles in the Columbus Dispatch and elsewhere in which this issue and its abuses have been well documented. Though B.R.E.A.D. is mentioned, it is rarely given the credit for having moved this issue to the forefront.

Behind the scenes B.R.E.A.D. has been working with Senator Miller, a Democrat, and Representative Bill Batchelder, a Republican, to sponsor the same legislation in the House and in the Senate. This kind of strong bi-partisan cooperation will benecessary to pass a bill. At the August 24 meeting, B.R.E.A.D. was reminded that it will take phone calls, e-mails, and letter to state lawmakers to get this bill passed. PayDay Lenders have a well funded lobby and have doubled their spending in the legislature since 2006. Be prepared for some requests from your B.R.E.A.D. team to write, call, e-mail those who represent you in the statehouse!
About that bipartisan support--that is apparently the reason Ohio House Minority Leader Joyce Beatty has been hesitant to support the legislation. From the Other Paper article I linked yesterday...
Several state lawmakers of both parties have agreed to take on the cause. While others surely have their reservations, Beatty is one of the only legislators to openly criticize the effort, brushing off the proposed reforms as shortsighted and politically motivated.

Using her influence as the minority leader, Beatty has discouraged Democrats from working with Republican state Rep. Bill Batchelder of Medina, whom advocates have asked to sponsor the legislation in the House.

Known as an arch conservative, Batchelder has been against high-interest loan centers dating back to the 1990s, when he opposed legislation that led to the proliferation of payday lending shops. However, Beatty has repeatedly suggested Batchelder is using the issue to advance his aspirations to be speaker of the House next session.

“I will not support any legislative agenda that I feel is solely for someone’s political gain,” Beatty wrote in an op-ed column published last month in the Akron Beacon Journal.

That’s a problem because legislation will require bipartisan support, and Beatty is known for her ability to keep her caucus in line.

“It’s already damaged the prospects for getting the bill passed,” said Miller.

“I think we’ve laid out a good strategy, we’re fortunate to have bipartisan leadership on this with Rep. Batchelder and myself,” he added. “At the present time, our biggest challenge is the opposition from Rep. Beatty and her work to encourage members of her caucus to be neutral or opposed.”
I have a hard time understanding how a powerful Democrat in the Ohio House would want to delay implementing measures to protect our most vulnerable citizens from predatory lending practices for basically political reasons. Still, she did say I will not support any legislative agenda that I feel is solely for someone’s political gain, and has said that she is willing to hear from her constituents on this matter. Maybe even polite letters from people who are not her constituents, but are able to clearly express why this is not solely for someone's political gain.

The bill (I've been searching for a bill number and an official link, and will update if/when I find that) only proposes the same safeguards against predatory lending that military personnel are now granted via the Nelson Talent Amendment.
The proposed bill would cap interest rates on short-term loans at 36 percent. Currently, the rate on these loans can reach nearly 400 percent when calculated over a year. The bill also would call for financial incentives and tax credits for traditional lenders to encourage them to offer short-term, low-interest loans.
So we're talking about reasonable limits on the interest rates that can be charged, not shutting these places down, as Rep. Beatty seems to suggest here:
House Democratic Leader Joyce Beatty, who represents some of the same citizens as Miller, said she has talked to people in line waiting to get payday loans.

"People said to me, ‘Rep. Beatty, these folks will at least cash my check.’ One lady told me she couldn’t get her check cashed in any bank in the city," Beatty said.

"I have not had anybody call me and say, ‘I go to a payday lending establishment, and I think you should close them down.’ "
That quote is from an article that was published on July 23. Hopefully by this point, people have clarified to Representative Beatty that no one associated with this proposed bill is suggesting that payday lending establishments should be shut down Still, since she is in a position to either help or hurt the passage of a bill that could offer even some minimal protection to Ohio's most vulnerable citizens, I think it couldn't hurt to politely help see to it that she does understand what this is really about.

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Sunday, September 09, 2007

Open Thread

Pumpkin cat

More new designs here.

Talk amongst yourselves...

Update: I've added a few stories to my shared items. Once again, the newer things aren't showing up in the sidebar, but you can find them here.

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Doing justice in Ohio

I just found out about this at church. Tiny bit of background: the pastor of my church is currently one of the co-presidents of B.R.E.A.D. (which stands for Building Responsibility Equality and Dignity, and works with lawmakers to advance achievable goals in the area of social justice.) The goal B.R.E.A.D. is currently working towards is getting legislation passed to put some reasonable restraints on the payday lending industry. You can read here about the action meeting that took place in May.

Anyway, George announced that B.R.E.A.D. has a meeting scheduled with Representative Joyce Beatty this coming Wednesday. He noted that Rep. Beatty has opposed the legislation in the past, but has said that she is interested in hearing from her constituents. He directed our attention to an article that appears in the current edition of The Other Paper. In a nutshell, Rep. Beatty is the Ohio House Minority Leader, and is in a position, not only to oppose the bill herself, but to sway other Democrats to oppose the legislation or remain neutral. And her reasons for opposing the legislation appear to know, I'm not even going to try to come up with the right words to describe what I think of it. Please read the article and come to your own conclusions. I'll try to write more about this a little later.

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