“No discrimination” means exactly that

The Supreme Court handed down a number of decisions in the last few days, prior to taking a summer break.  The decision that seemingly everybody is talking about has to do with guns:  the Court said that states and local governments can’t impose tighter restrictions than those imposed by the federal government.  In particular, city ordinances that ban handguns outright were found to be unconstitutional.  I have to admit to being a bit surprised that this was a 5-4 decision.

Another 5-4 decision, and one that I think should have been a 9-0 decision involved the University of California’s Hastings College of Law–a public institution–and a student group called the Christian Legal Society (CLS).  The first part of the Court’s decision explains the issue quite well:

Hastings College of the Law (Hastings), a school within the University of California public-school system, extends official recognition to student groups through its “Registered Student Organization” (RSO) program. Several benefits attend this school-approved status, including the use of school funds, facilities, and channels of communication, as well as Hastings’ name and logo. In exchange for recognition, RSOs must abide by certain conditions. Critical here, all RSOs must comply with the school’s Nondiscrimination Policy, which tracks state law barring discrimination on a number of bases, including religion and sexual orientation. Hastings interprets this policy, as it relates to the RSO program, to mandate acceptance of all comers: RSOs must allow any student to participate, become a member, or seek leadership positions, regardless of her status or beliefs.

CLS requires that all members and employees, as a condition of their employment or membership, acknowledge in writing a Statement of Faith that, in part, forbids “participation in or acceptance of a sexually immoral lifestyle,” which is defined as sex outside of a heterosexual marriage.  Such a condition is obviously at odds with the non discrimination policy of Hastings College.

CLS tries to argue that Hastings’ restrictions on RSOs violate the CLS members’ rights under the first and fourteenth amendments to the Constitution.  That’s silly.  Hastings has not attempted to change the CLS policies.  It has simply withheld recognition of a group that does not abide by the school’s nondiscrimination policy.

I’m flabbergasted that four Supreme Court justices came down on the other side of this issue.  I haven’t yet read their dissenting opinions–something I really have to do.  This decision seems so obvious that I can’t imagine what rational reason a judge could have for ruling that Hastings should recognize the group.  But we’ll see.

Captcha this!

I have trouble with a lot of those “captcha” systems.  When the letters are oddly curved, run together, or otherwise obscured, I have a tough time.  I thought this one wouldn’t be so tough, though.  Until I saw the note, “it is case sensitive.”

The “y”, “e”, “4”, and “u” are simple.  But is that “w” or “W”?  “z” or “Z”?

I wasn’t going to send a comment.  And, seeing as how I can’t reliably determine what to type here, I wouldn’t even attempt it.  Knowing my luck, I’d get into an infinite loop of failures and ambiguous prompts.

Why risk it?

Big news this week about 16-year-old Abby Sunderland, whose solo ’round-the-world trip was cut short the other day by a storm in the Indian Ocean.  As she put it in her blog, “one long wave, and one short mast.”  A French fishing vessel plucked her off her yacht this morning and headed back to civilization.  The yacht is adrift and probably will sink.  Too bad the boat is lost, but I’m happy that Abby is well.

I’m a bit surprised at the public reaction to this incident.  A large number of people have expressed their shock and outrage at the parents for allowing their 16-year-old daughter to embark on such a voyage.  “Sixteen is too young,” they say, “teenagers don’t have the same ability as adults to evaluate risk and do the right thing.”  Then they go on to regurgitate the oft-reported statistics about teenagers and automobile accidents.

It is true, by the way, that teenagers are involved in a disproportionate number of auto accidents when compared to the rest of the population.  And it’s pretty well known why:  teenage drivers tend to understimate hazardous driving situations and are less able than older drivers to recognize potentially dangerous situations.

It’s not age, but experience that matters.  When I was a teenager, I had a friend whose dad was a race car driver.  Ron, too, raced cars on the track.  He was an incredibly safe driver on the road.  He knew better than most drivers–regardless of age–how to evaluate a situation and react accordingly.  I also know drivers in their 40s and 50s who I will not ride with again, ever, because they have shown a shocking inability to anticipate other drivers’ actions and see a dangerous situation developing.

Abby Sunderland has been sailing with her family all her life.  She’s reported to be an excellent sailor and over the years has proven her ability to handle a boat in all manner of situations.  She’s likely a much better and more experienced sailor than most sailors twice her age.  Her parents, by all reports, are responsible people who encourage their children to follow their dreams, but also make sure that the children are well prepared before attempting anything too wild.

I, for one, fully support parents who encourage their children to create and achieve far-reaching goals.  In doing so, the children are learning perhaps the most important lesson that all too many parents fail to teach:  the ability to take a dream from inception to completion.  They learn to develop a plan, gain the knowledge and skill to accomplish their goal, and then do it.  People talk about building self confidence in children, but too many parents balk when it comes to actually giving the kids the opportunity to rely on themselves.

I suspect that in the year or more since she started preparing for her trip, and especially in the six months she spent alone at sea in a 40-foot boat, Abby learned more about herself and how to achieve goals than most people learn in a lifetime.  That she survived the storm that destroyed her boat–a storm that would likely have killed an inexperienced sailor–shows me that she was able to identify and react properly to the dangerous situation.  A big wave broke the mast, true, but experienced sailors will tell you that such a thing can happen to anybody.  30-foot seas are a challenge for anybody in a small craft.

Kids don’t learn anything worthwhile if you coddle them.  They learn by pushing their limits:  often trying things that others view as dangerous.  My friends who have achieved the most in life are those who did “dangerous” things as teenagers:  bull riding, skydiving, auto racing, motorcycle racing, playing with old radios (think about the dangers of high voltage power transformers), etc.  In almost all cases the parents were involved in making sure that the kids were prepared for whatever they were doing:  guiding, not preventing.

Conversely, my friends who were coddled as teenagers and forbidden from doing “dangerous” things (other than driving–for reasons I can’t understand, parents let their kids drive even when the kids show a shocking lack of ability to manage risk) either had a very difficult time learning to take risk as they got older, or are now coddling themselves and their own kids and not accomplishing anything.

Why risk it?  Because there is no advancement without risk.  The key is managing the risk:  building the knowledge and skill to identify and react to hazardous situations, but making plans to avoid those situations as much as possible.  In the specific case of Abby Sunderland, she had the skill and knowledge, and as much as possible she avoided the risks.  But, as she said, “you don’t sail through the Indian Ocean without getting in at least one storm.”  It’s part of the journey.  It’s just unfortunate that this particular storm wrecked her boat.

Congratulations, Abby, on your attempt.  You didn’t make it around the world, but you accomplished a great deal in trying.

To Mr. and Mrs. Sunderland, thank you for allowing your daughter (and your son, last year) to show us what young people can accomplish given the opportunity, guidance, and encouragement.  I hope that other parents will learn from your example.

Home remedies to stop bleeding

You’re probably not surprised to discover that one thing wood carvers talk about frequently is how to treat minor cuts.  It seems that even the most cautious carvers wind up with a cut now and then.

In one such discussion recently, somebody mentioned putting black pepper on a cut to stop the bleeding.  I had never heard of that one, but there’s eHow article: How to Treat Cuts with Black Pepper.  eHow is hardly a reliable source for medical information, and I don’t place much faith in the countless alternative medicine sites that have similar content about the use of black pepper on cuts.  Still, I wonder.

It turns out that black pepper is only one of many such home remedies.  I’ve also seen recommendations of flour, cayenne pepper powder, ground coffee, and corn starch.  This leads me to believe that it’s not the particular substance but rather that the substance is powdered.  The powder clots the blood on the surface, which would be enough to stop the bleeding on a minor cut.

Some sites also claim medicinal benefits to some of these remedies–especially the black pepper and cayenne pepper.  I have not been able to find any reliable information about that.

Anybody else hear of these remedies?  Do they work simply by clotting the blood at the surface, or are there some astringent or antihemorrhaghic properties to these recommended substances?

Is there a syndication format standard for media?

At work, we’re trying to make our media firehose available to other developers.  One thought is to publish a syndication feed through Pubsubhubbub.  I can easily do that, but I don’t know which format to use.

Pubsubhubbub was originally designed to support the Atom Syndication Format.  But there’s no widely accepted standard for publishing media information with Atom.  It looks like most sites that publish media use RSS 2.0 and the Media RSS extensions.

I touched on the development of syndication formats in a 2004 blog entry.  Atom “won” by becoming a standard, but RSS (mostly RSS 2.0) is so prevalent that it’s unlikely to be pushed out any time soon.

The developers of Pubsubhubbub included support for RSS in July of last year, and the latest specification (0.3) includes support.  This is both good and bad:  good because now all those sites that use RSS 2.0 can participate in Pubsubhubbub, and bad because those of us building readers still have to deal with two competing formats.

Also on the bad side, and especially pertinent to me, is the lack of any kind of media extensions for Atom.  There’s been some chatter in the past about using the Media RSS extensions inside of Atom, but it appears that nothing ever came of that.  Atom has an “enclosure” element that adds some media capability, but it’s pretty minimal.  The Atom Publishing Protocol specification allows for media, but not to any great extent.   There’s also a proposed standard for Atom Media Extensions, although I find no mention of it on the IETF’s site.

So I’m left with this choice:  publish RSS 2.0 with Media RSS extensions (both non-standard), or publish a severely crippled Atom standard standard document.  Since it’s likely that RSS 2.0 will continue to thrive and it looks like there are no standard media extensions to Atom, it looks like I’m stuck with RSS.  Unfortunate, but that’s the way it goes.

We love standards.  That’s why we have so many of them.

Another lil dog

Work and a few other things have kept me busy and unable to do much in the way of carving the last few months.  I did manage to finish a little dog for my nephew’s birthday.  A few weeks late, but I got it to him.

The dog started out as a branch on an elm tree in the yard.  It was part of the big limb that the wind took down last spring.  Finish is nothing fancy:  just the Howard Feed ‘N Wax that I use on most of my found wood carvings.

Hurricane Season

The Atlantic hurricane season officially starts today, June 1, and goes until November 30.   The Eastern Pacific season started on May 15, and also goes to November 30.  We had our first Pacific storm just the other day:  tropical storm Agatha hit Guatemala.

Since at least 1994, the Tropical Meteorology Project at Colorado State University has issued predictions on the upcoming Atlantic hurricane season.  They issue three predictions each year:

  1. In December, they publish their predictions for the upcoming season.
  2. In April, they publish an updated prediction for the season that will start on June 1.
  3. In August, they publish yet another update.

You might wonder why they publish an update in the middle of the season.  The answer can be found in their FAQ:

Although the Atlantic basin hurricane season starts on June 1, more than 90 percent of all tropical cyclone activity and 95 percent of major hurricane activity occurs after August 1 in an average season. In general, our seasonal forecasts issued on August 1 show the greatest skill.

The TMP also publishes an annual report that summarizes the most recent hurricane season and compares their predictions with the actual activity.  Their forecasts page has links to the most recent forecasts, and a way to select previous forecasts.

Whereas the forecasts make for interesting reading, I was especially impressed with the summaries.  The authors are very up front about how they derive the numbers for their forecasts, and the summaries accurately present their successes and their failures.  Everything is out in the open.  They don’t appear to be pushing a particular agenda, but rather reporting the results of their observations and using the observed data to try to understand and predict future behavior.  This is what I was taught science is about.

One thing I’ve wondered for the past several years is what caused the recent increase in tropical cyclone activity.  That there has been an increase is no secret, as I pointed out last year in Tracking Hurricanes.  A common cry is, “Global warming is causing more hurricanes.”  TMP’s 2009 Summary addresses that, starting on page 39.  The entire section is well worth reading.  A few quotes are particularly relevant:

Despite the global warming of the sea surface that has taken place between the mid 1970s to late 1990s and the general warming of the last century, the global numbers of hurricanes and their intensity have not shown increases in recent years except for the Atlantic since 1995 (Klotzbach 2006).

Although global surface temperatures have increased over the last century and over the last 30 years, there is no reliable data available to indicate increased hurricane frequency or intensity in any of the globe’s other tropical cyclone basins.

In other words, if an increase in sea surface temperature caused an increase in hurricane activity, one would expect the increased activity everywhere, not just in the Atlantic.

So, what’s the cause?

This large increase in Atlantic major hurricanes is primarily a result of the multi-decadal increase in the Atlantic Ocean thermohaline circulation (THC) that is not directly related to global sea surface temperatures or CO2 increases. Changes in ocean salinity are believed to be the driving mechanism.

Interesting.  Changes in the salt content of the water, which is a localized phenomenon.

The report then gives a detailed counter to the global warming argument, showing that in two recent 25-year periods (1945-1969, during a weak cooling trend; and 1970-1994, a general warming trend), the warmer period had only 48% as many hurricanes as the cooler period.  Looked at in isolation, you would conclude that cooler temperatures caused more hurricanes.  That’s obviously not the case, though, when you look at all the data.  So you have to conclude that the increase in hurricane activity is due to something else.

If you haven’t yet caught on, I’m impressed with the way the TMP presents their research.  I encourage you to give it a look.

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