Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Banks failing... Wall St in crisis; Is it finally acceptable to criticize capitalism?

It wasn't acceptable 6 years ago, when writer James Rossi wote this about After Capitalism: From Managerialism to Workplace Democracy by Seymour Melman

Few topics inspire as much fervor and unprincipled rhetoric as capitalism. Free market barons trumpet the faceless expansion of multinational corporations and lambast any environmental or labor regulation as an undemocratic assault on economic freedom. Critics of capitalism, on the other hand, have become as taboo in mainstream media as frank discussions of sex were during the Production Code.

The latter group boasts Seymour Melman, a professor of industrial engineering at Columbia University, who has long criticized American capitalism as alienating, militaristic, increasingly inequitable, and economically inefficient...

(read rest of review at Human Nature Reviews)

We could build a new society for $700 billion. Don't bail out the banks, buy them. Give home owners new loans. If they don't have jobs, start a public works program -- there's plenty of work to do -- fix roads; clean up the environment, teach school, and 100s of billions to spend to pay salaries.

Sure, I"m not an economist, so let me stop talking and just remind you that there are experts who know how to move us to a better system, we just have to start examining some of our decades-old taboos.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Lol comments from Chronical of Higher Education

First, the article:

September 21, 2008

College to Compensate Students Who Sued Over Bad Teaching

Bates Technical College, in Tacoma, Wash., will shell out a half-million dollars to 16 former students in its civil-engineering-technician/surveying program who say lousy teaching left them unprepared for their careers, according to an article in The News Tribune, a local newspaper.

Then the commenters got on a roll about law suits. They started small:

Perhaps faculty should sue parents for sending them their children who’ve been badly brought up, are rude and inconsiderate, and often barely literate.

But rapidly showballed into hilarity:

I sued a chinese manufacturer of an outdoor basketball goal for intentional infliction of mental distress based on their assembly instructions. Discovery revealed that they purposefully wrote the instructions in a manner designed to cause tension and anxiety. Specifically, they included diagrams of the same assembly pieces put together in different configurations. And I sued mcdonalds because their fountain drinks were so cold they hurt my teeth. Of course, these are product cases and the article deals with services. Its a whole different ball game on services…I did sue this korean nail parlor for applying an acrylic nail and then filing it so that when I went to pick a piece of ky fried chicken from between my teeth, the nail cut into the gum and the 13 herbs and spices entered the wound creating a really ugly looking sore. It caused people to stare at my mouth when I smiled or talked and when I spoke all of my letter R sounds came out WR, but since the W was silent, nobody noticed that.

In a separate article on a different topic, readers got to see this comment gem:

"The beauty of blogs is that no one has to supply any evidence to support their claims. Most persuasive writing these days (and other days, alas) seems not to be written for people who disagree with the writer but to entertain those who already agree and to piss off those who don’t.” --Dave

Friday, September 19, 2008

Physiological reactivity to loud noises and threatening images correlates with political views

Science 19 September 2008:
Vol. 321. no. 5896, pp. 1667 - 1670

Political Attitudes Vary with Physiological Traits

Douglas R. Oxley,Kevin B. Smith, John R. Alford, Matthew V. Hibbing, Jennifer L. Miller, Mario Scalora, Peter K. Hatemi, John R. Hibbing

Although political views have been thought to arise largely from individuals' experiences, recent research suggests that they may have a biological basis. We present evidence that variations in political attitudes correlate with physiological traits. In a group of 46 adult participants with strong political beliefs, individuals with measurably lower physical sensitivities to sudden noises and threatening visual images were more likely to support foreign aid, liberal immigration policies, pacifism, and gun control, whereas individuals displaying measurably higher physiological reactions to those same stimuli were more likely to favor defense spending, capital punishment, patriotism, and the Iraq War. Thus, the degree to which individuals are physiologically responsive to threat appears to indicate the degree to which they advocate policies that protect the existing social structure from both external (outgroup) and internal (norm-violator) threats.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

New directions in cognitive and affective science

Clinical doctoral students who wish to be licensed in Massachusetts must have training in cognitive and affective science, broadly construed. It is typical to gain this training by taking a class.

How to get this training? Why, start and maintain a blog on your readings on the topic.

I hereby announce a blog which has both a very specific, immediate purpose and a larger purpose. The immediate purpose is as a forum to discuss a set of important, mostly recent journal articles on cognitive science and especially the intersection between the cognitive and affective sciences. The blog is maintained by a student at Boston University, Kristen Ellard, who will be engaged in reading 3-4 articles each week and writing about her rections to the articles.

As Kristen's directed study supervisor, I invite any interested persons to post comments on her summaries and comments, or to post your own comments on the articles, or post questions about the general topic.

The larger purpose is to determine the usefulness of public blogging of this type. Traditionally, under directed study, a student discusses papers with a supervisor. The drawback here is that the student misses out on the dynamic interaction that accompanies classroom learning. Her writing becomes "writing for the teacher" rather than a broader audience of experts and non-experts. Yet setting up a full online course with multiple participants is not possible due to limited time and resources. The public blog is thus an intermediate step.

If you are interested in this topic and would like to see the readings and Kristen's postings thus far, please visit the blog site:


Tuesday, September 9, 2008

List of Books banned by Sarah Palin

I haven't been able to find the real list... The following is taken from the widely circulated spoof list which was probably just compiled from a list of commonly banned books. I've starred my personal favorites.

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess *
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle *
Annie on My Mind by Nancy Garden
As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
Blubber by Judy Blume
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley *
Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
Canterbury Tales by Chaucer
Carrie by Stephen King
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller *
Christine by Stephen King
Confessions by Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Cujo by Stephen King
Curse Hexes and Spells by Daniel Cohen
Daddys Roommate by Michael Willhoite
Day No Pigs Would Die by Robert Peck
Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller *
Decameron by Boccaccio
East of Eden by John Steinbeck
Fallen Angels by Walter Myers
Fanny Hill (Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure) by John Cleland *
Flowers For Algernon by Daniel Keyes
Forever by Judy Blume
Grendel by John Champlin Gardner
Halloween ABC by Eve Merriam
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Prizoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling
Have to Go by Robert Munsch
Heather Has Two Mommies by Leslea Newman *
How to Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell
Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain *
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou *
Impressions edited by Jack Booth
In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak
It's Okay if You Don't Love Me by Norma Klein
James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
Lady Chatterley's Lover by D.H. Lawrence *
Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
Little Red Riding Hood by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm
Lord of the Flies by William Golding *
Love is One of the Choices by Norma Klein
Lysistrata by Aristophanes *
More Scary Stories in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz
My Brother Sam Is Dead by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier
My House by Nikki Giovanni
My Friend Flicka by Mary O'Hara * (Oh come on, this one was never banned!)
Night Chills by Dean Koontz
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
On My Honor by Marion Dane Bauer
One Day in The Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn
One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Ordinary People by Judith Guest
Our Bodies, Ourselves by Boston Women's Health Collective *
Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy
Revolting Rhymes by Roald Dahl
Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones by Alvin Schwartz
Scary Stories in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz
Separate Peace by John Knowles *
Silas Marner by George Eliot
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. *
Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain *
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain *
The Bastard by John Jakes
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
The Devil's Alternative by Frederick Forsyth
The Figure in the Shadows by John Bellairs
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood *
The Headless Cupid by Zilpha Snyder
The Learning Tree by Gordon Parks
The Living Bible by William C. Bower
The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare
The New Teenage Body Book by Kathy McCoy and Charles Wibbelsman
The Pigman by Paul Zindel
The Seduction of Peter S. by Lawrence Sanders
The Shining by Stephen King
The Witches by Roald Dahl
The Witches of Worm by Zilpha Snyder
Then Again, Maybe I Won't by Judy Blume *
To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare
Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary
Witches, Pumpkins...Halloween Symbols by Edna Barth

Sunday, September 7, 2008

I would like to volunteer in Research in your department

Dear Doctor,
I am Medical Student Graduate from India .I would like to volunteer in Research in your department .I can put 8 hrs daily and make commitment for a year. My sister is in [medical program in your city] doing her DMD program ,that is what fascinated me to volunteer in [your university].
My Crediantials are :
1.Degree :Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of surgery Dec'o7 from Government medical school ,patiala ,India.
2.USMLE Step1- 85 percentile.
3.USMLE Step2- 91percentile.
4.USMLE Step CSA- 9/30/08
5.computer skills :Excel,Microsoft Word ,Power Point presentation,Data management,Windows operting System,Trouble shooting.
With detailed knowledge in medicine , i can prove my selves if given opportunity in your research.
I promise for hard work,commitment and team work.
I am looking forward to hear from you soon.
Thank you so much,
In anticipation,

I wrote back

Dear xxxx
I conduct behavioral science research and thus your expertise and interests are too far from mine.

I advise you to read about the research of the different faculty you find in the Boston area. Then pick the faculty whose research you like and write a tailored letter to that person. The tailored-letter approach has a higher probability of success and will also result in a position that matches your interests. In 1999 I received such a request to volunteer in my laboratory from a scientist from Turkey who had recently received her Ph.D. from Istanbul University. She sold family property in order to fund her own way to the U.S., but after working with me for two years she had several English language publications and is now a successful researcher in Turkey. We now continue to collaborate and have a rich binational partnership.

My point is that volunteering can serve to give you valuable training, but established U.S. scientists may not respond to an indiscriminate letter, and may even view it as spam.

Also, you need to write in standard, professional English, which means using standard punctuation (no small i for I, use comma and period correctly).

Good luck with your search,

Readers: How would you answer this mail? Ignore it? Are there websites with information to help foreign scientists make contact with a U.S. researcher? I was wondering how this person obtained my email since he didn't seem to know my name, he apparently only knew my university from the acronym before the edu on my university email. Do you think there are now services that sell the emails of researchers in a certain area?

Saturday, September 6, 2008

"Can I ask you a private question?"

AFter the second lecture in developmental psychology, a tall male student waited for other students to disperse.

Student: "Can I ask you a private question?"

Me: "Ok, go ahead." Wrong. It depends on what it is.

Student: "Now -- I mean no disrepect, but, uh, Do you have children, or, you know, raise them?"

Me: "Uh, no. Why?" Wrong. That's none of your business because its not relevant to the class.

Student: "Oh. Well, I mean no disrepect, I just wanted to know since its the start of the semester, like, where you would be coming from in this class."

Me: "But, the class wouldn't be different if I had children. I guess I might include specific anecdotes about my kids, is that what you mean?"

Student: "I just wanted to know, if the class was going to be more about basic research, or more practical. I meant no disrespect."

The student had his answer and was ready to leave, but something was really wrong. I was upset. I wanted to understand.

Me: "But I wouldn't teach the class any differently if I had children, other than maybe I would include some anecdotes."

Student: "Look, I just wanted to know where you'd be coming from. And so now I understand that its going to be be focused more on science and research."

Me: "But I'm wondering why you thought that the class would be focused on research because I hadn't had children? Where did you get this idea from? Do other professors teach like that? "

Student: "I just wanted to know where you'd be coming from."

Me: "Right. So what's your background, you're not a psych major, right?"

Student: "I am a psych major."

The next class was occupying the room. "Ok, see you later." I walked out into the bright sunlight.

I was upset. What had just happened?

I told the anecdote minutes later to my colleague Dr. B, a developmental psychologist, who responded, "What, as soon as we have kids we just toss the research out the window and prattle on about our experiences?"

At home H had a different take: "What, he assumes that since you haven't had children you're not really able to teach about children? You have to resort to 'research'?"

I was upset because it had been a no-win question:

No, I haven't had children --> so this female professor doesn't have any real-world expertise, the class will just be the stuffy science that she has to describe to back up her statements.

Yes, I am raising (or have raised children) --> so its just going to be a bunch of sentimental stories about her own experiences, nothing based in science.

H: Don't let them ask these questions. It was sexist and a challenge to your authority. Don't think they are your friends. This is your service class. Teach it and get back to what you enjoy, working with individual students on research and teaching small classes.

But the real pain is my from my own sources. I didn't have children because I spent my 20s and 30s obtaining the scientific training to get and retain this very job.

Friday, September 5, 2008

More on China visit (Feb-April 2008)

The Sept 5 2008 Boston Phoenix published my response to Sarah Faith Alterman's anti-China vitriol, but I guess due to space, they left out my, Edward Said point about how westerners are always the observers and so we can't be the "other" --

Deleted part in bold below.

Very amusing, Sarah, but you dropped some clues that you barely visited Beijing, and are mainly reporting stereotypes and Americaphile asshole dribble. I lived in Beijing for 5 weeks in March-April of this year, and walked, took taxis and the subway, rode the bus and my bicycle all over the city. There are no giant Mao status in Beijing (see discussion about removal of statues, New York Times, April 15, 1988). Your second clue was more subtle: There are no cereal boxes in China! (or very few -- that's our kinda food, girlfriend).

There was one arresting image in your story: about you looking like a retarded pony. But the rest of your "observations" make me wonder where this anger is coming from -- are Americans afraid of China? Resentful; anxious about the future? So much that we vomit mean-spirited bile and say things like this (and I wish I were kidding):

"I should have known that a country that vehemently denied SARS and tried to poison our pets and children might be a little less than forthcoming about the asinine, algae-scented shitshow that is the 2008 Olympics."

You felt affronted that people wanted a picture with you. Yes, this happened to me, perhaps even once per day, but it was flattering and charming (see my photo by googling tourist-attraction-at-summer-palace). Permissions were always asked and there were big smiles all around. So what exactly was your problem?

Is your problem that idea that we, Americans are supposed to be the ones who take pictures of ourselves with the natives -- we pose with giggling black kids in Ethiopia with flies in their eyes, or an ancient, wise toothless Tibetan? We are the lookers, the ones who get to be curious about the "other", not objectified in strangers' photo albums.

Your article has one achievement: A new term for the attitude that Americans are superior and residents of other cultures inferior: "Americaphile asshole." It used to be "Ugly American" and "Boobus Americanus." Great to have a new phrase for the 21st century.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Do we have to read the whole chapter?

Last month, thinking ahead to the imminent descent of students on the beautiful cities of Cambridge and Boston, Robin Abrahams (aka the Boston Globe's Miss Conduct), wrote her "Advice for Newby Professors" which include the line: "Pretend that you care."

Wow. It got me thinking.... and I was emboldened to post the following to the courseinfo site of my developmental psychology class...

Requests from the Professor: Don't ask me...

  • Don't ask me whether you have to read the whole chapter. You don't have to read the whole chapter. This is college. You don't have to do anything.

  • Don't ask me to help you figure out the minimum work needed to get a specific grade. My hope is that you are in class out of interest in the material. If you have a different attitude about the class, I advise you not let me know this.

  • Don't ask me what will be on the test, because I have already explained this on the syllabus: "Material emphasized in lecture and section will predominate on the test."

  • Don't ask me whether material in the textbook will be on the tests because the syllabus already says that the tests will emphasize material in lecture. Does this mean that the textbook is irrelevant? No. Material from the textbook which is relevant to themes discussed in lecture and section may appear on the tests. I promise you that we have no plans to test you on obscure facts from the reading in order to reward those students who read the textbooks. I'm sorry that a teacher once did this to you.

  • Don't ask me to change your grade after class is over unless a clerical error was made. I won't change it even if you'll lose your scholarship and be sent to Iran to submit to an arranged marriage. Yes, I once did change grades for this reason. But you guys wore me out years ago because I felt too empathetic about these issues.

  • Don't complain to me that there is too much reading, because I will advise you: "Let your interests determine what you read. If some material is boring to you, skip it and look for topics that are relevant to your interests." Don't let me see the look on your face which says that your goal in reading is to be able to take the test (see #2).

  • Don't ask me how to study because I will say, "I am very skeptical of studying because too often it involves attempts to memorize while avoiding learning" (with the goal being #2). If you are by yourself, emphasize reading for pleasure and to satisfy your curiosity. Try to connect course material and themes to issues in your own life. Group study is a different matter. If you want to "study", join a group of friends and ask each other questions. Each person can take responsibility for a topic and explain it to the others.

  • Don't ask me why you did so poorly on the test when you studied so hard, because I'll say: "No wonder you did poorly if you studied." Studying often leads to poor outcome. Try to read the text and lectures notes for deep understanding, and work with others so you don't get trapped into the illusion of understanding.

  • Don't ask me what I'm looking for when I grade a course project. This suggests that there is only one reason you would do a project (see #2). Instead, we can discuss what kind of projects will allow you to grapple with themes in the class while answering interesting questions and challenging yourself.

  • Additional advice

    Learn how to think like a developmental psychologist. Often course material may seem obvious to you, but all of the material we'll go over was not obvious at an earlier time in history, so you may want to ask yourself: "From the standpoint of progress in the science of human behavior and development, why was this empirical finding an important breakthrough?"