Chess and weight loss

In my history and philosophy of science course, I used to start by asking students whether cheerleading was a sport. This aroused lively discussion because they usually had surprisingly strong feelings for and against this issue. But my real goal was to introduce them to the idea of demarcation criteria, setting up necessary and sufficient conditions that would establish whether some thing X belonged definitely to class A or definitely did not belong to class A. An important and unresolved question in the philosophy of science is the effort to identify necessary and sufficient conditions that would determine whether some theory was scientific or not, and this early exercise on cheerleading was meant to be an introduction to that more abstract question later in the semester.
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Danger to pedestrians is increasing in the US

Kevin Drum looks at data that suggests that being a pedestrian in the US has gotten a lot more dangerous over the past decade, while it has got safer in Europe. Pedestrian fatalities in the US dropped steadily from 6,482 in 1990 to 4,109 in 2009 before growing rapidly to 6,227 in 2018.

Why? He quotes an article that says that the reasons for the steady drop in Europe are design changes in cars that were required to be implemented by manufacturers there 14 years ago but are not as yet required here.

The focus of the new EU standards has been on safer front-end design to minimize injuries to the legs and head in 25 mph crashes. They will require passenger cars and light vans to pass tests involving the A-pillar, bumper, the hood’s leading edge and windshield to determine if they protect adults and children from leg and head injuries in frontal impact accidents. Automakers will also be required to install flexible bumpers and hoods that crumple and to add 8 inches of space between the exterior structure and the under-hood structure from the front bumper to the windshield to better disperse the impact energy of a person hitting the front end. More stringent rules are expected to be phased in beginning in 2010, when the number of tests doubles to four — two for leg injuries and two for head injuries. The changes are expected to save 2,000 lives annually.

But while this could explain the disparity between the US and Europe, it does not explain the recent rise in the US. Are car drivers in the US getting more aggressive and reckless? Is road rage rising? Are drivers and pedestrians getting more distracted?

UPDATE: In the comments Dunc has a helpful comment that takes into account population numbers and vehicle numbers traveled that provide a better measure than the raw fatality numbers in my post. The conclusion of a drop and then a rise does not change.

This is the best you can be? That’s pretty sad

Every fall, the long-running satirical show Saturday Night Live introduces new cast members. It is considered a huge boost to the career of young comedians to get a slot on this show because many have gone onto highly successful careers later. But this year, the introduction of three new members ran into trouble when it was discovered that one of them, Shane Gillis, had made racist, homophobic, and misogynist jokes.
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Utterly revolting treatment of climate scientists by Trump administration

Will Happer has resigned as a member of the Trump administration’s National Security Council. Since Trump never got around to filling the position of Science Advisor to the president, Happer tried to play that role. Happer is one of those physicists who seems to think he is an expert on many things and even though he is not a climate scientist, he was a fierce climate change denialist and had a plan to thwart the scientific consensus on the causes and dangers of global warming by following the playbook that had been adopted by earlier generations of industry-funded skeptics on things like the dangers of smoking, and that was to sow doubt on the scientific consensus.
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Cokie Roberts, a Villager of excellent standing, has died

Today came news that Cokie Roberts, was a major player at NPR and ABC as a political commentator, has died. I do not celebrate her death but found her to be utterly tiresome and am dreading the deluge of appreciations of her as some kind of wise and sagacious analyst. As far as I could see, her analyses consisted almost invariably of conventional wisdom or quoting poll results. I cannot recall a single original idea or compelling insight to come from her. Eric Alterman described her best: “With no discernible politics save an attachment to her class, no reporting and frequently no clue . . . a perpetual font of Beltway conventional wisdom uncomplicated by any collision with messy reality.”
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Religious fanatics in India and Pakistan

So in Pakistan, mobs of Muslim religious fanatics attack non-Muslims for blasphemy and while in India mobs of Hindu religious fanatics attack non-Hindus for killing cows.

Why can’t the fanatics of each of these religions in each of the two nations see that what they do is exactly what results in their co-religionists on the other country getting attacked? Why not declare a truce so that their co-religionists in the other country do not suffer because of religious fanaticism. That would truly be a win-win.

Oh, I forgot. That would imply that these mobs are open to logic and reason, and religious fanatics are anything but.

All the lawyers who enabled Weinstein

We know that serial abusers who are prominent people must have had a large cadre of enablers who either assisted them or looked away and did not raise any alarms. University of Oregon law professor Elizabeth Tippett discusses a new book She Said by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, reporters who broke the Harvey Weinstein story, and focuses on what the book says about all the lawyers who assisted and enabled him to get away with all the awful things he did.
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Michael Moore and Bill Maher debate socialism versus capitalism

I know that watching Bill Maher these days is grating on the nerves but in this heated exchange, Michael Moore brought Maher’s predatory capitalistic sympathies to the surface. It is clear that Maher has become (maybe he always was) a grumpy, get-off-my-lawn, crank who thinks he is progressive and edgy because he smokes pot. But he essentially pulls out all the tired old centrist bromides that are much favored by the Democratic party establishment because it enables a few people to be rich like him while still feeling smug about the few crumbs they throw to the rest.

The bet at the end? Moore won it.

The conflict in Yemen heats up dangerously

The attack on the Aramco oil processing plant in Saudi Arabia that has disrupted about 5% of the global oil supply has heightened tension. The Houthi group in Yemen that has been waging a war against the Saudi –backed government in Yemen has claimed reswponsibility.

Of course the US and Donald Trump have immediately blamed Iran for the attack, although interestingly Saudi Arabia has not as yet laid the blame anywhere. Iran is backing the Houthi rebels but deny that they were responsible.
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The ethics of accepting ‘anonymous’ donations from bad actors

Thanks to a comment by John Morales, I read this article by Kelsey Piper that looks at a possible justification given by MIT for why they went to such lengths to keep the money they got from sexual predator Jeffrey Epstein secret. It is an argument I had not heard before.

The obvious question: What on earth were they thinking? The MIT Media Lab — an interdisciplinary research center affiliated with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology — was well regarded, well funded, had great publicity, and was attached to one of the world’s best universities. Why would they risk it all to attract donations from someone like Epstein? And how could people write emails like the ones revealed in the New Yorker piece — “jeffrey money, needs to be anonymous” — without realizing they were on the path to disaster?

On Sunday, we got a partial answer via an essay by Larry Lessig, a professor of law at Harvard Law School and the former director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University. He knew all along that the MIT Media Lab was taking Epstein’s money, he said. He thought it was the right thing to do. So, he says, did the team at the Media Lab.

Their justification is simple: If someone is a bad person, taking their anonymous donations is actually the best thing you can do. The money gets put to a better use, and they don’t get to accumulate prestige or connections from the donation because the public wouldn’t know about it.

This argument isn’t that eccentric. Within philanthropy, it has been seriously raised as a reasonable answer to the challenging question of how organizations should deal with donations from bad actors.

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