Sunday, May 30, 2004

Ideas: Two types of errors

Think of a person who is being tested for a disease -- disease X. Blood from the person is drawn and examined.

Now there are two mistakes the lab can make with the blood.

1. The person can have disease X, but the lab mistakenly says that he doesn't.
2. The person does not have disease X, but the lab mistakenly says that he does.

Once we think in terms of two errors -- not one -- we have a choice to make: which error is worse?

Bottom line: People often think that you can make only one type of error, but often we can make two.

Consider another case. Suppose a man is apprehended for his supposedly commiting a crime. Now there are two mistakes that the courts can make.

1. The man is guilty, but the court thinks he is innocent and lets him go.
2. The man is innocent, but the court thinks he is guilty and puts him in jail.

Again, we have to ask ourselves which mistake is the worse mistake to make? In the American judicial system, it is worse to make the second error. In other words, it is worse to convict an innocent man than to let a guilty man go free.

Think of driving your car. You are coming up to an intersection and you can't see very well. But you know you have a green light, so you have the right to go through the intersection at your current speed. There are two mistakes you can make.

1. There is no one in the intersection, but you slow down because you think there is.
2. There is some one in the intersection, but you don't slow down because you think there isn't.

Which is the worse mistake to make? We would say the second mistake becuase the downside (for you) is greater.

Keep this in mind: There is luck in life, but often the "good luck" at some times is countered by the "bad luck" at other times. On net, you might have as much good luck in life as bad luck, so that over your entire lifetime there is no such thing as luck.

This means that you have to live your life according to the probabilities of certain things happening and by looking at which types of mistakes are worse to make.

What lessons of life do we derive from all of this?

1. You will have some good luck in life.
2. You will probably also have some bad luck in life.
3. On net, you shouldn't count on luck getting you what you want. (There is an old saying: Chance (or Luck) favors the mind that is prepared. What this really means is that preparation, hard work, and thinking about things usually gets you more of what you want in life than luck. Luck won't get you a good grade in math, but hard work will.
4. You will make mistakes in life. This is because sometimes it is a matter of what kind of mistake you make instead of whether or not you will make a mistake.
5. You have to live by the probabilities of things.
6. It is always good to think in terms of which (of the two mistakes you can make) is worse to make. You want to choose the less worse mistake to make.

As you may know, the mistakes or errors we are talking about here have names in statistics. There is a Type I mistake or error (sometimes called an alpha error) and a Type II error (sometimes called a beta error).

These errors always refer to what is called the null hypothesis in statistics.

There are two hypotheses in statistics: the null and the alternative.

The altenative hypothesis -- HA -- is the hypothesis you think is true. For example, the police arrest a man because they think he is guilty of robbing the bank.

The null hypothesis -- Ho -- is the opposite of the alternative hypothesis. In this example, the Ho is that the man is innocent of robbing the bank.

Now with respect to the null hypothesis (and usually the null is the focus of attention) you can either reject it or accept it.

If you reject the null -- in other words you reject that the man is innocent -- and the man really is innocent, then you are making a Type I error. In other words, you are saying something is false that is really true.

Type I error = false/true = something is false that you are saying is true.

If you accept the null -- in other words, you accept that the man is innocent -- and the man is really guilty, then you are making a Type II error. In other words, you are saying something is true that is false.

Type II error = true/false = something is true that you are saying is false.

Which error is worse to make? Since a Type II error here means that the man is innocent but you are saying he is guilty, and the Type I error here means that the man is guilty, but you are saying he is innocent, then probably the Type II error is worse.

Are you guaranteed of making a type I or II error? If the man is guilty and you say he is guilty, you are not making a mistake. Or if the man is innocent and you say he is innocent, you are not making a mistake. It's just that you could make a type I or II error and you want to make the one that is less bad to make.

By the way, the government thinks this way when testing new medicines. Say it is testing X new medicine.

Now here are two options:

1. The medicine is effective, but you think it is not.
2. The medicine is not effective (actually it will make people sicker), but you think it is effective.

Which mistake is worse to make? Probably the second mistake.

By the way, overtime people have seemed to figure out which of the two types of mistakes are worse to make. This is where rules come in to play. Often people say "if you can't understand a rule, you shouldn't have to obey it." Problem is that some of our rules have come about through experience.

We have a family rule to put on your seatbelt when you get into a car. Now think of this for a minute. When you are in a car, you will either:

1. end up needing your seatbelt (because you are in an accident, or
2. not need your seatbelt (because you are not in an accident).

Now which is worse?

1. Putting on your seatbelt when you don't need it, or
2. Not putting on your seatbelt when you do need it?

#2 is worse. So you make a rule: When I get into a car, I will always put on my seatbelt. After that, you don't think about things anymore. You just follow the rule. The rule has contained in it a lot of thought about type I and II errors. But you don't go through the thinking each time you get into the car, you just follow the rule.

Along comes a person and says to discard the rule because he says there is such a small probability of needing it and you ought to play by the probabilities. Yes, but sometimes the downside of a small probability is very far down. In other words, there may be a small chance that you are wrong, but if you are, you are hurt very badly.

Many rules we follow in life simply prevent reduce the chances of our making errors with big downsides.

Here are a few:

1. Never steal something even if you can get away with it.
2. Never get into a car with a driver that has been drinking.
2. Never take drugs.
4. Never drive when you are sleepy.
5. Never have unprotected sex.

Can you think of other rules that contain much wisdom in them?


Now think of the war in Iraq in terms of our two types of errors.

Some say this: We should have gone into Iraq because they might have had WMDs.

But some say this: We should not go into Iraq because they don't have WMDs.

Two options.

1. They have WMDs but we think they don't.
2. They don't have WMDs but we think they have.

Which is the worse error? It might be #1. So going into Iraq might be the course that is least likely to end up with the biggest downside.

Friday, May 28, 2004

Ideas: Gambler's Fallacy

This article is from The Skeptic's Dictionary.



The Gambler's Fallacy

The gambler's fallacy is the mistaken notion that the odds for something with a fixed probability increase or decrease depending upon recent occurrences. [Example: There is a fixed probability that heads will turn up on a coin. The gambler's fallacy is that if heads just turned up, then tails is now more likely to turn up next. Not true.]

For example, in California we have a state run gambling operation called Superlotto. The idea is to pick 6 numbers and match them to six selected from 51 numbers. Sounds easy. The odds of doing so? Here is what happens in a typical week. On July 25, 1998 the numbers were: 5, 7, 21, 32, 44, 46. The Jackpot was $16,000,000. There were no tickets with all six numbers. 170 tickets matched 5 numbers and won $1,588 each; 9,715 matched 4 of 6 numbers for $72 each and 176,657 matched 3 of 6 numbers for $5 each.

If you programmed a computer to randomly generate six different numbers every second taken from the numbers 1 through 51, you would have to wait nearly seven months before every combination came up at least once.

The odds of matching 6 of 6 numbers are 1 in 18,009,460; 5 of 6 are 1 in 66,702; 4 of 6 are 1 in 1,213; 3 of six are 1 in 63.

The odds of winning anything are 1 in 60.

If you buy 100 tickets a week, you can expect to win the jackpot on average every 3,463 years. If you buy $25,000 worth of tickets a week, you can expect on average to win about every 14 years. If you expect to live 50 more years, you should buy $6,927 worth of tickets a week if you want to have a good chance of winning the jackpot in this lifetime. Of course, if you do, you may not even break even. You could well be about $2,000,000 in the hole, depending on when you win.

However, if you would be satisfied with getting 5 out of 6, you will have a much easier go of it. You are likely to get 5 out 6 every 12.8 years on average if you buy 100 tickets a week. However, you will have spent nearly $67,000 to win about $1,500.

If you want to "guarantee" yourself to be a "winner," buy about $120 worth of tickets a week. On average, you are likely to take home, before taxes, about $10 a week. Thus, to be a "guaranteed winner" you need only lose about $110 a week. What could be easier? (This "guarantee" comes with a limited warranty of no value and is based upon payouts for the week of July 25, 1998.)

You might think that you can beat the odds by either selecting numbers that have not been chosen in recent drawings, or by selecting numbers that have come up more frequently than expected in recent drawings. In either case, you are committing the gambler's fallacy. The odds are always the same, no matter what numbers have been selected in the past. This fallacy is commonly committed by gamblers who, for instance, bet on red at roulette when black has come up three times in a row. The odds of black coming up next are the same regardless of what colors have come up in previous turns.

Ideas: Confirmation Bias

This essay is from The Skeptic's Dictionary.



Confirmation Bias

"It is the peculiar and perpetual error of the human understanding to be more moved and excited by affirmatives than by negatives." --Francis Bacon

Confirmation bias refers to a type of selective thinking whereby one tends to notice and to look for what confirms one's beliefs, and to ignore, not look for, or undervalue the relevance of what contradicts one's beliefs. For example, if you believe that during a full moon there is an increase in admissions to the emergency room where you work, you will take notice of admissions during a full moon, but be inattentive to the moon when admissions occur during other nights of the month. A tendency to do this over time unjustifiably strengthens your belief in the relationship between the full moon and accidents and other lunar effects.

This tendency to give more attention and weight to data that support our beliefs than we do to contrary data is especially pernicious [evil] when our beliefs are little more than prejudices. If our beliefs are firmly established upon solid evidence and valid confirmatory experiments, the tendency to give more attention and weight to data that fit with our beliefs should not lead us astray as a rule. Of course, if we become blinded to evidence truly refuting a favored hypothesis, we have crossed the line from reasonableness to closed-mindedness.[We are closed-minded when there is evidence that says we are wrong.]

Numerous studies have demonstrated that people generally give an excessive amount of value to confirmatory information, that is, to positive or supportive data. The "most likely reason for the excessive influence of confirmatory information is that it is easier to deal with cognitively" (Gilovich 1993). It is much easier to see how a piece of data supports a position than it is to see how it might count against the position. Consider a typical ESP experiment or a seemingly clairvoyant dream: Successes are often unambiguous or data are easily massaged to count as successes, while negative instances require intellectual effort to even see them as negative or to consider them as significant. The tendency to give more attention and weight to the positive and the confirmatory has been shown to influence memory. When digging into our memories for data relevant to a position, we are more likely to recall data that confirms the position.

Researchers are sometimes guilty of confirmation bias by setting up experiments or framing their data in ways that will tend to confirm their hypotheses. They compound the problem by proceeding in ways that avoid dealing with data that would contradict their hypotheses. For example, parapsychologists are notorious for using optional starting and stopping in their ESP research. Experimenters might avoid or reduce confirmation bias by collaborating in experimental design with colleagues who hold contrary hypotheses. Individuals have to constantly remind themselves of this tendency and actively seek out data contrary to their beliefs. Since this is unnatural, it appears that the ordinary person is doomed to bias.

-------
My comments:
Einstein built theories. He must have also been aware of confirmation bias. He used to say that if he were right you would see so-and-so, but if he were wrong you would see such-and-such. When trying to reach the truth -- which can be hard to find -- we need to follow Einstein's example. That is, not only say what we would find if we are right, but also say what we would find if we are wrong.



News: Burglary

Here is an article from the The Economist. Read it fast the first time; the second time read it faster than you would normally read it but not as fast as you read it the first time.


Crime

The decline of the English burglary
May 27th 2004
From The Economist print edition


How a once-fashionable crime has fallen from grace

Get article background

WHATEVER happened to burglary? In the late 1980s, it was as ubiquitous [it was everywhere] as baggy jeans. Everybody who was not being burgled seemed to be burgling, or otherwise supporting the industry by buying cheap videos, no questions asked. But the housebreaking fad is now in danger of becoming retro [a thing of the past]. Domestic break-ins have fallen by 45% in the past ten years, according to the British Crime Survey. The steepest decline has been in trend-setting London, where burglary is now as rare as it was in the era of lounge suits and Abba.

Burglary still has its adherents, but, like other followers of out-of-date fashions, they are an increasingly sorry-looking bunch [sorry-looking is an adjective used by the British]. “Burglars are not nearly as well prepared as they used to be. Many don't even bring a bag to the job,” says John Kelly, head of crime at the Cleveland police force in north-eastern England.

Why the decline in numbers and skill? Improved security and low unemployment rates have something to do with it, although not as much as boosters claim. Burglar alarms are more widespread than a decade ago, but only a quarter of houses have them—and they tend not to be in the most vulnerable areas. As for growth in the legitimate job market, that does not appear to have drawn the criminal element away from mugging.

The more likely reasons for the decline of burglary have to do with changes in the criminal marketplace. In the past decade, the housebreaking trade has suffered two shocks—one to demand for its products, the other to its labour supply.

The first problem concerns the kind of loot typically kept in houses. Video recorders, DVD players and hi-fis are now so cheap, in real terms, that they are barely worth nicking. Televisions are a better bet, but the most valuable ones are so large as to present practical difficulties. Last year, just one in ten successful thieves walked off with one—less than half the proportion that did so in 1995.

Favourite [notice the British spelling of favorite] targets these days are small items that are readily turned into money. Credit cards, cheque books and mobile phones are all increasingly popular, as is cash itself (taken in 39% of all burglaries). These are, of course, the same things that people tend to carry around in the street, which is not a coincidence. In the past few years, burglary has become less a distinct business with its own specialist workforce and associated occupations (such as fencing), and more a proxy form of mugging favoured by the slow and timid.

That trend has also been pushed forward by changes in the criminal labour force. In the past ten years, police say, skilled burglars (who tend to travel widely and specialise [notice the British spelling of specialize] in particular goods) have been largely replaced by casual operators. Stephen House, deputy assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, explains that the specialist fences “professional” crooks rely on have increasingly been rumbled by paid informants. Intelligence-sharing has made their lives more difficult, too. These days, the imminent release from prison of a skilled burglar will be preceded by a flurry of alerts to watch out for a particular modus operandi [modus operandi was one of our vocabulary words].

The departure of skilled operators has left the burglary trade in the hands of desperate, drug-addicted young men. They rarely specialise in housebreaking, and, when they do, follow a quite different pattern, raiding poorly protected properties within walking distance of their homes. Such men are probably as numerous as a decade ago—according to Mr Kelly, indeed, they are more numerous. But they are committing fewer burglaries, in part because they simply aren't up to it.

Now that the police routinely test offenders for drugs, they are noticing that certain chemicals seem to be associated with certain types of crime. One Home Office study of 3,000 arrestees found that those pulled in for burglary and shoplifting were more likely to test positive for heroin than anyone else. Muggers and purse-snatchers, though, were most likely to be cocaine or crack users.

Given the effects of the drugs, such patterns are not surprising. As Steve Hassall, a detective chief inspector at Greater Manchester Police, puts it, a crack addict in need of a fix will be “climbing the walls” and hardly capable of planning a break-in. This has strong implications for criminal activity. As powder and crack cocaine overtake heroin as drugs of choice, burglary inevitably declines while street crime does not.

Thanks to years of epidemic rates, and the heinousness of the act itself, burglary has retained its status as the premier British folk crime. But the image is increasingly out of touch with reality. If you return home to find the window broken and the television gone, be aware: you are looking at a piece of history.




Grammar

A lot is two words not one (alot). This is a mistake that students make a lot.

And and To. Informal: Be sure and study for the test. Formal: Be sure to study for the test. It is better to use "to" than "and."

Anyway and Anyways. Anyways is not a word.

Bring and Take. Bring shows a movement toward the speaker. Bring the book to me. Take shows movement away from the speaker. Take the book to the library.

Different from and Different than. Use "different from" when comparing two things. Your shoes are different from mine. Use "different than" when a clause follows. This movie is different than I thought it would be.

Foot and Feet. Wrong: The man is six foot tall. Right: The man is six feet tall. It is correct to use "feet" in compound adjectives. I need four 10-foot boards. Four 10-foot is a compound adjective.

Have and Of. Correct: If he would have listened to me . . . Incorrect: If he would of listened to me. Usually "have" is used instead of "of."

In and Into. In indictates where something is right now. The book is in the house. Into implies movement from one place to another. Go into the house (which means go from the outside of the house into the house).


Like and That. Like is used for comparisons and it is not a conjunction. Wrong: I feel like you should give me a raise. Right: I feel that you should give me a raise.

Myself and Me. Never use "myself" when you can use either "me" or "I." Wrong: Tom and myself were invited to the part. Right: Tom and I were invited to the party.

Which and That. Which is the first word of a phrase that is not essential. The bike, which was red and blue, was stolen. The message here is that the bike was stolen, and the red and blue part is not really essential to the meaning.

If you can insert the words "by the way" and the sentence makes sense, then use "which."
The bike, by the way it was red and blue, was stolen.

That is the first word of a phrase or a clause that is essential for the sentence to make sense. The bike that I want for my birthday is a 10-speed mountain bike.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Vocabulary Quiz

What do the following words mean?

1. abrogate
2. circumnavigate
3. inculcate
4. incognito
5. Lexicon
6. lugubrious
7. plagiarize
8. supercilious
9. unctuous


Answers
1. to abolish, do away with
2. to proceed completely around
3. to impress upon the mind of another by frequent instruction or repetition
4. in disguise
5. dictionary; a stock of terms used in a particular profession
6. mournful, dismal, gloomy -- especially in an exaggerated way
7. to use and pass off ideas or writing of another as one's own.
8. showing haughty disdain
9. insincere eartness

Vocabulary

Fiduciary (fi-doo-she-ary) means holding something something in trust for another. He has a fidiciary relationship with him; that is, he takes care of his financial matters.

Winnow(win-no) means to separate grain from chaff; to separate the good from the bad. The accountant was adept (skillful) at winnowing (separating) out errors in the spreadsheet.

Evanescent (ev-a-nes-cent) means vanhishing or likely to vanish like vapor. Most certainly I shall lfind this thought a horrible vision -- a maddening, but evanescent dream."

Facetious (fe-shish)means playfully humorous or joking. The employee's faceious remarks were not appreciated during the meeting.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004


Article from NYT on gasoline tax. My comments in [].


WASHINGTON — Republican strategists have been making hay of Senator John Kerry's support a decade ago of a 50-cent-per-gallon increase in the federal gasoline tax. History let Mr. Kerry off the hook: the proposal never advanced in Congress, so he never cast a vote for it.

Few politicians, especially those with presidential ambitions, would entertain such a big jump in the federal gasoline tax today. With the price of gasoline reaching more than $2 a gallon at the pumps this month, Senator Kerry has argued for oil to be diverted from the nation's Strategic Petroleum Reserve, a plan President Bush has rejected in pursuit of his energy bill.

But the country would indeed be better off if gasoline taxes had been raised by 50 cents a gallon when Mr. Kerry favored the idea. And the United States would still be wise today, if it increased gasoline taxes by the same amount now.

The federal gasoline tax is 18.4 cents per gallon, while state gasoline taxes average 24.6 cents per gallon. [In other words, 43 cents of taxes on every gallong of gasoline. Why not lower taxes to get down gas prices?] Had federal gas taxes gone up 50 cents a gallon 10 years ago, several things might not have happened or would have had far less impact.

The S.U.V. and pickup-truck crazes would not have occurred, or at least these vehicles would be much less popular; highway deaths would have been fewer; and gasoline demands would be lower as would oil imports. [This person assumes that if no one had a SUV, gas consumption would be lower. Big error he is making here. If you drive a low mpg car -- such as a Honda -- it is cheaper to go 100 miles than if you drive a high mpg car -- such as a SUV. The cheaper it is to drive, the more you drive. The real question is do you end up buying more gas or less gas. On the one hand, you pay less for each mile you travel, but on the other hand you travel more miles. If the percentage fall in the price per mile is smaller than the increase in the miles traveled, then you will buy more gas.] To continue, the world price of oil would have been lower, since petroleum demand in the United States is the first factor in oil markets; greenhouse-gas emissions in this country would be lower [ not if you are buying more gas; see note above]; Persian Gulf oil states would have less influence on the global economy and less significance to American foreign policy; fewer dollars would have flowed to the oil sheiks; and the trade deficit balance for the United States would be smaller.

Don't all those things sound pretty good? And if higher gasoline taxes had moderated the ever-growing national thirst for oil, fuel at the pump still would have become more expensive — but Americans would be sending the extra money to Washington rather than Riyadh.

Of course, Americans don't want to send extra money to Washington. But new gasoline taxes could be revenue-neutral — intended to discourage oil waste rather than fill government coffers, with other taxes cut as the pump tax rises. Ideally, proceeds from a revenue-neutral gasoline tax could be used to reduce income taxes and payroll taxes of the poor and lower middle class. [When has government ever lowered taxes on X because it raised taxes on Y?] Gasoline prices affect this group regressively.

Most economists would say that higher pump prices are a better counterforce to rising oil consumption than complex regulatory schemes. (When prices rise, consumers make their decisions on how to respond, usually preferred over government-imposed solutions.) Three decades ago, the United States used about 15 million barrels of oil a day; now it's 20 million barrels and rising. About 10 million barrels a day are imported now, compared with about 4 million barrels 20 years ago.

One downside would be lower profits for the Big Three in Detroit, which are S.U.V.-dependent. Any new gas tax would need to be phased in over a period of years, giving Detroit time to adjust. General Motors, Ford and Daimler Chrysler all sell high-quality cars with a higher mile-per-gallon performance at a profit in Europe. They can do so here, too.

When the Bush campaign broadcast an ad highlighting Mr. Kerry's 1994 gas tax position, the Kerry campaign was quick to point out that one of those who had promoted the idea of a higher gasoline tax, offset by reductions in other taxes, was N. Gregory Mankiw, now chairman of President Bush's Council of Economic Advisers. In 1999, Mr. Mankiw proposed that the federal gasoline tax be increased by 50 cents per gallon, with income taxes reduced an equivalent amount. "Cutting income taxes while increasing gasoline taxes would lead to more rapid economic growth, less traffic congestion, safer roads, and reduced risk of global warming," Mr. Mankiw wrote.

This was a good idea when John Kerry spoke of it a decade ago; it was a good idea when Mr. Mankiw proposed it five years ago; it remains a good idea now.


Gregg Easterbrook is the author, most recently, of "The Progress Paradox."



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Ideas: Goods and Bads


Can You Get Too Much of a Good Thing?
In economics, there are goods and bads. A good is something that gives someone utility or satisfaction. Food, clothes, entertainment, books, and cars are goods. A bad, on the other hand, is something that gives someone disutility or dissatisfaction. Pollution is a bad, as is flu, measles, and being in the company of someone you truly dislike.

You have probably heard the saying, “You can never get too much of a good thing.” (Do you think it is true that you can never get too much of a good? If you do, then you disagree with economists. To understand why economists disagree with this saying, let’s consider good health, which most people believe is a good. People often say you can never get too much good health. Do their actions reflect what they say?

The person who eats a lot of fatty foods, doesn’t exercise, and smokes ten cigarettes a day may say she is healthy. But could her health be better? Undoubtedly, her health would improve if she reduced her consumption of fatty foods, exercised moderately, and quit smoking. Suppose she does just that. But given this new status quo, can she improve her health even further? Why not cut out all fatty foods? Instead of exercising only moderately, why not exercise more and become even healthier? Surely, most people can take some action to improve their health, even if only by a tiny amount.

Actually, almost no one tries to achieve a perfect state of good health because this perfect state is not easy to achieve. You have to sacrifice and work to achieve it. Specifically, you have to give up too many other good things (goods) to achieve it. You have to give up the benefits you derive from eating a juicy, tasty (but fatty) hamburger, for example. You might choose a little less good health and a tasty hamburger rather than a little more good health and no hamburger. If so, then your actions have told us that there really can be too much of a good thing—or, at least, too much of one good thing. And that is what the economist said.

The Price of a Good
You probably prefer a grade of B in a course to a grade of C, and you probably prefer an A to a B. For all students, high grades are a good. But high grades are not given away. You have to work long and hard to get an A. When you consider the work you have to do to get an A, you might prefer to do less work and get a B.

For example, Bob might be capable of earning an A in his biology class if he applies himself and works hard. But he might choose not to do so. He might view the time and effort he has to expend to get the A “too high a price” to pay. Does it follow that if Bob does not spend the time and effort to get an A that he is behaving unreasonably? Not at all. The reason he might not want to spend the time and effort to get an A is that although A’s are goods, the world is full of other goods too. And spending time and effort to get one good (such as an A in biology) means one has less time and effort available to get another good (such as socializing with friends).

Life Is Full of Tradeoffs
If there were only one good in the world—only one good from which utility or satisfaction could be derived—then there could never be enough of this one good. You would naturally want more and more of it. But, of course, there isn’t only one good in the world. There are many goods. And getting more of one good often means you have to get less of some other good. Getting more good health means getting less of something else that is a good—juicy hamburgers. Getting more A’s in your courses means getting less of something else that is a good—socializing with your friends.

The economist captures the essence of this concept by noting that “life is full of tradeoffs.” This simply means that more of one good often means less of some other good.

Can There Ever Be Too Little of a Bad Thing?
Think of the opposite of a good--a bad. As stated earlier, a bad is something that gives people disutility or dissatisfaction. What is the right amount of a bad? (run in, no paragraph)Is zero the right amount of a bad?

For example, pollution is something that most people consider a bad. Would it follow that less pollution is preferable to more pollution? In other words, is 100 particles of pollution better than 1,000, and is 10 better than 100, and is zero pollution (no pollution) better than 10 particles of pollution? Certainly that would seem to make sense. But the economist is here to tell us that bads are sometimes connected to goods. The economist might point out that most people consider driving their cars to get from one location to another location to be a good. But driving a car is not a pollution-free activity. Pollution is emitted into the air when a car is driven. We can try to reduce the amount of pollution, but some will still exist. Do you think most people would be willing to give up driving cars in order to have zero pollution? Most people would say that some pollution and driving our cars is a better option than no pollution and not driving our cars. In short, some pollution might be better than no pollution.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words
Regardless of what people say, their actions express their true views. You might say you believe that you can never get too much of a good thing, that it is better to have no pollution than some pollution, and that high grades are of the utmost importance to you. But these are only words. People’s behavior almost never validates the general content of these thoughts.

For example, people might say that there can never be too much of a good thing, but they always act as if there can be. The person who says that you can never be healthy enough eats junk food once in awhile and doesn’t always get as much rest as is necessary for good health. The person who says that you can never be safe enough in your house is the same person who installs a bolt on his front door but doesn’t buy an alarm system. The person who says that you can never have enough money is the same person who decides not to work overtime or to take on a second job to earn more income.
Through our everyday actions, we clearly state that we know there are tradeoffs in life and there can be too much of a good thing. It’s only in our everyday speech that we sometimes forget what we show by our actions that we know to be true.

What the Economist Thinks
• There is such a thing as too much of a good thing. The reason the economist thinks this is because he knows that there is more than just one good in life and that getting more of one good often comes at the cost of getting less of another good.
• There are tradeoffs in life. As long as there is more than just one good in life, there will be tradeoffs between goods.


Questions to Answer
1. “People will pay to obtain goods and to remove bads.” Do you agree or disagree with this statement? Give an example of a person paying to get a good. Give an example of a person paying to remove a bad.
Agree. A person will pay (money) to obtain a good because goods give people utility or satisfaction. This doesn’t mean that people will pay for all goods, though. A person will pay for a good as long as she expects more utility from the good than she loses from the money she spends for the good. A person buying a car is an example of a person paying to get a good.
A person will pay to remove a bad because bads give people disutility or dissatisfaction. This doesn’t mean that people will pay to remove all bads, though. A person will pay to remove a bad as long as he expects the utility he gets from removing the bad to be greater than the loss of utility he spends to remove the bad. A person paying to have his weekly garbage taken away is an example of a person paying to remove a bad.

2. “If there were only one good in the world, you could you never get enough of this one good.” Do you agree or disagree with this statement? Explain your answer.
If there were only one good in the world—say, X—you could never get enough of this one good as long as you want to maximize your utility. Look at it this way: (a) A good is something that gives you utility or satisfaction. (b) If you want to maximize your utility—get as much utility as possible—then you need as many goods as possible. (c) There is only one good, so you need as much of this one good as possible.

3. We argued that a student might not want to give up the time and energy required to get an A in a course. He might prefer a B and more time to socialize than an A and less time to socialize. The nature of this argument is that the student chooses which option is better for him. What other reason(s) might explain why a student earns a lower grade than a higher grade?
Two possibilities are how hard and long a student works and his or her innate ability at learning various subjects.

4. Why do you think a person who says there can never be too much of a good thing often acts differently? In other words, why do people show a difference between their words and their actions?
One possibility is that the cost of saying X is (often) much less than the cost of doing X. Another possibility is that some people may just repeat things they have heard without really examining whether or not the things they have heard are literally true.

Vocabulary Quiz

What do the following words mean?

1. abrogate
2. circumnavigate
3. inculcate
4. incognito
5. Lexicon
6. lugubrious
7. plagiarize
8. supercilious
9. unctuous




Answers
1. to abolish, do away with
2. to proceed completely around
3. to impress upon the mind of another by frequent instruction or repetition
4. in disguise
5. dictionary; a stock of terms used in a particular profession
6. mournful, dismal, gloomy -- especially in an exaggerated way
7. to use and pass off ideas or writing of another as one's own.
8. showing haughty disdain
9. insincere eartness

Vocabulary

Irony is the use of words to express something different from and often opposite to their literal meaning. Ironically, even as the government was arguing against American policy, American jeans and videocassettes were the hottest items in the stalls of the market. Keep in mind that many people use the word ironically or irony incorrectly. They believe it means coincidentally. For example, Susie moved from New York to California where she met her husband-to-be, who, ironically, also was from New York. Wrong use of ironically here. The right word is coincidentally.

Loquacious (lo-qua-cious) means talkative. The loquacious barber told stories endlessly.

Incognito (in-cog-knee-to) means to disguise one's identify. The spy traveled ignotio into enemy territory.

Feckless means lacking purpose or vitality or it can mean careless and irresponsible. The feckless bodies slumped in the chairs (lack vitality). The feckless student turned in yet another late paper (careless and irresponsible).





Monday, May 24, 2004

News: Robot

Interesting article

PITTSBURGH - Most people can fold a piece of paper by the time they're in kindergarten, but it's not child's play for a robot, which must use complex mathematical formulas to accomplish the task.

That's why officials at Carnegie Mellon University are excited about a graduate student who has developed a robot capable of doing origami — the traditional Japanese art of folding paper to make figures or sculptures.

Matthew Mason, a professor of computer science and robotics, thought building such a robot would be so daunting that he didn't encourage Devin Balkcom's plans to do so in January 2003. But today, Balkcom has a robot that can make paper airplanes and hats and is scheduled to earn his doctorate with the project in August.

"Origami is way out there — it's like a space shot," Mason said.

Origami has important research applications because although robots have been taught to manipulate rigid objects such as golf clubs, they struggle when the objects are flexible, like paper or the human tissues that surgical robots must navigate.

As a result, robot origami help measure a robot's ability to manipulate flexible objects, much as playing chess has become a way of measuring a computer's intelligence and speed, Mason and Balkcom said.

"To make a swan would be 10 Ph.D.s worth of work," Balkcom said.

So if a child can learn how to make a folded paper swan, why is it rocket science for a robot?

Balkcom's robot may look fairly simple — a small robot arm attached to a table that's something like a sheet metal press — but every manipulation of the paper, and even the physical properties of paper itself, must be converted into the only language a robot understands: mathematics.

For example, paper might appear to be two-dimensional, because it is so thin. But it has thickness that must be expressed mathematically so that the robot can account for what happens when the paper is folded. (Answer: it gets thicker.)

As a result, the robot must be programmed to "understand" that paper can only be folded so much (about seven times is the limit), and that paper stretches ever so slightly when it is folded.

And that doesn't even take into account fingers. Robots don't have them, so they don't have the nerves that allow a human to feel the paper. They also don't have the stereoscopic vision allows humans to watch themselves fold the paper.

As a result, Balkcom's robot does origami in a manner different from that of a typical 8-year-old. It uses a suction cup to pick and move the paper, which is manipulated over a gutter, or rut, on the metal surface. The paper is then pushed down into the gutter using a straightedge ruler attached to the robotic arm, and the gutter closes on the paper to crease it.

A visiting Japanese professor, Yasumichi Aiyama of Tsukuba University, is working in Mason's robotics lab using two small, fingerlike robots, to see if they might perform origami more like humans do.

Grammar

Agree with means to concur in opinion. I agree with you.
Agree to means to give assent to an idea or thing. I agree to the operation.

Angry with means to be enraged. She was angry with herself for sleeping late.
Angry at suggests a confrontation. I am angry at the person for what he has done.

Already means even now. We already have a robot.
All ready means everyone is prepared. They're all ready to go.

Assent means to agree. Did you assent to do that?
Ascent means advancement. On the third day, they made their ascent to the top of Mount Everest.

Formerly means previously. I was formerly a typist.
Formally means officially. She was sworn in formally as the fifth member of the panel.

Precede means to come before. My older brother preceds me by one grade.
Proceed means to go ahead. We can proceed with the bake sale.

Vocabulary

Inculcate (in-cul-kate)means to impress something upon the mind of another by frequent instruction or repetition; to teach otheres by frequent instruction. Inculcate the young with a sense of duty.

Supercilious (su-per-sil-e-us)means feeling or showing haughty disdain; looking down on others. He had a supercilious tone in his voice.

Xenophobe (zen-o-fobe)is a person who is fearful or contemptuous of that which is foreign, especially of strangers or foreign peoples. Sometimes a person who dislikes foreigners is called a xenophobe.





Ideas: Paying For What You Don't Want to Pay For

Did You Really Mean to Pay for That?

A friend is having problems and you want to help. Your friend is unemployed and has very little money. Unfortunately, he is also an alcoholic. This month he has $500 to spend. He can do various things with the $500: pay his rent, buy food, buy clothes, buy liquor, and so on. Let’s suppose that his priorities are to pay his rent first, then buy food, next buy clothes, and then buy liquor. If he doesn’t have enough money for everything, then he eliminates items beginning at the bottom of his list. In other words, the first item he would eliminate if he does not have enough money is buying liquor.

Well, at least your friend has his priorities straight. He is not willing to buy liquor instead of food, and he is not willing to buy liquor instead of paying his rent. Perhaps you believe that a person who his priorities straight and who needs help should receive some help. What is paradoxical, though, is that help may not always have the intended effect.

To illustrate, suppose your friend has to pay $300 in rent, $150 for food, and $50 for clothes this month. At these dollar amounts, his entire $500 will be spent on rent, food, and clothes. He will have no money left to buy liquor.
However, you choose this month to help your friend and so you give him $200. You tell him to use the money to buy more food or to buy a few more clothes or simply to keep the money for an emergency. But instead of buying more food or more clothes or saving for an emergency, your friend may prefer to buy liquor. True, buying liquor is lower on his list of priorities than paying $300 in rent, buying $150 worth of food, and buying $50 worth of clothes, but it may be higher than buying more food or more clothes or saving for an emergency.

What might your friend do with $700 instead of $500? It is likely that he will pay his rent ($300), buy food ($150), buy clothes ($50), and spend the remaining $200 on liquor. In other words, your charitable act of giving your friend $200 has given him the chance to buy liquor that he would not have purchased otherwise. Your intentions were good; you wanted to help your friend. But unfortunately, your action had an effect that you did not intend: it made it possible for your friend to buy liquor. From your perspective, your intention to make your friend better off ended up making him worse off.

Why Not Give Goods Instead of Money?
If you can’t make your friend better off by giving him $200 (he may just spend it on liquor), then why not give your friend goods instead of money? That is, instead of giving your friend $200 and telling him to spend it on food or clothes, you could simply buy your friend $200 worth of food and clothes.

Does giving goods (food and clothes) instead of money solve the problem? Is this the way for the charitable to make sure that their gifts are used in ways they want them to be used? Not necessarily.

To illustrate, again suppose that your friend plans to spend his $500 on food, clothes, and rent. He will not have any money left to buy liquor. Then, before he has fully spent his $500, you give him $200 worth of food and clothes. To keep things simple, we will assume that you give him $150 worth of food and $50 worth of clothes. Now that you have given him the $200 worth of food and clothes that he would have bought, he doesn’t have to buy $200 worth of food and clothes. In other words, he spends $300 (of his $500) on rent, you buy him $200 worth of food and clothes, and he has $200 (of his $500) to spend on anything he wants. It is as if you had simply handed him $200 cash. If he spends his $200 on liquor, then your $200 gift of food and clothes again would have had an unintended effect. It would have made it possible for him to buy liquor.

We conclude that whether you give your friend $200 cash or $200 worth of food and clothes, you make it possible for him to buy liquor that he would not have purchased otherwise.

Let’s Change the Example and See If We Get Different Results
For those who now think that it is impossible to obtain your objectives through giving, think again. A slight change in the example will bring about different results. Instead of your friend having $500 for the month, suppose he has only $300. You will remember that when he had $500, he planned to spend $300 on rent, $150 on food, and $50 on clothes. With $300 instead of $500, your friend cannot pay his rent and buy food and clothes too. If you give your friend $200, he will be able to pay his rent and buy food and clothes. But, he will not have enough money to buy liquor. In this case, your $200, if you choose to give it, will be used in a way that you deem acceptable.

What is the lesson? Simply, that your $200 gift will be used for whatever is next on your friend’s list that he cannot purchase without you. When he had enough money to pay rent and buy food and clothes, your money was used for what was next on his list—buying liquor. But when he had enough money only to pay rent, your money was used to buy food and clothes because these items were next on his list. The general principle is that the gift giver makes it possible for the gift recipient to do whatever is next on his or her “to do” list. If the next thing on the “to do” list is to buy a computer, then the gift giver makes it possible for the recipient to buy a computer. If the next thing on the “to do” list is to buy illegal drugs, then the gift giver makes it possible for the recipient to buy illegal drugs.

Why Professors May Say No to Review Sessions
Three days before an economics test, a student raises his hand and asks the professor, “Will you have a review session before the test?” The professor says, “No.” At this point, the students in the class might think that the professor is being selfish with her time and doesn’t care how her students do on the test. This might be true. Or, it might be far from the truth.

The review session can be seen by the students as something they don’t expect but would like to have. In other words, it can be viewed as a gift of sorts. But the professor may not want to give the gift of a review session because she knows that gifts sometimes cannot be given the way the gift giver prefers.

To illustrate, suppose the average student will study four hours for the test if the professor does not give a review session but will study only two hours if the professor does give a review session. So from the student’s perspective, the review session means that he does not have to study as long to get a certain grade. In short, what the professor gives (as a gift) to the student when she holds a review session is time. Specifically, she gives the student two hours of time.

What will the student do with those two hours of time? He will do whatever is next on his “to do” list. If the next thing on his list is “read a classic book,” then that is the gift given to the student. If the next thing on his list is “drink beer and watch television,” then that is the gift given to the student.

When the professor refuses to hold a review session, it is not clear whether she is selfish with her time and doesn’t care how her students do on the test or whether she wants to prevent her students from watching as much television and drinking as much beer.

What the Economist Thinks
• If you give money to a person and ask him to use the money to buy X, then even if he buys X, you might have paid for something other than X. For example, suppose a person has the following “to do” list: (1) Buy X for $100, (2) buy Y for $100, and (3) buy Z for $100. The person has only $100 to spend. You give the person $100 and ask him to use it to buy X. He does. Now he has $100 to spend on Y. It is just as correct to say that your money was used to buy Y as to say it was used to buy X.
• Giving goods instead of cash is no guarantee that your gift won’t make it possible for the recipient to purchase something you would have preferred she not purchase. For example, suppose a person has $100 and the same “to do” list as above. You know the person has $100, but you do not know the priorities of her “to do” list. In other words, you do not know that X is preferred to Y and that Y is preferred to Z. You want to make sure that the person consumes X, and you prefer that she not consume Y. So, you purchase X for her. You have made sure she will consume X (she would have done so anyway because X was at the top of her list), but you have also made it possible for her to purchase and consume Y. Giving the person good X had the same effect as giving the person $100 and directing her to purchase Y.

Questions to Answer
1. Why do people give to religious organizations and not to street gangs? (Hint: Consider each entity’s “to do” list.)
People feel that the next thing on a religious organization’s “to do” list is something they don’t mind the organization buying, but this is not the case for what is next on a street gang’s “to do” list.

2. A multimillionaire gives $5 million to a university with specific orders to use the money to build a new dormitory. The university complies with her orders. Did she pay for the dormitory? Explain your answer.
She may not have paid for the dormitory. The university officials might have spent $5 million on a new dormitory even if they didn’t receive the $5 million from the multimillionaire. Now they can use the $5 million they were going to spend on a new dormitory to buy something else. The multimillionaire might have paid for the “something else.”

3. Smith gives away about $10 million a year. When he makes a charitable contribution, he specifies how the money is to be spent. The people and organizations to which he has given any money always have complied with his wishes. One day, Smith realizes that the millions of dollars he has given away in the past might have made some things possible that he would prefer not to have made possible. Because he can no longer be sure that his money will be used exactly as he wants, Smith decides to reduce his gift giving. He decides to give away only $1 million a year. In short, his newfound knowledge has had the effect of reducing his charitable giving. Do you see this as desirable or undesirable? Explain your answer.
Answers will vary.

4. All other things being equal, who would be more charitable: the person who doesn’t care what is on a gift recipient’s “to do” list or the person who does care? Explain your answer.
The person who doesn’t care what is on a gift recipient’s “to do” list would be considered more charitable. The person who does care doesn’t know what is next on the recipient’s “to do” list but understands that it could be something she doesn’t want her money spent on. This may be enough to prevent her from giving a gift.

5. It is better to give than to receive. Comment.
Answers will vary. Maybe it is better to give than to receive, but most people seem to like receiving an awful lot.

Friday, May 21, 2004

Tragedy of the Commons: Again

Yesterday we talked about the tragedy of the commons. Here is another example to illustrate it.

Suppose there are two buildings, A and B, and a sidewalk between them. Most people walk on the sidewalk to get from A to B. Unfortunately, the sidewalk does not follow a straight line between A and B and, as we know, a straight line is the shortest distance between two points.

The shortest distance between A and B is across the grass lawn between the two buildings. One day, you want to get from A to B as quickly as possible. You decide to walk across the grass. Now your walking across the grass doesn't really harm the grass. You are only one person. In other words, the thought here is: My action does not change things much at all, so it is okay to walk across the grass. It doesn't follow that because I walked across the grass that the lawn is going to be broken up in any way.

What we have here, in general, is the sense that your single action does not change things adversely.

But, of course, what holds for you holds for others too. Suppose other people are in a hurry and decide to cut across the lawn. Each of these persons says the same thing you said: My single action does not mean much here.

When a lot of people, each only contributing a tiny tiny bit of harm, do the same thing, we can often get a change in the world. Over time, we get a dirt path across the grass lawn.

Once the dirt path is there, each person may look at it and wish it weren't there. But, of course, it was each person who contributed to the dirt path. A lot of little actions (each one by itself insignificant) ended up producing something (a dirt path) that was very significant (a big change from what once was).

The grass lawn is the commons -- it is the resource owned in common by everyone.

The tragedy is the fact that the commons changes in a way people don't really want it to change.

Also, the tragedy is that no individual had any incentive not to walk on the grass because each individual saw his action as meaning very little to the total.

Now Hardin, the author of the tragedy of the commons, said that the tragedy will be no more if --and only if -- we convert the grass from common property to private property. Once someone owns the grass, he can put up signs that say do not walk on the grass, we can fine people if they do walk on the grass, and so on.

In other words, private property is the way out of the tragedy of the commons.

Vocabulary: Misused Words

Accept means to receive, except means to leave out. I accept (receive) your offer. Except means to leave out. Everyone went except (leave out) him.

Adapt incorporates the word apt, which means suited to. Adapt means to make suitable. I will adapt (make suitable) to my surroundings. Adopt means to choose or to make one's one selection. The writer adopted the style of Hemingway.

Adverse means opposing and is usually used to describe things or actions. Adverse circumstances. Averse means disinclined and is usually relevant to people. He was averse to my proposal.

Among is used when we are talking of three or more. Between when we are talking about two. You would say between you and me and among the five of us.

Beside means by the side of. He was beside me. Besides means in addition. Besides going to the movie theater, where else do you want to go?

Different from is correct; different than is not.

Farther speaks to distance and further speaks to degree. He drove farther today than yesterday. Let's not speak about this any further.

Ideas: Medical Developments

The is only part of an article that appeared in Science. We will practice annotating in our head today as we read.



BEYOND THE IVORY TOWER:
The Victorian Revolution in Surgery
J. T. H. Connor*

The 1944 Hollywood movie The Great Moment tells of the discovery of ether anesthesia in Boston in the 1840s. This discovery was one of a trio of clinical innovations between the 1840s and the 1890s that collectively made up the Victorian revolution in surgery: anesthesia, antisepsis, and x-rays. [3 medical innovations from 1840-1890: anesthesia, antisepsis, and x-rays] But did these "moments" really represent a revolution in surgery alone, or did they set in motion an even larger revolution in medicine? [Were they the cause of something bigger?] Viewed historically, these "discoveries" help us understand how medical innovations relate to science and technology. They also reveal how a new medical marketplace came to be and how market forces shaped modern medicine.[This may be the theme of the piece: how a new medical marketplace shapes modern medicine. Be on the watch for marketplace talk.]

The first of the three clinical innovations was the introduction of ether in America in 1846 and chloroform in Britain in 1847. Inhalation of the vapors of these compounds not only put people to "sleep," making them insensible to pain, but, as one Victorian surgeon declared, its use meant that patients were "rendered unconscious of torture" (1). This was a boon not only for those who chose to go under the knife but also for those who wielded it, because surgeons no longer had to contend with patients who squirmed around on the operating table during an amputation--or who tried to escape altogether.[Medical innovation helps patient and doctor alike.]

Twenty years later, the Glasgow-based surgeon, Joseph Lister, put forward his system of antiseptic surgery. Lister [I wonder if this is why we have Listerol, the antibacterial mouthwash.] was correct in his view that surgical wound infection was the result of bacteria. But his methods to combat their action were cumbersome, constantly changing, and confusing. His techniques included varying dilutions of carbolic acid (phenol) and an array of putty, tin, and rubber protective devices. He also used vaporizing sprays that emitted an unpleasant and irritating acidic mist in the vicinity of patient and surgeon, but later denounced the use of this equipment.[Techniques were cumbersome, although perhaps they worked. Will something better come along?]

By the 1880s, antiseptic surgery (or "Listerism") had transformed into aseptic surgery as knowledge about pathogenic bacteria accumulated. Surgeons now concentrated their efforts on excluding disease-causing bacteria from incisions and amputation sites by ensuring that their own hands had been thoroughly cleaned and their street clothes were covered by clean white gowns; later, they began to wear caps, masks, and rubber gloves (see the figure, below).[Instead of killing the bacteria after it was in the wound, doctors prevent the bacteria from getting into the wound by washing their hands.]

Aseptic precautions became universal by 1900. Surgeons and nurses wore white caps and gowns to reduce postoperative surgical infections.


By the late 1890s, white-robed surgeons replaced their earlier, black and bloody frock-coated confreres. [You mean that surgeons once walked around with blood all over them. Unsanitary] Sterilization became the order of the day as hospitals installed autoclaves and water treatment equipment; dry iodoform dressings supplanted earlier wet carbolic acid-impregnated devices; and instruments made out of a single piece of steel that could be readily sterilized replaced bone- and wooden- handled surgical tools that could not. Operating rooms and their furniture, too, were remodeled to incorporate smooth, impervious surfaces that did not harbor germs and could be readily cleaned (2, 3).

Coeval with these developments [coeval means at the same time or the same age], in 1895 the German physicist Wilhelm Roentgen began to experiment with x-rays. With the assistance of his volunteer wife, whom he exposed to an uncontrolled stream of cathode rays, he photographed the skeletal structure of her hand. Roentgen's ability to "photograph the invisible" (see the figure below) immediately became front-page news around the world. For the first time, doctors could view the internal bone structure of a living body without slicing it open (4).[Huge development]


The implications of x-rays for surgery were obvious. The most vivid illustration was their immediate impact on military medicine. During the Spanish-American war in 1898, for example, American hospital ships sent to Cuban and other war zones were fully equipped with bacteriological laboratories, aseptic operating suites, and radiological apparatus. Radiographs of bullets embedded in bone, soft tissues, and shattered joints guided army surgeons in their work (5).

The surgical world of the mid-1890s was thus radically different from that of the 1840s; indeed, it remains closer to that of today. How did scientific knowledge, medical technology, and society contribute to this fundamental change? The historian George Basalla has argued that technology is not the servant of science and that necessity is not the mother of technological invention (6). The components of the surgical revolution are grounded in techniques and mechanical devices--innovations that, at heart, are technological. Did they depend on the scientific theory and social needs of their day?

Surprisingly, the answer is--not really. Knowledge of chemical or physiological principles had little to do with the advent of anesthesia or with explaining its action. Even today, we do not know the scientific grounds for profound anesthetic states. Listerism, too, was based less on solid scientific research than on an interesting hunch: In the mid-1860s, there was little scientific basis for it, except for an unsubstantiated germ theory of disease. Physics was better developed than many of the biological sciences, but the theoretical explanation for x-rays was not made until a couple of years after Roentgen's pioneering work in radiology. In these examples of innovation, at least, science was not technology's master.[What does this really mean: science was not technology's master. Is it the opposite: that we have the technology and then we figure out the science later. Is there anything in the article that I have read so far to make me think I am corect?]

The inventions were also not always responses to necessity. [There is a say: necessity is the mother of invention. We invent what we need.] For many, anesthesia was not a solution to a pressing need. Victorian doctors were not engaged in a relentless search for ways to reduce the pain of surgery. The means and methods to induce general anesthesia in the form of nitrous oxide and ether had been available and successfully tried for many years before the "great moment" in Boston (resulting in a long-running priority dispute). Even after formal demonstrations of the effects and benefits of ether and chloroform, many patients refused to consent to surgery while under the influence of such noxious gases. Reports of unconscious women being raped by their doctor or dentist further fueled popular mistrust of this innovation. Accounts in newspapers, medical journals, and coroners' inquests of "healthy" people dying after the administration of ether or chloroform added to people's skepticism (7). Several decades after the announcement of anesthesia, some Victorian surgeons still considered it an unnecessary luxury.

Similarly, Victorian surgeons were well aware of the dangers of wound suppuration [to suppurate means to discharge pus], especially after amputations, but they attributed this problem to impure air from crowded and improperly designed hospital wards. Joseph Lister's original idea appeared at first to have little to do with solving this issue. Prolonged resistance to Listerism only subsided when laboratory scientists showed that hospital infection was microbiological, not environmental in nature. [It seems that in this article big conclusions come at the end of paragraphs. I wonder if this is how it works on the SAT?]

Thursday, May 20, 2004

News Item: Tragedy of the Commons and Paul Ehrlich

Here is an article from the Wall Street Journal. My comments in [ ].


We're Doomed Again
Paul Ehrlich has never been right. Why does anyone still listen to him?

BY RONALD BAILEY
Thursday, May 20, 2004 12:01 a.m. EDT

Environmentalist Paul Ehrlich has proved himself to be a stupendously bad prophet. [Ehrlich is a biology professor at Stanford.] In 1968 he declared: "The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s, the world will undergo famines--hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death." They didn't. Indeed, a "green revolution" nearly tripled the world's food supply. In 1975, he predicted that, by the mid-1980s, "mankind will enter a genuine age of scarcity," in which "accessible supplies of many key minerals will be facing depletion." Far from it. Between 1975 and 2000 the World Bank's commodity price index for minerals and metals fell by nearly 50%. In other words, we abound in "key minerals." Naturally, Mr. Ehrlich has won a MacArthur Foundation genius award--and a Heinz Award for the environment. (Yes, that Heinz: Teresa Heinz Kerry is chairman of the award's sponsoring philanthropy.)

So why pay him any notice? Because he is a reverse Cassandra. [Nice term to remember: Reverse Casandra.] In "The Illiad," the prophetess Cassandra makes true predictions and no one believes her; Mr. Ehrlich makes false predictions and they are widely believed. The gloomier he is and the faultier he proves to be as a prophet, the more honored he becomes, even in his own country.

Any thinking person will thus want to know, accolades aside [accolade = praise], what actual effect "One With Nineveh" will have on the intellectual environment. The title is taken from "Recessional," the poem in which Rudyard Kipling warned Victorian England that it, too, could fall, like the capital of the ancient kingdom of Assyria. Mr. Ehrlich--writing with his wife, Anne--asserts that "humanity's prospective collision with the natural world" means that "what is at risk now is global civilization."
"One With Nineveh" begins by recycling the now familiar catechism of environmentalist doom, but most of it is devoted to the Ehrlichs' hugely ambitious plans for reorganizing the world's economy and systems of government to ward off apocalypse. Homer used the word hubris to refer to this aspect of human nature.[Hubris is excessive pride or arrogance.]

The "prospective collision with the natural world" is supposed to happen when human population, economic growth and technological progress reach some horrible point of intersection on a chart of global doom. In the Ehrlichs' simplistic summary, environmental Impact equals Population x Affluence x Technology, the notorious I=PAT identity. Impact is, of course, always negative. One notes that the three factors aren't merely added together; their allegedly deleterious effects are multiplied.[Deleterious means bad.]

History shows that the I=PAT identity largely gets it backward. Population is at worst neutral, while affluence and technology, far from harming nature, actually promote its flourishing. It is in the rich, developed countries that the air becomes clearer, the streams clearer, the forests more expansive. While the Ehrlichs put forward a few good ideas--such as replacing income taxes with consumption taxes and eliminating government subsidies--most of their analysis consists of antimarket screeds and hackneyed corporation-bashing.[Screed = a long, monotonous speech or piece of writing.]

The Ehrlichs also underplay the good news. Globally, women are having fewer and fewer babies, so the world's population will likely peak at around eight billion in 50 years or so. [The UN report we talked about the other day said the world population would stabilize in 2200 at 11 billion.] The agronomist Paul Waggoner has argued that if farmers around the world can raise their productivity to current U.S. levels--even using current technology, nothing newer--they can easily feed 10 billion people, with better diets. [Agronomy is the application of the various soil and plant sciences to plant management and the raising of crops.] And they can do so, according to his projections, using half the land they now farm, thus sparing more land for nature. The chief hope for that result is precisely the market that the Ehrlichs decry, and the economic dynamism that comes with it.

Of course, there are environmental problems, although not the global warming the authors fear. (Satellite data now suggest that such warming will be mild over the next century--about a degree Celsius.) But the depletion of fisheries and tropical forests is real enough. Alas, the Ehrlichs and most of their ecological confreres miss the central reason for it: the tragedy of the commons, where nobody owns a resource--forest, fish, water--and thus no one has a reason to protect it. By contrast, enclosing the commons, by assigning owners, internalizes costs and benefits, and allows markets to determine the value of any given resource. With characteristic wrongheadedness, they advocate instead eroding property rights, thus enlarging the commons and tending to make environmental problems worse.

In 1971, Mr. Ehrlich told Look magazine: "When you reach a point where you realize further efforts will be futile, you may as well look after yourself and your friends and enjoy what little time you have left. That point for me is 1972." What is Greek for "this is ridiculous"?

[The tragedy of the commons is mentioned in the article. This term -- TOC -- is from an article by Garrett Hardin that appeared in Science in 1968.

A commons usually refers to a resource that is shared by a group of people and no one of the people own the resource. For example, suppose people share a lake (for boating and water) but no one owns the lake.

Hardin said that if no one owns the lake, individuals will likely misuse the lake. What does that mean here? They may throw trash into the lake, overfish it, take too much water from the lake, etc.

Why would they do this? Because their actions have no costs and if they don't take the fish, someone else will; or because their actions are seen as so insignificant that they do not matter. A person throws a piece of paper into the lake and thinks that it is only one tiny piece of paper, how much damage can it do.

The problem, said Hardin, is that because (1) no one owns the lake and becaue (2) each person sees his actions as insignificant and (3) it is better to get from the lake before others get from the lake, that in the end we will have a very different lake than the one people really want. It will be overfished and polluted (with trash).

It is interesting that no one wants this to be the outcome, but the outcome arises nevertheless because of the fact that no one has an incentive to act differently.

What will take care of the problem? The lake should be owned -- the common resource must be turned into a private resource. Then, the owner will make sure the lake is not overfished (or else he loses money), polluted (or he loses money), and so on.

In Hardin's original article, the solution to many of the TOC problems is to turn common property into private property.]


By the way, the poem "Recessional" by Kipling (Nobel Prize winner in Literature) is mentioned in the essay above. Here is the poem.

GOD of our fathers, known of old,
Lord of our far-flung battle line,
Beneath whose awful hand we hold
Dominion over palm and pine—
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!
The tumult and the shouting dies;
The Captains and the Kings depart;
Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice,
An humble and a contrite heart.
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

Far-called our navies melt away;
On dune and headland sinks the fire;
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

If, drunk with sight of power, we loose
Wild tongues that have not Thee in awe,
Such boastings as the Gentiles use,
Or lesser breeds without the Law—
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

For heathen heart that puts her trust
In reeking tube and iron shard—
All valiant dust that builds on dust,
And guarding calls not Thee to guard.
For frantic boast and foolish word,
Thy Mercy on Thy People, Lord!



Grammar: Verb Tenses

Verb tenses express time. Tense = Time

Present tense: Expresses any time that has some element of present in it, no matter how small.

This apple tastes good (present situation).
Apples taste good (a general truth that holds all the time, such as now).
Shakespeare writes in blank verse (yes, we know that he did so in the past, but this fact is relevant today).

Past tense: Exludes the present and covers events that took place at a definite time or habitually in the past.

I went down the street yesterday (a completed event in the past).

Future tense: Expresses futurity (futurity means the future). Usually we use shall or will along with a verb to express the future.

I shall go the store tomorrow.
You will go when you want to go.

Perfect tenses: Express one action in relation to another action.

Present perfect: Expresses the idea that an action started in the past and is still going on in the present.

I have waited for you. (In other words, I started waiting for you awhile ago, and I am still waiting for you.)

Past perfect: Sometimes called past-past. There are two past actions, but one precedes the other.

I had waited for you before I went to the store.

Future perfect: Indicates that the action will be completed before a definite time in the future.

I will have finished the job before Tuesday.

______

An easy way to remember tenses.

1. Pick the current day; let's say it is Tuesday.
2. Present = Tuesday
3. Past = Monday
4. Future = Wednesday
5. Present Perfect = Monday going into Tuesday
6. Past Perfect = Sunday and then Monday
7. Future Perfect = Completed (past) before Wednesday rolls around


I smile (present)
I smiled (past)
I will smile (future)
I have smiled (done it in the past and still doing it)
I had smiled before I slept (two past actions, one before the other)
I will have smiled before I start to study (action to be completed before another action)

The perfect tenses (present perfect, past perfect, and future perfect) all require helping words.

Present Perfect -- have
Past Perfect -- had
Future Perfect -- will have


Also, the perfect tense always goes with the past participle of the verb.

1. arise, arose, arisen (present, past, past participle)
In other words, we would say: I arise, I arose, and I have or had or will have arisen

Here are some errors that people often make:

1. Someone says: I have went to the store. No, wrong. I have gone to the store.

Never, never say "I have went."

2. Someone says: I have began . . . No, wrong. I have begun.

3. Someone says: I have broke . . . No, wrong. I have broken.

4. Someone says: I have drank . . . No, wrong. I have drunk.

5. Someone says: I have forbade him from doing that. No, wrong. I have forbidden.

6. Someone says: I have strived or strode . . . No, I have have stridden.

7. Consider the verb hang. One can hang a picture or hang from a tree.

Hang a picture: hang, hung, hung

In other words, I hang the picture, I hung the picture, and I have hung the picture.

Hang from a tree: hang, hanged, hanged

He will have been hanged before this time tomorrow (future perfect).

Remember: Pictures get hung, men get hanged.


Vocabulary

Lugubrious (lu-gu-bre-us) means mournful, dismal, or gloomy, especially to an exaggerated or ludicrous degree.

Modus operandi (modus op-er-en-die) means method of operating. He does that because that is who he is; that's his modus operandi -- his M.O.

Unctuous(unk-shus)means exaggerated or insincere earnestness. I didn't believe a word that the unctuous spokesperson said.

Incontrovertible (in-con-tre-vert-i-ble)means impossible to dispute; unquestionarble. He presented incontrovertible proof . . .


Wednesday, May 19, 2004

News: Animal Behavior

This article appeared in the The Economist. My comments are in [].


Animal behaviour

Quoth the raven
May 13th 2004
From The Economist print edition


Now, it seems, even the bird-brained have theories of mind.

HUMANS like to regard themselves as exceptional. Other animals do not have complex, syntactical languages [a syntactical language is one in which word order is important]. Nor do most of them appear to enjoy the same level of consciousness that people do. And many philosophers believe humans are the only species which understands that others have their own personal thoughts. That understanding is known in the trade as having a “theory of mind”[theory of mind is defined here -- remember it; when a species has the ability to understand that others have thoughts, that species is said to have a theory of mind], and it is considered the gateway to such cherished human qualities as empathy and deception. [in other words, without a theory of mind, we have no empathy and no power to deceive]

Biologists have learned to treat such assertions with caution. In particular, they have found evidence of theories of mind in a range of mammals, from gorillas to goats. But two recent studies suggest that even mammalian studies may be looking at the question too narrowly. Birds, it seems, can have theories of mind, too.

Featherbrains

In the Proceedings of the Royal Society, Bernd Heinrich and Thomas Bugnyar of the University of Vermont, in Burlington, describe a series of experiments they have carried out on ravens. They wanted to see how these birds, which are known to be (at least by avian standards) both clever and sociable, would respond to human gaze.

Response to gaze is reckoned to be a good measure of the development of theory of mind in human children. By about 18 months of age most children are able to follow the gaze of another person, and infer things about the gazer from it. Failure to develop this trick is an early symptom of autism, a syndrome whose main underlying feature is an inability to understand that other people have minds, too.

To test whether ravens could follow gaze, Dr Heinrich and Dr Bugnyar used six six-month-old hand-reared ravens, and one four-year-old. The birds were sat, one at a time, on a perch on one side of a room divided by a barrier. An experimenter sat about a metre in front of the barrier. The experimenter moved his head and eyes in a particular direction and gazed for 30 seconds before looking away. Sometimes he gazed up, sometimes to the part of the room where the bird sat, and sometimes to the part of the room hidden behind the barrier. The experiment was videotaped.

Dr Heinrich and Dr Bugnyar found that all the birds were able to follow the gaze of the experimenters, even beyond the barrier. In the latter case, the curious birds either jumped down from the perch and walked around the barrier to have a look or leapt on top of it and peered over. There was never anything there, but they were determined to see for themselves.

[how do we know this experiment tests theory of mind. theory of mind means that the birds know that others have thoughts. couldn't the birds simply be looking where the scientists looked? what makes the scientists think this is evidence of theory of mind?]

A suggestive result, but not, perhaps, a conclusive one. However, the second study, carried out by Dr Bugnyar when he was working at the University of Austria, and published last month in Animal Cognition, suggests that ravens may have mastered the art of deception too.

[i guess the scientist is saying here that if a bird can deceive it must have a theory of mind. i don't get it. why if the bird can deceive does it indicate that it understands that others have thoughts?]

In this case, the observation was serendipitous [this means something fortunate happened that was not planned for]. Dr Bugnyar was conducting an experiment designed to see what ravens learn from each other while foraging. While doing so he noticed strange interactions between two males, Hugin, a subordinate bird, and Munin, a dominant one.

The task was to work out which colour-coded film containers held some bits of cheese, then prise the containers open and eat the contents. The subordinate male was far better at this task than the dominant. However, he never managed to gulp down more than a few pieces of the reward before the dominant raven, Munin, was hustling him on his way. Clearly (and not unexpectedly) ravens are able to learn about food sources from one another. They are also able to bully each other to gain access to that food.

But then something unexpected happened. Hugin, the subordinate, tried a new strategy. As soon as Munin bullied him, he headed over to a set of empty containers, prised the lids off them enthusiastically, and pretended to eat. Munin followed, whereupon Hugin returned to the loaded containers and ate his fill.

At first Dr Bugnyar could not believe what he was seeing. He was anxious about sharing his observation, for fear that no one would believe him. But Hugin, he is convinced, was clearly misleading Munin.

As it happened, Munin was no dummy either. He soon grew wise to the tactic, and would not be led astray. He even stooped to trying to find the food rewards on his own! This made Hugin furious. “He got very angry”, says Dr Bugnyar, “and started throwing things around.” Perhaps ravens have something else in common with people—a hatred of being found out.

--------
My comments: Part of learning how to read for meaning is to annotate in your head. Teachers want you to annotate in books and this is helpful to learning, but annotating in your head is a way to enhance understanding. The way I annotate is to agree or disagree with what I am reading. You particularly remember things that you disagree with. In a way, you want to talk to yourself as you read. Say things like:

1. I agree with this point.
2. I don't see what the author is getting at here?
3. The author said X before, and that would lead me to think that Y will follow, but in fact Z followed. What is going on here?
4. Generally, you do not want to be a passive reader; you want to be an active reader. A passive reader just tries to take things in, much the way a sponge absorbs water. An active reader is engaged in a give and take with the author. Understanding is enhanced with the give and take. Notice that we remember our conversations with people better than we remember what we have read. Why?





Vocabulary Quiz

What do each of the following words mean:

1. erudite
2. abrogate
3. circumnavigate
4. lexicon
5. plagiarize

If you can't recall, then look at the post on May 18, 2004 (scroll down).

Fact

The symbol on the "pound" key (#) is called an octothorpe.

Fact

Mark McGwire's record-setting 70 home runs in the 1998 season traveled a total of 29,598 feet, enough to fly over Mount Everest.

Ideas: 3 Questions

When debating, it is good to keep three questions in mind:

1. Compared to what?
2. At what cost?
3. Do you have any hard evidence?

Someone says that in a matter of 10 years the world will run out of oil. Ask: Do you have any hard evidence? In other words, there is a difference between opinion and fact. Hard evidence backs up facts only. This question -- Do you have any hard evidence? -- immediately establishes whether the person is stating an opinion or a fact.

Someone says that we should provide more schools, more books, more of everything. Ask: At what cost? We only want to do those things for which the benefits are greater than the costs. Should we build a park? There are certainly benefits to a park. But might the costs be higher? If so, we are better without the park. Anything is worth doing at zero cost, but zero cost doesn't usually exist. The question is whether what we want to do is worth the cost (greater than the cost). Keep in mind that there are benefits and costs for almost everything in life. Benefits and costs to going to school, to buying a computer, to getting a haircut, to sleeping, etc. Some people stress the benefits and forget the costs; other people stress the costs and forget the benefits. We want to consider both the benefits and the costs.

Someone says it is bad to get old. Ask: Compared to what? In other words, what is the alternative? We sometimes think X is bad, or wrong, or should be changed until we consider the alternatives to X. Suppose someone says that he doesn't like his job and that he wants to quit. Ask: What is the alternative? Is the alternative better than working? Is it better to not work and not have any money than to working and having money.

Quiz
What is the response to each of the following statements?

1. We ought to have free health care in the United States?
2. I hate my life.
3. The world will freeze over by 2020.

Answers:
1. What is the cost? Who will pay for this "free health care"?
2. What is the alternative to your life?
3. Do you have any hard evidence that what you say will happen will actually happen? Is this your opinion or an established fact.

News: Population

The following is from a United Nations report.

According to the medium-fertility scenario, which assumes fertility will stabilize at replacement levels of slightly above two children per woman, the world population will grow from 5.7 billion persons in 1995 to 9.4 billion in 2050, 10.4 billion in 2100, and 10.8 billion by 2150, and will stabilize at slightly under 11 billion persons around 2200.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Interesting Fact

If you go here, you will find the current population of the world.

News Item

Here is an article on terrorists and on c loning. (By the way, why do we have to write "on terrorists" and "on c loning"? Why can't we simply write: Here is an article on terrorists and cloning? Because this last sentence makes it sound like the topic is terrorists and cloning. Are the terrorists cloning people? No, that's not it at all. We have two different subjects here -- terrorism and cloning -- so we need the word "on" before each.) The article is by Peggy Noonan, who writes for The Wall Street Journal.) A possible topic for the written essay on the SAT I might be cloning. What do you see as the benefits and the costs of cloning? What are the advantages and disadvantages? On net, are you for or against cloning? Think about these questions as you read the piece. Here and there you will see my comments in brackets [].


Bada Bing? Bada Boom.
Tony Soprano worries about terrorism. So do I.

Thursday, May 13, 2004 12:01 a.m. EDT

I share an obsession with Tony Soprano. This startles me and makes me unhappy because it has been my experience that once my inner fears are echoed in the outer culture [this is a really nice phrase "inner fears echoed in the outer culture"], some kind of grim critical mass has been achieved, and trouble ensues [ensues means starts or begins]. (Does this sound oddly egocentric, even for a pundit? I think it may. Yet it's true.)

On Sunday's "The Sopranos," Tony stayed up one night channel-surfing. This is not unusual for Tony. His sins keep him awake [that is a good reason for not sinning; who wants to lose sleep?] . Or rather a perplexing question about his sins: Why has the committing of them become so joyless? Why don't they yield happiness?

He comes across a documentary about the potential use by terrorists of the nearby Port of Newark. The Port of Newark, the biggest port on the eastern seaboard, receives millions of ship containers each year; the feds [feds is the term used to speak about federal authorities] say they can check only 2%; terrorists could easily smuggle in a dirty nuke.

Tony becomes alarmed. He knows Port Newark. The mob is there, his people are there. It is corrupt, lazy, badly run [notice the nice parallelism in this sentence]. Suddenly he realizes there's nothing between his home and kaboom but a chain-link fence and a mall.

He shares his new anxiety with everyone, sounding like a crank. When a bartender doesn't respond with the appropriate anxiety Tony becomes enraged and beats him up. Tony has anger problems. So does al Qaeda.

Here's the obsession I share with Tony Soprano. The Port of Newark is my big fear. When I send out my intellectual radar screen to see what anxiety pings present themselves each day, Newark always comes up first. For Tony's reasons and others.
Port Newark is just beyond the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor. A hit on Newark would cause panic in al Qaeda's great target, New York--stock market crash, terror in the streets. A hit on Port Newark would deal a blow rich in practical and symbolic terms.

We know that members of al Qaeda are familiar with the Newark area. Many of the terrorists who hit the World Trade Center in 1993 lived in northern New Jersey.

But there's more and for me it's more central, and the reason my pings began. New Jersey is becoming the center, in America, of the movement for cloning. Its governor just signed the most liberal cloning bill in the United States. [If you want to read about the bill, go here.]There is money in cloning research, and status: We're the coming intellectual center of science! We're not just the Meadowlands and the mob, we're Princeton and Einstein! [What do you think of when you think of New Jersey? Some people think of smokestack factories; others think of Princeton and Einstein.] There is greater suburban affluence to be gained, and higher tax revenues for politicians to spend on community centers built through no-bid contracts by big contributors. The Robert Torricelli Psychotherapy Institute for the Differently Abled. The Jim McGreevey Carpal Tunnel Trauma Research Facility.

Whenever I think of cloning, I think of Sam Ervin during the Watergate hearings. He quoted the Bible to Richard Nixon's malefactors: "God is not mocked." Indeed he is not. Once we can have cloning, we will have cloning. Once we can have cloning we'll be cloning replacement-part humans to make new hearts for aging baby boomers. [Is this a benefit of cloning?] We'll throw the rest away [Is this a cost?], or mine these beings for other organs and elixirs. Once we have cloning, we'll start growing cloned armies [good or bad?]. Why shouldn't they fight for us? Once we have cloning, a lot of things will happen, including that we'll be opening the mouth of hell.

New Jersey is now so confused about what is important, what is needed, and what time it is in history, that they are not only bravely and quite mindlessly going forward on cloning; their political figures are in the news because they feel this is a helpful time to go head to head with the Roman Catholic Church. The Democratic leader of the state Senate has announced he'll leave the church because of its unfortunate stand against abortion. [The Catholic Church, as you know, is against abortion.] The governor, criticized by the church for his position on abortion, has announced he won't receive communion anymore. The church is in a hard place. American cardinals and bishops, afflicted by the sex-abuse scandals they allowed to fester, seem to have lost their standing to persuasively instruct Catholics on moral matters. Rome doesn't quite believe this, but it's true. And if Rome [the home of the Pope] directly involves itself--no one challenges John Paul's moral standing--it will look like the Vatican is meddling in American politics. Which won't play well in America, for about 28 reasons. In Kerry vs. the Vatican, Kerry would win.

But back to Jersey. Let us posit that its politicians are in politics; let us posit that they are not showily doing all this on the front page of the Newark Star-Ledger because they are deeply principled men in spiritual anguish; let us posit that they are pols who know the plays. Meaning they know the people of Jersey will approve of their stand, or at least not disapprove.

And they are, I believe, correct. Poor Jersey! When I was in high school and college there, it was, I believe, a more soulful place.

On "The Sopranos," one sees a plot twist being signaled: Tony and Carmella will stay together, and Tony will attempt to extricate himself from his life, removing himself and his family to the Hudson River Valley farm where he spent some happy boyhood summers. On the farm, in the last scene, he is smoking his cigar, full face to the camera. We are left to wonder if it will work. Will Tony find out that sin is a trap, that, as someone once said, happiness is a cat? (Chase it and it will run from you, sit quietly and do your work and it will come and curl itself at your feet.) [Remember this line: If you chase happiness, it will run; if you sit quietly and do your work, it will come to you. This seems a hard thing for people to learn. We find happiness by not looking or searching for it, but by getting on with our lives and our work.] We will be left to debate it the next day, at the HBO water cooler.

This being "The Sopranos," signaled plot twists are usually head fakes--we haven't seen the Essex County prosecutor in a while--but it makes sense. Because Tony wants to get away from Port Newark. He thinks the world has reached some terrible critical mass. He'll probably soon start talking about cloning. Being a mobster he would be a particular kind of conservative--aware of the bottom line, free of illusions about who human beings are, open in his own sick way to the idea of God, or at least the practical benefits to society of others believing in God--and would immediately intuit what cloning is. At least until A.J. needs a new kidney.

Here's the point: Bad things are coming, and we all know it. But most of us can't afford to buy a farm in the Hudson River Valley. Most of us can't afford to buy the safety of being far, far away on a lake in the mists. Many of us are stuck living near Port Newark.

What are we to do? This is the great domestic policy question of our time. Why doesn't our government provide us all with the means to survive an expected nuclear, biological or chemical attack? Why doesn't our government provide us with what I think of as a "get out of Dodge" kit--a protective suit, a regulation gas mask, information on which direction to walk in, or rather run in, and how soon, after Port Newark, or Times Square, or the Sears Tower, or the Shrine Auditorium, is hit? Why aren't they doing this?

More on that soon.

Quiz
1. The author mentions the night "The Sopranos" are on television. What night is it?
2. What port is being discussed? What is so special about this port?
3. The author uses the term "intellectural radar screen." What does this term mean?
4. The author hints at why the governor of New Jersey signed the cloning bill. What does she imply here?
5. Does the author think cloing is a good idea?


Answers
1. Sunday
2. The Port of Newark; it is the biggest prot on the eastern seaboard.
3. Think of how radar is used? To see if drivers are speeding. Think of Noonan holding out her radar detector and seeing what she finds in the area of intellectual pursuits.
4. She implies that with the cloning bill, New Jersey will become more high-tech. Here are the relevant thoughts from the article: "We're the coming intellectual center of science! We're not just the Meadowlands and the mob, we're Princeton and Einstein."
5. No