Archive for November, 2010

Is what I know actually true?

November 29, 2010

This is a sort of ‘big-think’ post: big as in an overview of the way I think and what I think about, not as in international politics, although I will be discussing international politics.  There will be a scattering of links but this post is about my opinions.

I am writing it to learn what I think about certain things and to see if they seem rational.  For this reason, although I will engage in some revising before I post, I do not promise a rational train of thought. This could well be a Grand Canyon style set of curves and twists, although likely as shallow as the Grand Canyon is deep.

I am in an email debate with a coworker about evolution and creationism.  I am convinced his views and claims have no merit.  There are a few points where I can see why is confused while still denying there is room for confusing.

I recently read a post on Facebook from a ‘friend of a friend’ (this is the literal term used) about how the North Koreans were provoked by the US and that the US and South Korea engineered the sinking of the Cheonan.

Last March, North Korea was falsely blamed for sinking a South Korean ship, a topic an earlier article addressed, accessed through the following link:

[link removed – find it in the original article]

Seoul said there’s “no other plausible explanation….The evidence points overwhelmingly to the conclusion that (a) torpedo was fired by a North Korean submarine,” even though none was detected in the area.

At the time, evidence suggested a false flag, manufactured to blame the North. The incident occurred near Baengnyeong Island opposite North Korea. US Navy Seals and four US ships were conducting joint exercises in the area. The torpedo used was German, not North Korean as claimed. Germany sells none to Pyongyang. Yet it was blamed for what it didn’t do, what apparently was Pentagon-manufactured mischief.

I am convinced these claims have no merit.

Articles likethis have me confused:

I have found at least something to like about each Republican or Democrat I have met. I have close friends in both camps, in which I have observed the following: no matter the issue under discussion, both sides are equally convinced that the evidence overwhelmingly supports their position.

During the run-up to the 2004 presidential election, while undergoing an fMRI bran scan, 30 men–half self-described as “strong” Republicans and half as “strong” Democrats–were tasked with assessing statements by both George W. Bush and John Kerry in which the candidates clearly contradicted themselves. Not surprisingly, in their assessments Republican subjects were as critical of Kerry as Democratic subjects were of Bush, yet both let their own candidate off the hook.

The neuroimaging results, however, revealed that the part of the brain most associated with reasoning–the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex–was quiescent. Most active were the orbital frontal cortex, which is involved in the processing of emotions; the anterior cingulate, which is associated with conflict resolution; the posterior cingulate, which is concerned with making judgments about moral accountability; and–once subjects had arrived at a conclusion that made them emotionally comfortable–the ventral striatum, which is related to reward and pleasure.

I am convinced that the US government has lied many times and consistently on several specific subjects.  I believe that they attacked Iraq simply because they could.  There was no evidence of recent use or creation of WMDs.  Just about everything we were told was a lie.  I am more accepting of claims made about Afghanistan but still distrust most everything I hear about US foreign policy.

And yet I accept almost everything I read about North Korea and see the Americans, and the South Koreans, as the good guys who don’t have any special reason to do wrong.  The North Korean government is evil and I can’t recall hearing of them doing anything that I approve of.

If I read or heard that sentence describing anything else, I would consider the writer or speaker to be simple or naive.

I do want to think of myself as rational and not overly set in my ways.  I like to think of myself as open to new ideas and have made an effort online to admit, on occasion, when I was wrong.

There was a blog in the old days called incestuous amplification.  The name referred to the way people with set viewpoints only read media that agreed with them so their own views were strengthened artificially.

The internet and other media all seem consistent in their vilifying of North Korea.  Defectors all tell stories varying only in how horrifying the conditions there are.  Still, people escaping a country can hardly be expected to describe it glowingly.

These same defectors are treated poorly here in South Korea.  They are watched with suspicion and can only find menial jobs.

North Korean pronouncements seem almost comical in their unrestrained attacks on South Korea and the US- so comical that I can easily imagine they have been doctored by translators.  And yet, I do see vicious verbal attacks followed by demands that the South give them more aid and reopen factories based on North Korean soil.  They seem crazy, but their demands are often met.

Is there anyway my reader(s) could imagine the North Koreans are not the total bad guys I believe them to be?


Again with the farming pictures

November 29, 2010

The end of November is a pretty desolate one at a farm.

Is cabbage a flower? By the end of the weekend, I had begun to love these guys.

By the time I had finished loading these bags of cabbage my fondness was as an all-time low.  I need to brag now; every single bag on that trailer I lifted and placed.  Every one.

Perhaps we pencil pushers live sad lives if this is all I have to brag about.

My son ‘helped’ drive the tractor.

Dang vandals cutting the heads off the radish!

Actually, my in-laws did that just prior to picking.  Apparently they want the radish to dry out a little.

North Korea shells YeonPyeong Island

November 23, 2010

The Marmot wasn’t nervous,

How’s this: North Korea shows off an advanced uranium enrichment program, special envoy Stephen Bosworth calls it the worst North Korean provocation in 20 years, South Korean defense minister Kim Tae-young is talking about the reintroduction of US tactical nukes to South Korea… and I still can’t bring myself to care.

But now he is:

Local news is reporting that North Korea has fired some 50 shells at the West Sea island of Yeonpyeong-do, with South Korea firing 30 rounds in return.

More worrying, some of the North Koreans shells reportedly landed on the island itself, destroying about 60—70 homes and fields. The island’s population has also reportedly taken shelter. No word on casualties.

This is not good. This is not good at all.

I, too, am a little nervous.

Still, this doesn’t feel like the prelude to a deliberate attack.  The North isn’t a democracy that needs to sway it’s citizens with news of being attacked or the like to whip them into a frenzy before launching a real attack.  If they wanted to attack, they would doubtless do so across many fronts at once; across the full length of the DMZ and with hijacked container ships at many harbors and with local agents spreading chaos.  If there was a plan, it would contain some of the above aspects, not the shelling of a single island.

Still, shelling an island is pretty stupid.  Since I can’t see any reason for it, I must assume the North Koreans are crazy and then, who can expect a reasonable attack plan from crazy people?

More news from the Herald, the Times, The Chosun and the Joongang.

The herald reports one ROK soldier killed and the other sources report only injured casualties, including civilians.

Atheism and autism

November 19, 2010

According to a Scientific American article, people with autism are less likely to invoke God to explain events in their lives.

Bethany T. Heywood, a graduate student at Queens University Belfast, asked 27 people with Asperger’s syndrome, a mild type of autism that involves impaired social cognition, about significant events in their lives. Working with experimental psychologist Jesse M. Bering (author of the “Bering in Mind” blog and a frequent contributor to Scientific American MIND), she asked them to speculate about why these important events happened—for instance, why they had gone through an illness or why they met a significant other. As compared with 34 neurotypical people, those with Asperger’s syndrome were significantly less likely to invoke a teleological response—for example, saying the event was meant to unfold in a particular way or explaining that God had a hand in it. They were more likely to invoke a natural cause (such as blaming an illness on a virus they thought they were exposed to) or to give a descriptive response, explaining the event again in a different way.

In a second experiment, Heywood and Bering compared 27 people with Asperger’s with 34 neurotypical people who are atheists. The atheists, as expected, often invoked anti-teleological responses such as “there is no reason why; things just happen.”

Some experts theorize that certain schizophrenia symptoms (for instance, paranoia) arise in part from a hyperactive sense of social reasoning. “I’d guess that they’d give lots of teleological answers; more than neurotypical people, and certainly far more than people with Asperger’s,” Heywood says.

As an atheist and probably not an …autist, I much prefer the responses of respondents with Asperger’s Syndrome to those of the atheists.  A very reasonable response to “Why were you sick?” is “I was exposed to a virus.”  The atheist’s “There is no reason why”, is ridiculous.

I enjoy reading Scientific American and respect it but I have to wonder about the reporting in this case.  The article reports there were two studies and I would want to see the actual questions asked.

I am not disputting that people with Asperger’s Syndrome and atheists may have similar worldviews, but I, well, hope, that atheists can provide better answers than those given.

Is this from one of my students?

November 18, 2010

If this survey had been written by one of my students, I would have been very impressed.  it wasn’t, but rather written by a native English speaker living in the US and completing her masters Degree.  This survey is part of her degree work.


I should admit that my own blog is full of little errors and I even spent a little time before writing this post in making corrections. Still, there is nothing formal about this blog.

I should also admit that I wouldn’t have noticed or picked on it if it weren’t written about religion.

Alright, enough with the disclosures.  Here are the three questions that bothered me (the most). I copied and pasted them and lost a lot of the formatting.  I am unable to take the survey again so I cannot return for a screen shot.

6. Please select if your degree is in one of these medical-related areas:

Please select if your degree is in one of these medical-related areas:

Medical Degree (eg, MD, DO, DDS, other)

t.gifNursing Degree (eg, LVN, LPN, RN, NP, other)

t.gifProfessional Doctoral Degree in Science/Medicine/Health Services (eg, PharmD, PhD, other)

t.gifComplementary & Alternative Medical Field Professions

t.gifNone of these

14. Should your physician ask about your beliefs and spirituality when coordinating your routine medical care?

Should your physician ask about your beliefs and spirituality when coordinating your routine medical care?

Strongly Agree




t.gifStrongly Disagree


15. Should your physician ask about your beliefs and spirituality when coordinating end-of-life medical care?

Should your physician ask about your beliefs and spirituality when coordinating end-of-life medical care?

Strongly Agree




t.gifStrongly Disagree


Question 6 asks me to select one of the choices IF I am involved in medical-related areas.  The survey then refused to go on to the next page unless I selected one of the choices.  The question is clearly poorly written.

The next two questions, #s 14 & 15, are should questions which surely require a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ answer.  I could agree that it is a good question, but not respond to the question itself in terms of agreement.  What a mess.


Via Pharyngula

flailing away at the farm

November 17, 2010

I’d read about flails in history class and a character or two of mine in Dungeons and Dragons used them.  I’d even described some rookie swimmers as flailing about in the pool.

Last weekend, I finally got to try one for myself.

education blogs and news

November 17, 2010

Views from the whiteboard has reminded me that the Edublog awards are being decided now.

An ESL teacher inKorea seems to be nominated for Best New Blog.  Kringlish Kids.

I can’t tell if English Teacher Melanie works in Korea and there is no reason that she should feel the need to, but she is nominated for Best Resource Sharing Blog and her material seems quite useful.

Check the awards link for more details.


In other news, here is an interesting claim that might convince your students to study after the test!

Via Kottke and Why Evolution is True comes news of research that seems to defend some claims of psychic powers.

In a review of the article from new scientist, The journal of Personality and Social Psychology, “Bem took well-studied psychological phenomena and simply reversed the sequence, so that the event generally interpreted as the cause happened after the tested behaviour rather than before it.”

From New Scientist:

In one experiment, students were shown a list of words and then asked to recall words from it, after which they were told to type words that were randomly selected from the same list. Spookily, the students were better at recalling words that they would later type.

In another study, Bem adapted research on “priming” — the effect of a subliminally presented word on a person’s response to an image. For instance, if someone is momentarily flashed the word “ugly”, it will take them longer to decide that a picture of a kitten is pleasant than if “beautiful” had been flashed. Running the experiment back-to-front, Bem found that the priming effect seemed to work backwards in time as well as forwards.

Coyne, at Why Evolution is true doesn’t immediately dismiss the research:

1.  They’re real: we have previously unsuspected abilities to detect the future.

2.  They’re fraudulent: Bem rigged the experiment or made up the data.  I’m assuming this isn’t the case.

3.  They’re wrong because of some flaw in the experiment (or in the computer programs) that made these results artifactual.

4.  The results are statistical outliers that got published simply because they represent one of those cases in which we reject the null hypothesis (i.e., the hypothesis that we have no ability to predict the future), even though it’s true. This is called a “type one error” in statistics.  When experimental results give such an error of 5% or less (i.e., exceed the “significance threshold”), scientists do reject the null hypothesis and claim that something else is going on (in this case, that there’s precognition).  But with a threshhold of 5%, you’ll make a mistake one time in twenty.  (That’s the basis of the old science joke, “95% of your experiments fail;the other 5% you publish in Nature.”)


cyclist killed by motorist – motorist sues family of cyclist

November 16, 2010

Two stories about the legal dangers of cycling. Both from an article in Grist.

First, a motorist, passing another car at 80 mph in a 45 mph zone struck and killed a teenage cyclist.  From prison, he is suing the boy’s parents.

It’s about a man serving a 10-year sentence for killing a 14-year-old boy with his car in Prospect, Conn. The boy, Matthew Kenney, was riding his bike in the road when, according to prosecutors, David Weaving tried to overtake another vehicle at 83 miles per hour in a 45-hour zone. He was convicted of manslaughter in the case.

Now Weaving is suing the boy’s family for not making their son wear a helmet…


Second, a banker in Colorado struck a cyclist and fled the scene. The DA has chosen to show lenience to the driver, as to do otherwise could hurt the man’s business.

This comes just days after a story out of Colorado landed in my inbox numerous times. That one, which was written up in multiple venues, involves a high-end financial manager named Martin Joel Erzinger, who allegedly hit a man on a bicycle with his car and then fled the scene. Erzinger was allowed by the Eagle County District Attorney to avoid a felony charge in the case:

[the original article is quoting someone here and I cannot nest the indents] “Felony convictions have some pretty serious job implications for someone in Mr. Erzinger’s profession, and that entered into it,” Hurlbert said. “When you’re talking about restitution, you don’t want to take away his ability to pay.”

The second one does sound like what happens in Korea when the families of Chaebol owners face justice.

Libel reform; a big deal in the UK

November 11, 2010

Here in Korea, stating something that harms-financially or otherwise- a business or group, even if it is true, is legally actionable.

The Marmot and Brian in Jeollamando have discussed the issue.  I recall a case a few years back where a hagwon ESL teacher complained in print about his school.  He was then sued.  After a very quick search I was unable to find posts on the story at the above blogs.

In the UK, similar problems exist and were brought to light in the case of Simon Singh and the British Chiropractic Association.  From the Guardian:

Singh was sued by the BCA for a piece he wrote in the Guardian‘s comment pages, criticising the association for defending chiropractors who use treatments for which there is little evidence on children with conditions such as colic and asthma.

Now Pharyngula, and doubtless other blogs and citizens in the UK, are pushing for libel reform.

This week is the first anniversary of the report Free Speech is Not for Sale, which highlighted the oppressive nature of English libel law. In short, the law is extremely hostile to writers, while being unreasonably friendly towards powerful corporations and individuals who want to silence critics.

The English libel law is particular dangerous for bloggers, who are generally not backed by publishers, and who can end up being sued in London regardless of where the blog was posted. The internet allows bloggers to reach a global audience, but it also allows the High Court in London to have a global reach.

I am uncertain of the value of signatures on a petition from out of the UK, but there is a petition here, if you’re so inclined.

I am now going to play the foreigner card and cowardly suggest that this kind of reform needs to take place here and ask if any Koreans are willing to get to work on it…I will watch and cheer you on.

Student’s rights …including to cheat?

November 11, 2010

UPDATED: A Professor in Florida claimed that a third of his students cheated.  It now appears he has been using the same exam for many years and the so-called cheaters may simply have studied previous exams.  Notes here and here (a video of Professor Quin with annotations from students). From the former link:

The perception of exactly what happened leading up to the midterm has become a point of contention. What is clear is that some students gained access to a bank of tests that was maintained by the publisher of the textbook that Quinn used. They distributed the test to hundreds of their fellow students, some of whom say they thought they were receiving a study guide like any other — not a copy of the actual test.

Several students have protested that they had no intention to cheat. These students say that they only became aware that they had more information than they should have when they took the actual test, realized they had seen the questions before, and knew the answers. Leading up to the exam, some said they were simply making use of available resources to study, as the editors of the Central Florida Future, the student newspaper at UCF, wrote in a recent editorial. “These students studied pertinent material and earned high grades,” the editors wrote, marking the paper’s more muted stance on the issue after initially condemning the students. “This same information could have most likely been found in their textbook or course material. At this point, we’re not sure whether this constitutes cheating.”



I saw two interesting articles about students and teaching today.

The first was about a Florida college Professor who found a third of his students cheated on a test. It is a video, but I will transcribe a few interesting bits.

“As many as 200 students got the answers to a midterm test in advance.” This clearly is a large cheating scandal and I can’t recall how big the one in BC, Canada a few years ago was.  One question I have is ‘How did the students get the answers in advance?’  If the professor left them in the classroom, for example, I would still say the students cheated but they would not be as morally wrong as if they had broken into the prof’s office or hacked his computer.

“The professor used statistics to determine exactly who cheated…” That’s interesting and kind of cool.

“Closed circuit cameras run throughout the testing centers.”

“Professor Quinn has given the cheating students a choice.  Confess by midnight tonight and take an ethics seminar or stay quiet and risk expulsion.”

Student: This is college.  Everyone cheats and everyone cheats in life…. They’re making a witch-hunt…as if it’s to teach us some kind of moral lesson.

I’d say this student needs a few moral lessons.

For the record, I never cheated in university and I have the grades to prove it.


The second article is one translated by Korea Beat.  Teachers no longer have the right to use corporal punishment and the article makes them seem lost.  Is half of teacher’s college here about how best to beat someone?  The teachers seem incapable of thinking of alternatives.

At high school “A” in Seoul on the 1st, a student who was scolded for acting up replied, “there’s no corporal punishment starting today, right? We have cellphones.” The student continued, “you can’t make me kneel down either, so you can’t make me pay attention to the lesson.” A teacher at high school “B”, which has introduced a system of demerits, handed out demerits to a student found using a cellphone during class, and the student started a physical tussle. The student said, “how can you give me demerits if you can’t hit my legs and take away the phone like in the past?” The teacher added, “there’s no corporal punishment anymore somany more students are acting up in class.”

I had no idea that taking a cell phone was a form of corporal punishment.

Schools have been offered two alternatives to corporal punishment: self-reflection rooms and a demerit system.

However, teachers believe the operation of self-reflection rooms to be difficult. A teacher at middle school “E” said, “there is no space to use for a self-reflection room and nobody has been selected to oversee it… I’m worried that sending students to the room will violate their educational rights.” Many pointed out the limits of demerits as an alternative to corporal punishment.

I guess someone does need to ensure the student actually does go to the room and not to the soccer field or the like.  I somehow get the feeling that no one planned ahead for this.  I have some sympathy for the lack of planning.  Corporal punishment was a barbaric system and should have been stopped as soon as possible, even if alternatives were not fully worked out.  Firemen don’t keep families in burning buildings because a proper reception committee isn’t ready on the street.

Still, people have been discussing banning corporal punishment for years.  Has no one really run a test program to see what alternatives worked?

On the subject of demerits, I have sympathy with the teachers.  At a recent camp, I had one student very quickly work himself into a deep hole demerit-wise.  Once you reach minus 1000, there is little incentive to try to recover.

The Seoul Office of Education plans, by the end of December, to place counsellors in schools that are having trouble implementing self-reflection rooms. An official with the Office said, “we will provide information related to self-reflection rooms… we emphasize that the first place for students to be counselled is in the classroom, and letters of apology may be written in the self-reflection rooms.”

At the schools some called this “too late”. One middle school teacher said, “there is no manual that instructs us how to handle every issue… teachers are worried students will cut class.”

The Korean Federation of Teachers’ Associations (한국교원단체총연합회) sent a letter that day saying, “public education is not being upheld when there is no way to punish students who interrupt class and infringe on other students’ educational rights.”

I like the plans the Seoul Office of Education has, but they would be better implemented now, it would seem.

On the “There is no manual that instructs us how to handle every issue” issue: Are Korean teachers really so unable to think for themselves?

I guess I can commend the KFTA on staying on-message.  They are a teacher’s union and the students are not their concern. Read the end of the article to learn more about the KFTA.

I am trying to remember my elementary school days and how discipline worked.  I think that, in the main, it never occurred to me to rebel. If, or probably when, I did need disciplining, my parents were completely willing to back up the teachers and if the teachers felt I needed discipline, my parents would mete it out.  Thanks, mom, if you’re reading this.

At my school the rumour was that the Principal, Mr Mahon,  had a heavy, thick strap in his office, but the only person rumour said he used it on was his son.

We did have a pretty active phys. ed. program and our recesses were frequent enough and long enough that we burned off a lot of excess energy outside of class.

ADDED the next day:  apparently, corporal punishment still goes on in Alabama.

From WHNT News:

Payton attends Plainview Elementary and is in the seventh grade. Recently, Lewis claims her son came home from school with severe bruises and welts on his behind. Melissa Lewis said her son was upset, “Mom look at my butt and see if there is something wrong with it? He dropped his pants and I said wow what happened? He said I got paddled because I did not pass my science test.”

WHNT NEWS 19 took Lewis’ concerns to Plainview Elementary Principal Ronald Bell. We asked Bell if there were any specific rules surrounding the severity of paddling and what he considers excessive. He couldn’t give us a definitive answer but did say teachers need to be mindful when using physical force. Bell said, “Every time you draw back a paddle that is something that needs to be on the mind of the teacher that’s doing the paddling.”

WHNT NEWS 19 called the DeKalb County Superintendent’s office more than a dozen times to ask about the rules and regulations surrounding corporal punishment. They refused to answer our questions but did say they follow Alabama state laws. We called the Alabama Department of Education and officials told WHNT NEWS 19 that corporal punishment “is authorized under the policies and guidelines developed by the local board of education.”

Via Pharyngula and I note the poll at the WHNT website still shows around 50% accept corporal punishment even after Pharyngulation – Pharyngula’s readers love to attack such polls and there are lots of them.


On a completely different subject, I saw an interesting audio illusion online.  Here is the video.  It’s remarkable how much your eyes control what you think you hear.