Saturday, January 30, 2016

[TITW] Massachusetts politics; suicide (and homicide); conformity, space, Native Americans voting in the USA

Massachusetts covers approximately 7,800 square miles, with 65% of state's landmass classified as rural (Census Bureau). The U.S. Census Bureau estimates Massachusetts' 2012 population at 6,646,144 people – over 700,000 of which live in rural areas.
-Rural Commission Services Report August 2013 - Mass.Gov
(That's approximately 10% of the population in "rural" areas.)

We don't elect ONLY Republican governors, but we do elect a lot. Deval Patrick, 2007-2015, was the first Democrat since Michael Dukakis, 1983-1991. And since our first Republican governor in 1858, we've had 103 years of Republican governors and 54 years of Democrat governors -- basically a 2:1 ratio.

You can get a sense of how it plays out by e.g. maps of the 2014 election results.

Re: (Republican, and only female, governor) Jane Swift, Wikipedia says:

Swift went on to serve as an executive with the Massachusetts Port Authority, and was later appointed by Governor Weld as Massachusetts' consumer affairs secretary in 1997. She served in that post until she won election as Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts in 1998, in a campaign that was notable not only for her relative youth but also for the fact that she was pregnant with her first child, whom she gave birth to just a few weeks before election day.

During her time as Lieutenant Governor, Swift faced a lot of scrutiny of her choices as a high-profile working mother.[9] She was especially criticized for using staff members to watch her daughter, and for her Massachusetts State Police detail's use of a helicopter to avoid Thanksgiving traffic en route to her home in The Berkshires when her baby was sick. In an ethics ruling that Swift herself requested, she was found to be in violation of state guidelines for the babysitting and she paid a fine of $1250, but she was cleared of wrongdoing on the question of the use of the helicopter and on allegations that staffers helped her move from one Boston-area apartment to another. [2]


suicides (and homicides) (male/female, Germany/US)

While suicide by firearms is far less prevalent in European countries than in the USA, men still have a far higher rate of completed suicide than women due -- largely driven by using more lethal means (e.g. hanging vs. self-poisoning).

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has a lot of stats about suicide in the USA, taken from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Data & Statistics Fatal Injury Report for 2014.

"For many years, the suicide rate has been about 4 times higher among men than among women (Figure 4). In 2014, men had a suicide rate of 20.7, and women had a rate of 5.8. Of those who died by suicide in 2014, 77.4% were male and 22.6% were female."

(The accompanying chart shows that suicide rates have been fairly constant from 2005-2014, with male suicide rates going up slightly over that time period.)

While Germany has a lower suicide rate than the USA (WHO, the World Health Organization, in 2012 lists Germany a suicide rate of 9.2 per 100,000 and the USA 12.2), the gendered differences are similar -- 14.5 male versus 4.1 female in Germany (about 3.5 times as many men as women) and 19.4 male vs. 5.2 female in the USA (about 3.7 times as many men as women ... consistent with the 2014 CDC data above).

If you want to learn more about the drivers behind these gendered differences, the Wikipedia article actually gives a good overview, with links to lots of scholarly research. For example, if you're interested in suicide methods in Europe (where firearms are less prevalent than in the USA) you can check out

Varnik, A; et al. "Suicide methods in Europe: a gender-specific analysis of countries participating in the European Alliance Against Depression". Journal of Epidemiology and Public Health 62 (6): 545–551. doi:10.1136/jech.2007.065391.

The World Bank lists "intentional homicide" rate in per 100,000 people in 2013 as 4 in the USA and 1 in Germany.

The UNODC (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime) has gender breakdowns:

Percentage of male and female homicide victims, latest year (Excel sheet) says: Germany (2011) 52.7% victims are male and 47.3% victims are female (so almost no difference). USA (2012) 77.8% victims are male and 22.2% victims are female (huge difference -- 3.5 times as many men as women).

Percentage of male and female homicide victims, time series 2000-2012 (also an Excel sheet) confirms the intuition that the data are consistent across time. In Germany, men are a little over 50% every year from 2004-2011 except in 2010 the ratio flips, and in the USA from 2002-2012 the male:female ratio is about 3:1. The 2012 USA stats are exactly the same as the 2011 USA stats, so the Germany-USA comparison data from the above paragraph can in fact be used for a within-year comparison.


The Stanford Prison Experiment

Asch, Milgram, and Zimbardo all did influential work on conformity in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s.

There have been a number of films about the Stanford prison experiment, including:

  • Quiet Rage: The Stanford Prison Experiment (1992), is a documentary about the experiment, made available via the Stanford Prison Experiment website. The documentary was written by Zimbardo and directed and produced by Ken Musen.[32]
  • [...]
  • The Experiment (2010), is a film released by Inferno Distribution which is an English-language remake of the 2001 film Das Experiment.
  • [...]
  • The Stanford Prison Experiment (released July 17, 2015) is another film based on the experiment.[33]


space (and Hamilton)

This post is the most recent thing I saw about casting in The Martian.

I can't find any more info about why Ridley Scott didn't want Matt Damon to lose so much weight (though one can intuit e.g. yo-yo dieting is terrible for your body). This Newsweek article seems to be the original interview.

(Oh hey, remember how Ridley Scott's Exodus: Gods and Kings movie had all white people?)

I couldn't find anything on Racialicious about The Martian casting, but I did find this post about Hamilton.

Official website of the Hamilton musical

compendium of #Ham4Hams (#Ham4Ham roughly = "hamming it up for Hamilton)

You can listen to the whole Original Broadway Cast Recording (OBCR) on YouTube here, and you can follow along with the annotated lyrics here.


Last year was pretty incredible for space exploration, with (among many other notable achievements) NASA announcing its plans to land humans on Mars in the 2030s, and then breaking the Internet when they put a call out for people to sign up.

But what you might not know is that the latest class of NASA astronauts, recruited in 2013 and already in training, will also be candidates for the first trip to Mars, and for the first time in NASA history, 50 percent of them are female.

It's well established by now that women make kick-ass astronauts (hello Sally Ride and Valentina Tereshkova), so that statistic shouldn't be particularly exciting or notable.

But given the fact that, as of 2011, females still only hold 24 percent of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics jobs in the US, it's a pretty huge deal, and it makes us even more hopeful about the future of Solar System exploration.


The class of is made up of eight recruits in total - Josh Cassada, Victor Glover, Tyler Hague, Christina Hammock, Nicole Aunapu Mann, Anne McClain, Jessica Meir, and Andrew Morgan - selected from a pool of around 6,100 applicants. That's a fierce 0.0013 percent success rate.

The application process alone took 18 months of rigorous medical and psychological testing, and the recruits are now going through two years of training before they'll officially join NASA's 46 currently active astronauts.

But what's really cool is that they're the first class to be candidates for the mission to Mars. "If we go to Mars, we'll be representing our entire species in a place we've never been before. To me it's the highest thing a human being can achieve," McClain told Ginny Graves in an exclusive interview for Glamour magazine at the end of last year.

That training, as you can imagine, is pretty intense, with the candidates learning how to fly T-38 supersonic jets, practicing walking around underwater in spacesuit that weigh 181 kg (400 pounds), and surviving what's called the vomit comet, which simulates weightlessness through freefall.

They're also being taught a whole bunch of general survival skills that might help them cope with the myriad things that could go wrong on the Red Planet, where the average temperature is –55 degrees Celsius (–67 F), there are giant dust storms, and astronauts will constantly be bombarded with cancer-causing ionising radiation.

-Science Alert


On the subject of the "cancer-causing ionising radiation"....

Nuclear weapons and accidents commonly release actinides, a group of radioactive elements at the bottom of the periodic table. Actinides such as plutonium, uranium and curium easily lock into our bones and organs, where they can emit radiation into our bodies for decades. Chemist Rebecca Abergel and colleagues at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, in California, have created molecules that bind to actinides to form large, stable complexes that are easier for the body to expel.


The Three-Body Problem

The book and the physics/classical mechanics problem.

The Wikipedia entry on the physics problem links to stuff like this Science article about solutions to the problem -- which includes helpful summary/overview:

The three-body problem dates back to the 1680s. Isaac Newton had already shown that his new law of gravity could always predict the orbit of two bodies held together by gravity—such as a star and a planet—with complete accuracy. The orbit is basically always an ellipse. However, Newton couldn't come up with a similar solution for the case of three bodies orbiting one another. For 2 centuries, scientists tried different tacks until the German mathematician Heinrich Bruns pointed out that the search for a general solution for the three-body problem was futile, and that only specific solutions—one-offs that work under particular conditions—were possible. Generally, the motion of three bodies is now known to be nonrepeating.

Specific repeating solutions have been hard to come by, however. The famed mathematicians Joseph-Louis Lagrange and Leonhard Euler had come up with some in the 18th century, but it wasn't until the 1970s, with a little help from modern computing, that U.S. mathematician Roger Broucke and French astronomer Michel Hénon discovered more. Until now, specific solutions could be sorted into just three families: the Lagrange-Euler family, the Broucke-Hénon family, and the figure-eight family, the last of which was discovered in 1993 by physicist Cristopher Moore at the Santa Fe Institute.

The figure-eight family is so called because it describes three objects chasing one another in a figure eight shape. The Lagrange-Euler solutions are simpler, with the equally spaced bodies going around in a circle like horses on a merry-go-round. The Broucke-Hénon solutions are the most complex: Two objects dash back and forth on the inside, while the third object orbits around the outside.

The discovery of 13 new families, made by physicists Milovan Šuvakov and Veljko Dmitrašinović at the Institute of Physics Belgrade, brings the new total to 16. "The results are beautiful, and beautifully presented," says Richard Montgomery, a mathematician at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who was not involved with the discovery.

Finding any solution is a daunting prospect. Three objects in space can be set off in infinite ways. Somehow, initial conditions—starting points, velocities, and so on—must be found that bring the objects back to those conditions so the whole dance can start over again.

The sci-fi novel draws heavily on the actual physics -- the below excerpt is a representative sample of how the Translator’s Notes cite actual published research.
Some years ago, Richard Montgomery of UCSC and Alain Chenciner of Université Paris Diderot discovered another stable, periodic solution to the three-body problem.30 Under appropriate initial conditions, the three bodies will chase each other around a fixed figure-eight curve. After that, everyone was keen to find such stable configurations, and every discovery was greeted with joy. Only three or four such configurations have been found so far.

But my evolutionary algorithm has already discovered more than a hundred stable configurations. Drawings of their orbits would fill a gallery with postmodern art, but that's not my goal. The real solution to the three-body problem is to build a mathematical model so that, given any initial configuration with known vectors, the model can predict all subsequent motion of the three-body system.

30. Translator's Note: For details, please see Alain Chenciner and Richard Montgomery, "A remarkable periodic solution of the three-body problem in the case of equal masses." Annals of Mathematics, 152 (2000), 881-901.

-p. 199


Native Americans voting in the USA

Because Native Americans are citizens of their tribal nations as well as the United States, and those tribal nations are characterized under U.S. law as "domestic dependent nations", a special relationship exists which creates a particular tension between rights granted via tribal sovereignty and rights that individual Natives retain as U.S. citizens. This status creates tension today, but was far more extreme before Native people were uniformly granted U.S. citizenship in 1924. Assorted laws and policies of the United States government, some tracing to the pre-Revolutionary colonial period, denied basic human rights—particularly in the areas of cultural expression and travel—to indigenous people.[1]
the Indian Citizenship Act which was created on June 24, 1924. This act showed progress in that Natives would not have to give up being a Native to be a citizen of the United States. This included being an enrolled member of a tribe, living on a federally recognized reservation, or practicing his or her culture.[51] However, this did not create the right to vote automatically.

Friday, January 8, 2016

[TITW] female surgeon generals, racist Oregon, "unmarked" American accents, Charles River bridges

(female) surgeon generals

There have been four female Surgeon Generals of the USA -- Antonia Novello (March 9, 1990 – June 30, 1993; under Bush+Clinton), Joycelyn Elders (September 8, 1993 – December 31, 1994; under Clinton), Audrey F. Manley (acting Surgeon General, 1 January 1995 – 1 July 1997; under Clinton), and Regina Benjamin (November 3, 2009 – July 16, 2013; under Obama) -- one Puerto Rican and the next three African-American from the Southeastern continental USA.

I still can't figure out exactly if you have to have been in armed services before you can be Surgeon General. Wiki says (among other things):

The Surgeon General is a commissioned officer in the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, one of the seven uniformed services of the United States, and by law holds the rank of vice admiral.[2] Officers of the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps are classified as non-combatants, but can be subjected to the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) and the Geneva Conventions when designated by the Commander-in-Chief as a military force or if they are detailed or assigned to work with the armed forces. Officer members of these services wear uniforms that are similar to those worn by the United States Navy, except that the commissioning devices, buttons, and insignia are unique. Officers in the U.S. Public Health Service wear unique devices that are similar to U.S. Navy, Staff Corps Officers (e.g., Navy Medical Service Corps, Supply Corps, etc.).

The only Surgeon General to actually hold the rank of a four-star admiral was David Satcher (born 1941, served 1998–2002). This was because he served simultaneously in the positions of Surgeon General (three-star) and Assistant Secretary for Health (which is a four-star office).[11] John Maynard Woodworth, (1837-1879, served 1871–1879), the first holder of the office as "Supervising Surgeon", is the only Surgeon General to not hold a rank.


"Oregon was founded as a racist utopia"

When Oregon was granted statehood in 1859, it was the only state in the Union admitted with a constitution that forbade black people from living, working, or owning property there. It was illegal for black people even to move to the state until 1926. Oregon’s founding is part of the forgotten history of racism in the American west.
-the opening paragraph of Matt Novak's "Oregon Was Founded As a Racist Utopia," 21 January 2015, Gizmodo
In 2002, a ballot measure passed which removed the language of racial exclusion from the constitution, and other racial references as well. You might imagine this would be a slam-dunk, nearly unanimous vote - but 29% voted against it
-Daniel Donner, "Oregon's not-so-pretty racist past is not yet history," 23 January 2015, Daily Kos
“Six percent of this city is black, but about a third of those shot by the police are African American,” he [Albina Ministerial Alliance Coalition for Justice and Police Reform chair, Reverend LeRoy Haynes] said.
-Chris McGreal, "Portland police's problem with race: 'This city is not as liberal as it thinks it is'," 20 September 2014, The Guardian

"unmarked" American accents

Natalie Baker-Shirer, an accent coach and acting teacher at Carngie Mellon University explains:
"Standard Speech" is spoken nowhere in America, as such. It is based on RP (British Received Pronunciation) which was adopted with American alterations in the early 20th century by linguist William Tilly. These alterations, this authentic "American" sound was loosely based on the speech of North Eastern population of the US. It was spoken by the cultured, well educated, well traveled people of the time. Listen to old movies to hear it.
Despite the common perception of there being a mainstream American accent that is free of any regional features or regional influence, the General American sound system does, in fact, have traceable regional origins: namely, the Northern speech patterns of the non-coastal Eastern United States,[24] including interior Pennsylvania, upstate New York, and the adjacent Midwestern region, prior to the Northern Cities Vowel Shift of the mid-20th century.[1][25]

The fact that a rural, broadly Midwestern dialect became the basis of what is General American English is often attributed to the mass migration of Midwestern farmers to California and the Pacific Northwest from where it spread,[citation needed] since California speech itself became prevalent in nationally syndicated films and media via the Hollywood film industry.

However, the English of the Midwest's Great Lakes region (as well as the region to its immediate west), since at least the middle of the 20th century, has begun deviating noticeably away from General American sounds, especially since that era's regionally unique Northern Cities Vowel Shift (NCVS). The regionality of one's accent often gets more distinct the farther north one goes within the Midwest, and the Midwest is even home now to at least two major dialects that definitively use pronunciations divergent from "General American": the Inland North dialect (often associated with the Great Lakes urban centers, including Chicago) and the North Central dialect (often associated with Minnesota, Wisconsin, and the Dakotas). The notion that Midwesterners generally speak a "more correct and more pleasant" or otherwise "accentless variety" of American English is a matter of perception and stereotype rather than truth.[26]

Particularly important in setting standards was John Kenyon, the pronunciation editor of the second edition of Webster's New International Dictionary, who is claimed to have based his dictionary's pronunciation standard on his native Midwestern (specifically, Ohio) pronunciation.[27]



Charles River bridges

Anderson Memorial Bridge is the technical name of the JFK/North Harvard Street Bridge (the one with the never-ending construction...).

The current project completion date is June 17, 2016. The proposed full beneficial use date is February 15, 2016. This will include the new traffic configuration of a total of 3 lanes of traffic (2 northbound and one southbound) as well as one bicycle lane. MassDOT’s contractor will still be installing precast elements once the bridge has been reopened to full traffic. At times, temporary traffic restrictions will be necessary during the precast stone work.
-Mass DoT
Construction started on May 30, 2012, so only approximately 4 years of construction...

And apparently the "Mass Ave." Bridge is the Harvard Bridge (named for the same John Harvard that the School is named for).

Wikipedia has a List of crossings of the Charles River, though most of them are just named for the actual street.