The Bog:
sphagnum moss, dark water, and politics
Saturday, February 22, 2003
A few weeks ago Ampersand blogged about an analysis of the affirmative action situation by Goodwin Liu, work which argued that the effect on white applicants was miniscule - barely significant only for poorly qualified folks. Therefore, actual litigants are generally going to be people who due to their limited qualifications didn't really get in anywhere - at least anywhere they would have hoped - and don't have the psychological disincentive to litigate that getting into their second or third choice would supposedly give them, but rather a wounded sense of privilage. In Liu's words:
A white applicant who seeks admission to a particular school, but is displaced by affirmative action, is necessarily one who has come very close to being admitted. If an applicant of that caliber were to apply to several comparable schools, it seems improbable that she would be rejected in every instance . . . Such an applicant makes an unlikely plaintiff. If, for example, a white student applies to ten selective schools and, though rated highly at each school, is rejected by all but one or two, the applicant may have legitimate grounds for complaining that she was displaced as a result of affirmative action. But because she has gained admission to one or two schools of comparable quality, her incentive (and, I suspect, psychological urge) to file a lawsuit is considerably attenuated. In this regard, it is interesting to note that in 1973, Allan Bakke failed to gain admission not only to the Davis Medical School, but also to ten other medical schools to which he applied. Bakke, like most white applicants and plaintiffs, was not close to the cusp. (Page 1094).
A NY Times article on the Michigan plantiffs suggests major modifications are necessary but that Liu is still on to something even here. In this case, all three seem do seem to have had respectable grades and scores. However, they all had unusual circumstances in regard to admission elsewhere.
All three plaintiffs acknowledge that they had been relatively confident they would be admitted to Michigan and had done little to line up comparable backup choices. (emphasis added)
Mr. Hamacher saw his options as "U. Michigan and everyone else." Ms. Gratz
also had little in the way of choices. She had applied to one other selective college, Notre Dame, but only as a lark at the last minute, she said. She was rejected there, and for that she blames herself for spending only two weeks on her application, compared with the three months she spent perfecting her submissions to Michigan.
Ms. Grutter, a wife and mother, needed a law school close to home and only applied to Michigan and Wayne State; she was accepted at the latter but turned it down due to program deficiencies.

Both Mr. Hamacher and Ms. Gratz attended college elsewhere, and have done decently in life, but with regrets. Mr. Hamacher considered attending one of the regional colleges - Saginaw State, anyone? - until he was suddenly recruited for the Michegan State baseball team. While he decribes his time there as a rewarding experience that put him on a path to public service - he's currently working in the city recreation budget office in Flint and taking grad courses at night - he still 'wonders what might have been" and says "I was never able to choose." Ms. Gratz attended the University of Michegan at Dearborn and is now managing a tech company in San Diego, but says the rejection made her lose confidence and give up her dream of being a doctor before she even started college; she describes her experience as "a failure."
In all three cases, they all seemed to presume admission was a given, and when the rejection came there were no alternatives considered desirable; with what appears to be good qualifications they managed to create a situation akin to what Liu describes. While the articles doesn't really focus on Ms. Grutter, with the other two there is also a clear sense of lost opportunities and deep regret that would be a powerful motivator towards seeking a redress of grievances.

posted by Dan S. on 11:54 PM | | link

A "litigious society" . . .
Documents dredged up in a current lawsuit show that Bayer knew its anti-cholesterol drug Baycol had serious problems years before it was pulled from the market due to FDA pressure.
The documents, made public by lawyers suing Bayer, include e-mail messages, memos and sworn depositions of executives that suggest that Bayer promoted the drug, Baycol, even as a company analysis found that patients on Baycol were falling ill or dying from a rare muscle condition much more often than patients on similar drugs
Roughly 100 deaths and 1600 injuries.

Jesica Santillan died today. In case you haven't been watching the news, her family had themselves smuggled into the U.S. from Mexico so the ailing girl could receive treatment for a life-threatening heart condition. She waited three years for a heart and lungs to become available for the necessary transplant operation. Instead of life, though, the doctors gave her organs of the wrong blood type, a mix-up that put her on life support in a "coma-like state." They carried out a second operation, after which she suffered brain damage, complications, and finally death.

[The hospital's chief executive, Dr.] Fulkerson said [Dr.] Jaggers wrongly assumed compatibility had been confirmed when he was offered the organs, and later failed to double-check that assumption, a violation of the hospital's procedures. (from the Philly Inquirer)
One girl, age 17.

Since the Columbia disaster, Nasa and contracter Boeing have been insisting that the shuttle was expected to return safely despite possible tile damage. Thanks to news agencies wielding the Freedom of Information Act, NASA has now released an e-mail from a safety engineer writing two days before the accident worrying that the shuttle might be in "marginal" condition and that others at NASA were not adequately considering risks from a breech near its left wheels (his concerns focused on landing problems).

"We can't imagine why getting information is being treated like the plague," the engineer wrote in one of a series of messages describing internal concerns about Columbia's safety in the days before its Feb. 1 breakup.
The reply?
I really appreciate the candid remarks. As always your points have generated extremely valuable discussion in our group. Thank you. We have been discussing and continue to discuss the all possible scenarios, signatures and decisions. Your input is beneficial.
Michael P. Anderson, David M. Brown, Laurel Clark, Kalpana Chawla, Rick D. Husband, William C. McCool, and Ilan Ramon

posted by Dan S. on 10:24 PM | | link

Give me an "A", give me an "N" . . .
In today's New York Times article about Bush and the environment, the writer ponders
How, then, to sort out the rival assessments on issues so complicated that they are commonly referred to in shorthand, by names like Kyoto, Superfund and ANWR?
I could be wrong, but last I looked, besides general reportage, the folks using primarily "ANWR" for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge are mostly all on one side - that is, the side that wants to drill there. Typing ANWR into Yahoo, I get - "an organization working to expedite approval of oil exploration in the refuge," the Teamsters Online, and Jonah Goldberg going on (ca. 2001) about how the coastal plain is a really ugly, unpleasant, mosquito-ridden place. Wasteland vs. pristine wilderness - what a debate. Goldberg does repeat a good point, one developed in Cronin's Uncommon Ground: using words like "pristine" effectively erases people from the landscape. This is something environmentalists have to grapple with more, especially when the folks involved may have different goals in mind. Which shouldn't be taken to mean that the forces of development won't happily crap on the indigenous people of their choice if there's the slightest bit of profit in it.

Yahoo also bounced up an interesting site, possibly no longer being updated -, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Development News: "This site has been established by and for the many concerned Prudhoe Bay BP operators who fear for their lives and the environment due to violations of Government regulations and requirements by BP."

posted by Dan S. on 9:19 PM | | link

Thursday, February 20, 2003
Coming up:
More on the "GE's just another word for any kind of food" fallacy,
white privilage and what it means to be an American,
lead - it's no longer what's for dinner,
and affirmative atheism. yay!

posted by Dan S. on 10:00 PM | | link

Pour it in a glass and call it good whisky . . .
From Emma's Late Night Thoughts, part of her Advice to the Democratic Party:
The ongoing scramble for position by those who would be president augurs another season of the merry slimeball fight the party engages in every four years; by the time the survivor gets to the actual election he looks like he's been trampled by slugs. And the poor bastard gets there just in time to be eaten alive by the Republican attack machine, while his own party squeals in fright and runs in the other direction (Sorry, Al!).
It's a horrible thing, but oh, what a great image!

posted by Dan S. on 9:48 PM | | link

Wednesday, February 19, 2003
. . . he said, sitting on a pile of disputed Florida ballots . . .
Regarding the enormous antiwar protests this last weekend, Bush
said "democracy is a beautiful thing," and he supported the dissenters' right to express their views. But he said the protests would not influence his decisions or those of British Prime Minister Tony Blair, his closest ally.

"You know, the size of protests is like deciding, well, I'm going to decide policy based upon a focus group," Bush said. "The role of a leader is to decide policy based upon the security - in this case, the security of the people." (from the Philadelphia Inquirer)
First off, let me say that the underlying principle ( at least, what the New York Times describes as the underlying principle ) - that leadership sometimes involved bucking public opinion - is a valid one.

Ok, now that the minimum consensus is out of the way . . .

First off, no matter how sensible a principle it might be, that analogy between protesters and focus groups speaks volumes.about Bush’s vision of democracy. Toning it down a few notches, at the very least it’s an offhand dismissal of a suprisingly strong and socially diverse - no, not just the usual subjects! - movement. Of course, the man does live in one of those alternative histories, the one where the past-fading-into-myth doesn’t ring with the sound of folk songs and protests chants, the one that doesn’t find its moral examplar in The March, the one in Washington. . .
Secondly. A man who lost the popular vote, whose election was hotly contested - to make a stab at impartiality (my left hand is busy trying to type stronger stuff) - goes on record saying "The role of a leader is to decide policy based upon the security - in this case, the security of the people." Now, we all want security, true, and golly, I’m not even one of those folks who went all a-trembly over Bush’s early and marginally funny "dictator" joke, but . . .

There does seem to be a fair bit of non-democracy in the air. This last November, Interior Dept. officials were flooded with letters and e-mails overwhelmingly in favor of Clinton’s proposed ban on snowmobiles in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. They responded by quite loudly and pointedly saying that it didn’t matter, not like they’re a democracy or anything . . . (see, if you have $2.95 to spare, the New York Times "Flooded With Comments, Officials Plug Their Ears". Sure, it’s a complex issue; democracy needs its safeguards, but sometimes it’s the way you say something . . .

posted by Dan S. on 11:31 PM | | link

Biotech roundup
You coulda read it here first . . .
Interesting NY Times editorial today on Roundup-resistant weeds and the shortsightedness of industrial agriculture. Posted something about it here, almost a month ago . . .

"Open-source molecular agronomy"
There's a really interesting piece from Nature: "Public-sector research into classical crop breeding is withering, supplanted by 'sexier' high-tech methods. But without breeders' expertise, molecular-genetic approaches might never bear fruit.." It discusses some of the possible technological and institutional limitations of genetic engineering, brushes off some of the sucesses of conventional crop breeding forgotten or overlooked in the glare of transgenic celebrity, and offers an hopeful vision of a best-of-both-worlds future:
One beacon of hope comes from a consortium of researchers at 12 institutions headed by Jorge Dubcovsky, a wheat molecular geneticist at the University of California, Davis. Its primary tool is 'marker assisted selection' (MAS). This technique, enthusiasts claim, could offer to plant breeding what the jet engine has brought to air travel. Traditionally, breeders have relied on visible traits to select improved varieties. For pest resistance, for example, that means examining mature plants in the field over successive generations to see which survive best in the face of attack by pests, before carrying out new crosses. MAS, however, relies on identifying marker DNA sequences that are inherited alongside a desired trait during the first few generations. Thereafter, plants that carry the trait can be picked out quickly by looking for the marker sequences, allowing multiple rounds of breeding to be run in quick succession.

Superior breeding. MASwheat, as the consortium is known, aims to select for 23 separate traits in wheat, conferring resistance to fungi, viruses and insect pests. Its members also hope to breed the grain to produce bread and pasta of superior quality. Notably, the consortium is making all of its marker sequences and research protocols freely available. "If you go to our website, you have all the tools to do this anywhere in the world," Dubcovsky says.

For wheat, this admirably open approach was relatively easy to adopt, because it is one of the few crops to remain largely in public hands. Because wheat is self-pollinating, many farmers simply plant a portion of their harvest each year, safe in the knowledge that it will retain its desirable characteristics. Not surprisingly, this has restricted the interest of commercial seed producers, who don't see a robust market for their products.

It's all the same @#$*(& thing, man . . .
Of course, even low-tech classical plant breeding as presently practiced is a recent (early 20th century) development, the descendent of Mendel's peas and a bunch of funny-looking fruit flies. Not that this stops people like Hoover Institute fellow and former director of the FDA's Office of Biotechnology Henry I. Miller from insisting, in a letter to the New York Times, that
Biotechnology dates at least to 6000 B.C., when the Babylonians used specialized microorganisms to brew alcoholic beverages. Genetic engineering can be dated from humans' recognition that animals and crops can be selected and bred to enhance desired characteristics. Nature, after all, didn't give us seedless grapes or virus-resistant potatoes.
Yes, and wheeled carts are really just the same as high-speed maglev trains. I don't know how many times I've seen this argument. Makes me want to threaten them with a sharp spear - I mean, a [fill in incredibly advanced weapon name here]. At least I can vent my frustration with loud grunts - I mean, written language on the Internet . . .

posted by Dan S. on 7:24 AM | | link

what is a bog?
Definitions, definitions
1. ". . . one of North America's most distinctive kinds of wetlands . . . characterized by spongy peat deposits, acidic waters, and a floor covered by a thick carpet of spagnum moss." *
2. A relentless, hard-driving mix of political commentary, recipes, idle ramblings, and so on.

More about bogs here.

why "the bog"?
Something about the blog format made me think of spagnum moss slowly growing, forming layer after layer of peat deposits many feet thick, sometimes preserving (in Europe) ancient bodies . . . Also, it rhymes.

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Songs currently stuck in my head
despite all my best efforts

"My Happy Ending," by {yech} Avril Lavigne:
"Let's talk this over,
It's not like we're dead . . "

and "Laiska" by Varttina:
Laiska luotu laulmann
oikosormi soittamaan
yskin oita viettelen
unetonna laulelen

Toppling off the bedside book-pile:
Classroom Management for Middle-Grades Teachers , C.M. Charles & Marilyn G. Charles
Teaching U.S. History as Mystery, David Gerwin & Jack Zevin
Crossroads of Continents: Cultures of Siberia and Alaska, William W. Fitzhugh & Aron Crowell
Arctic Crossing: A Journey Through the Northwest Passage and Inuit Culture, Jonathan Waterman
Northern Tales: Stories from the Native People of the Arctic and Subarctic Regions, Howard Norman (ed.)
Life in the Cold, Peter J. Marchand
Wandering Through Winter, Edwin Way Teale
The Winter Vegetarian, Darra Goldstein

Teas of the week:
Tea of Good Tidings: Winter Fruit Blend,
The Republic of Tea
Russian Caravan,
Jacksons of Piccailly

on the web:
Land of links:
The American Prospect
Common Dreams
FAIR: Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting
The Nation
The Progressive
Washington Monthly

Organic Consumers Association
Eat Wild (pasture-based farming)
NOFA: Northeast Organic Farming Association
Consumer Supported Agriculture
Edible Wild Kitchen


Blogging away:
Vassar blogs
And yes, we've been co-ed since '69...
E's Den
Useless! Worthless! Insipid!

Other blogs
Alas, A Blog
Atrios' Eschaton
Body and Soul
Daily Kos
Digby's Hullabaloo
Dispatches From the Culture Wars
Echidne of the Snakes
Feminist Blogs
Interesting Times
Late Night Thoughts asleep?
Long story; short pier
Making Light
Mouse Words
One Good Thing
The Panda's Thumb
Respectful of Otters
The Sideshow
Sisyphus Shrugged
Matthew Yglesias

old peat (archives):
December 22, 2002
December 29, 2002
January 12, 2003
January 19, 2003
February 2, 2003
February 16, 2003
February 23, 2003
March 2, 2003
March 9, 2003
March 16, 2003
March 23, 2003
March 30, 2003
April 6, 2003
June 8, 2003
October 5, 2003
January 16, 2005
October 22, 2006
November 5, 2006
November 12, 2006
November 19, 2006
November 26, 2006
September 16, 2012
December 23, 2012

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