January 29th, 2010

[LINK] Some Friday links

  • 80 Beats shares the good news that humanity's shift from analog to digital television transmissions is making us invisible to extraterrestrial civilizations.

  • blogTO's Derek wonders if Adam Giambrone's video will work in gaining him support. The consensus seems to be that it will help, but he needs to cobble the right policies together.

  • Centauri Dreams discusses plans to construct systems for defending Earth against asteroid impact, and the various methods that could be used.

  • Will Baird suggests that some charred dinosaur fossils recently found in China might be the legacy of the K-T extinction event.

  • At Everyday Sociology, Janis Prince Inniss describes how African-Americans--and presumably other groups in the African diaspora--often divide themselves along lines of shade, the whiter shades being "better," in a refraction of anti-black racism.

  • Global Sociology has a graphic showing inequality in the OECD. The United States doesn't do well, but Canada doesn't do that much better.

  • At Halfway Down the Danube, Douglas Muir writes about the many ways in which Tanzania seems to be a functioning society, from civil service to civil society.

  • Invisible College's Richard wonders how useful the ICJ indictment of Sudan's Bashir actually is.

  • Could the Republican Party have become the party of civil rights in the US? Noel Maurer comes up with something that suggests it was at least possible.

  • Slap Upside the Head lets us know about a New Hampshire state legislator who says that the state is selling children to same-sex couples, i.e. allowing them to be adopted out.

  • Strange Maps links to a map showing the hidden green spaces of San Francisco.

  • Towleroad reports on a study suggesting that half of San Francisco-area same-sex couples are openly non-monogamous.

  • Zero Geography shows the religious geography of the world via Google searches, among other maps.

[LINK] "Civic engagement and formative institutions"

That's the title of an interesting post at Understanding Society.

A disposition towards civic engagement and community service seems to be a very fundamental component of social psychology that differs significantly across cohorts and populations. But the frequency of this motivation across the population is also surely a key component of the health of social order. One would hypothesize that this is an aspect of individual motivation and identity that determines the level at which a community will succeed in accomplishing its most critical tasks such as poverty alleviation, remedies for poor schools, or addressing homelessness. If a city has a significant level of high-poverty schools, with associated low levels of student academic success in the early grades, surely it is helpful when a significant number of adults and young people experience a desire to help address the problem through mentoring and tutoring programs.

But the question of how this component of social psychology works is a complex one. What are the influences in daily life through which children and young people acquire this sensibility? What are the value systems and institutional arrangements that encourage or discourage a disposition towards civic engagement? What kinds of experiences increase (or reduce) an individual's motivation to be involved in community service?

The post goes on to explore a study by McAdam and Brandt about young volunteers involved in the Teach for America program, finding that a significant minority of people who finished the program become so disengaged that they throw off the statistics for all graduates, and goes on to speculate about the constraints needed by a thorough study of the causes of and influences upon social engagement.

[LINK] "United Church, Jewish group try to reconcile"

There's a fight between the United Church of Canada and the Canadian Jewish Congress, the National Post's Kathryn Blaze Carlson tells us, the CJC opposing the UCC's relationship with a non-Zionist Jewish group. All I can say is that, in the battle between left-wing occasionally blind idealism and diasporic ethnic nationalism, I lean strongly towards the idealists.

The Canadian Jewish Congress and the United Church — Canada’s largest Protestant denomination‚ have reached a “breaking point,” and the Feb. 1 meeting will determine whether the organizations can “get back on track,” said Bernie Farber, CEO of the Jewish organization. “What is at stake is our ongoing relationship,” he said. “I am confident that we will be able to resolve the main issue, but there is the possibility that this could lead to a schism.”

The main item on the agenda is the United Church’s dealings with Independent Jewish Voices, a controversial organization that challenges mainstream Jewish groups and supports a boycott of Israel. Mr. Farber wants the United Church’s national office to repudiate what he calls a “fringe group” that spews “vile, anti-Zionist” rhetoric.

“The Canadian Jewish Congress has raised this issue with us, and we have had some back and forth,” said Nora Sanders, the Church’s general secretary. “But we need to sit down and talk directly.” Ms. Sanders said the United Church is “not partners with the IJV” and does not “encourage groups to act in partnership with the IJV.” But Mr. Farber said the Church’s position has not been strong enough, and said Church leadership has done little to convince the CJC that it — not the IJV — is the United Church’s partner representing mainstream Jewish views.

He said there were a number of incidents — all tied to the IJV — that compelled the congress to send a “strongly worded letter” to the United Church last November demanding a meeting with Ms. Sanders. “What got us to this point was an unfortunate series of decisions by some within the United Church to make common cause with a very small anti-Zionist rump group,” Mr. Farber said, adding the Church’s January response to the November letter did little to quell flared emotions. “To see certain folk in the United Church of Canada embracing this group is questionable. Getting together would allow us to sit down and find out who their faith partner really is.”

After decades of relatively amicable dealings, tensions between the two groups boiled last summer at the United Church’s general council meeting in Kelowna, B.C. There, the United Church came under fire for considering contentious resolutions to boycott Israeli academics and cultural institutions — resolutions that were strongly supported by the IJV, but which were ultimately not adopted by the United Church.

[LINK] "PETA protester gets pie in face"

Will the same Newfoundland member of Parliament call this an act of terrorism, too?

A People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) protest was on the receiving end of a pieing on Friday.

Emily Lavender stood outside a hotel where Prime Minister Stephen Harper was slated to talk Friday before meeting with Newfoundland Premier Danny Williams.

Dressed as a seal and protesting the hunt, Ms. Lavender was accosted by the dog mascot for Downhome Magazine who came up behind Lavender and pulled her around, tripping her in the process. Her seal head went flying and, as the dog mascot helped pull Lavender up, he pied her in the face and ran off down the street.

[LINK] "Not so rare for rarities to occur in waves: Professor"

Recently, an above-average number of pedestrians have been killed in Toronto, fourteen so far, the worst number in a decade. The mass reaction to this involves a lot of soul-searching and concern about the worsening plight of the pedestrian. That may be useful, but as a University of Toronto statisticianpoints out chance also plays a role.

There is a tendency to grip these disturbing numbers and wring them for meaning. But for statisticians, maybe there is no meaning behind the numbers, just probability.

“Chances of a big clump are more than you would think,” said Jeffrey Rosenthal, a professor of statistics at the University of Toronto. “Yes, (the numbers) are rare and January was certainly much worse than usual, but it wasn’t something that is completely unexpected.”

Plane crashes, lightning strikes — for probability theorists, it’s no surprise that such rare happenings often occur in waves.

Rosenthal, who authored Struck by Lightning: The Curious World of Probabilities, explains that random events are all subject to a statistical phenomenon called Poisson bursts, named for the 19th-century mathematician Siméon Denis Poisson.

[. . .]

Seven isn’t that big a number when looked at through a statistician’s lens. Jeffrey Rosenthal calculates that between 2000 and 2009, Toronto witnessed an average of 31.9 pedestrian deaths per year and 2.7 deaths per month. Using Poisson distribution, this means there is about a 1.9 per cent chance of there being seven or more pedestrian deaths in a single month.

This principle applies elsewhere in life, of course.

[DM] "On Russia's brief population increase"

I've a post up at Demography Matters that takes a look at the recent minor increase in the Russian population, a decided break from the post-Soviet trends. It's only going to be a brief trend, produced by the late Soviet spike in Russian fertility; the post-Soviet collapse in Russian fertility ensures that there won't be enough women to give birth to enough children to counter death rates, even with plausible immigration levels.