October 25, 2005
On hiatus

I thought this blog died over the weekend, and after the initial shock I realized I wasn't too sad about it. It's been great fun, and I've had some good feedback from it, but without comments capability the fun quotient dropped considerably. I've also realized that my interests and focus have shifted since it started, and I've struggled to have a clear "voice" here that would give it a niche on the blogosphere. Also, right now I'm trying to make a living writing, and work on my dissertation prospectus at the same time, so I haven't much energy for writing here right now. I thought about taking it down completely, but that seems too big a decision to make quickly. So I will declare myself on hiatus, indefinitely, which may mean I'll post something next week and may mean I'll post something in January or never. I do have an idea for a website including a blog that I want to deveop, but I don't know that now is a good time. My doctoral studies have meandered and stuttered and sat stupified for too long. My goal is to finish and graduate in December 2006. Right now it feels like putting this blog on hiatus will need to be a part of that.

Feel free to delink me. And thank you, very much, for visiting and reading and making this one of the most rewarding things I've had the pleasure to do.

Posted by susanna at 10:43 AM
October 18, 2005
Update on bus crash

Below I wrote a rather exhaustive (exhausting?) overview of the bus/semi crash in Wisconsin, focusing then on the 78-year-old bus driver and the general concern about reaction time for older drivers. This article in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel gives the update. In summary:

The bus driver has a history of doing a good job, was popular and often requested for trips, and at this time there's no indication that the police are looking at him intensely. This may be an instance where his age was genuinely not a factor, which I mentioned in the post below could be the case. It doesn't mitigate the larger point, but some people do retain great acuity into old age, and Paul Rasmus could well have been one of those. Regardless of his role, however, the precipitating factor was the jackknife of the semi.

That takes us to Michael John Kozlowski, 22, driver of the semi. Here's the word on him:

After Michael John Kozlowski, 22, failed to pay a speeding fine this year, his license was suspended, according to Indiana motor vehicle records...

It appears he has a history:

Kozlowski received the speeding ticket April 27 on suspicion of driving 76 mph, 21 mph over the limit, on I-65 in Marion County, Ind. It was the third time Indiana police had cited Kozlowski on an accusation of speeding in five years, records show...

Before receiving the speeding ticket this year, Kozlowski was ticketed in Indiana on suspicion of driving 55 mph, 15 mph over the limit, in Clinton County in March 2001, and on suspicion of driving 70 mph, 15 mph over the limit, in Lake County in May 2001. The fines on those tickets were paid.

In addition, records show that Kozlowski was involved in an accident in Indiana in December 2001. Details of that accident were not available late Monday.

Now, that record is not worse than a lot of people have, and apparently he has no DUIs or reckless driving citations or they would have mentioned it. Driving on the suspended license is bad, but is more an administrative issue than a bad driving issue. It will increase his liability and the liability of his employer, but doesn't matter in regards to his prior behavior being predictive of this accident.

The core of the issue is here:

Law enforcement officials on Monday declined to say how Kozlowski's truck ended up jackknifing in the middle of the interstate. Saying that the accident was under investigation, they declined to speculate on whether Kozlowski fell asleep when his truck veered off the highway and back on before overturning.

The accident happened at 2 a.m., and we don't know how long Kozlowski had been driving. But the federal government recognizes that over-the-road drivers, working per run rather than by the hour, have a reputation for pushing their physical limits. It could be that Kozlowski violated current federal regulations on ratio of sleep-to-rest time for long-haul truckers. We don't know. But if he didn't, and there's no evidence that he was exceeding the speed limit in leading to his crash (no mention either way in the article), then this will go down as a tragic accident.

It is likely, however, that Kozlowski may lose his CDL and/or do time for driving on a suspended license. I'm not sure what the legal liability in this situation would be - whether driving with a suspended license would trigger a felony charge in the event he was involved in an accident causing harm to others. If he was violating federal regulations, there's a good chance he could be charged with one of the levels of manslaughter.

I would go into the federal regulations on trucker hours, but my back went out last Thursday and every minute I sit at this computer still knots it up. So I can't sit for long and write. You can look it up yourself, though, starting here and here. For the Wisconsin crash, the pertinent information is this:

May drive a maximum of 11 hours after 10 consecutive hours off duty.
May not drive beyond the 14th hour after coming on duty, following 10 consecutive hours off duty.
May not drive after 60/70 hours on duty in 7/8 consecutive days.

Did Kozlowski violate that? I'd say that's the crux of the investigation right now, if the Journal-Sentinel article is accurate.

Posted by susanna at 01:47 PM
October 16, 2005
I don't know that it was a factor, but...

Should this be allowed?

A bus carrying high school students home from a band competition crashed into a tractor-trailer that had jackknifed on the interstate early Sunday, killing four adults and an 11-year-old girl, officials said...

Bus driver Paul Rasmus, 78, of Chippewa Falls, died in the crash...

I have absolutely no knowledge of this man and his driving skills, and certainly there are enough massive RVs on the road helmed by men in their 70s and probably a few in their 80s to show that indeed some people maintain sufficient sharpness to drive safely when very old. But should they be allowed to drive school buses full of children? There are so many things that can happen on the road, especially when you're driving at a high rate of speed - and I don't mean over the speed limit. Sixty-five is a lot faster when you're driving a bus than when you're driving a car. You need longer time to make any manuever, and if your reaction time is already slowed by age, it just compounds. And in this instance, the accident happened at 2 a.m. - I think it likely that the average man of 78 is less sharp than a man of 68 or 58 or 48 at that time of day, especially if he's been up since early the previous morning without sleep.

We don't know if anyone could have avoided the accident - I'm truly not saying this man's age is even partially to blame, in this instance. It just caught my eye, and made me think that I don't know many man that age that I'd allow to drive my child (if I had one) at a high rate of speed on a bus.

Another important consideration is the attention of the semi-driver:

Baldeshwiler said the information being shared with band members indicated that the semi-tractor trailer, also heading westbound, left the roadway momentarily, then hit the bus as it returned to the traffic lane. That report was not confirmed.

If the truck did in fact leave the roadway, was sleepiness on the part of the truck driver a factor, at 2 a.m.? Truckers get paid by the run, not by the hour, and some tend to stay on the road for ridiculous amounts of time, living on caffeine, so they can finish a run in as little time as possible.

So are there caps on age for bus drivers? Are there caps on hours a truck driver can go without sleep?

There are two advertisements for school bus drivers (here and here) on the Wisconsin government page, only one of which mentions a minimum age - 21 - but not a maximum, although passing a physical is mentioned. That may include reaction time. However, this page called " " is about doing criminal background checks on bus drivers, and doesn't mention their age. It does say a person must have an "S" certification from the Wisconsin DOT, and sends you to that website for more info. A search for "bus driver age" at the Wisconsin state statutes site only brings up a requirement that a person who only has a permit must have someone with a driver's license with them if they operate a bus.

At the Wisconsin DOT site, there's a long list of infractions that can bar you from driving a bus for varying amounts of time, including life (oddly enough, "operating while intoxicated" will get you 5 years off the list, "operating while intoxicated causing injury" will get you two. If they're not cumulative, that's crazy. The chart doesn't say). Age is not on the list. On their PDF "The Transportation of Pupils in School Buses and Other Vehicles", which includes bus driver qualifications, it mentions a minimum of 18 and says they must:

Meet the physical/medical standards for school bus endorsement referenced in Admin. Rule Trans. 112 by providing either a current federal medical card or an MV3030B (medical examination report for S or P endorsement)

So, off to look at that. This page is "Commercial driver license medical requirements", where it says this:

If you do not hold a federal medical card or are not grandfathered, you will be issued a restricted commercial driver license. This license would only be good if you are a school bus driver or are employed by a municipality (village, town, state, etc.).

So it's okay not to be medically certified if you are a school bus driver? That's confusing, as is how a "state" could also be a "municipality". But onward. Finally, deep in the midst of the site, we get the "Medical Examiner's Certificate BDS199", which at last gives the actual requirements for medical fitness - and age/reaction time are not mentioned. Conditions that could lead to specific problems while driving are mentioned, but reaction time is not one of them. "S" certification, which I still haven't found, apparently alludes to tuberculosis testing.

So does reaction time matter?

Here's information from the website of Marc Green, Ph. D., who

has an experimental psychology Ph. D. and 32 years of experience in basic and applied research in perception, attention, reaction time, memory, man-machine interfaces and related areas. He has also served as an expert on matters related to road accidents, warnings, slip & falls, intellectual property as well as cases involving other human factors issues.

On reaction time, it says:

In many cases, the speed with which a person can respond, "reaction time," is the key to assigning liability. It is common practice for accident reconstructionists simply to use a standard reaction time number, such as 1.5 seconds, when analyzing a case. In fact, reaction time is a complicated behavior and is affected by a large number of variables. There can be no single number that applies universally....

Reaction time, he says, is composed of several factors including mental processing time, movement time, and device response time. A variety of other factors, including age and cognitive loading (how much you have to pay attention to at one time) also are important. On age, he says:

Although most basic research finds that older people respond slower than younger ones, the data on older drivers' braking times are not entirely clear. One problem is that different studies have used different definitions of older; that is, sometime "older means 55, sometimes it could mean 70. Moreover, some studies find no slowing of reaction time with age. Instead, they conclude that the older driver's greater experience and tendency to driver slower compensate all or in part for the decline in motor skills. Never the less, I would place the slowing with age to be about 0.3 seconds for a "moderately" older driver, say 65-70. On the other hand, older drivers generally compensate for slower reaction times with reduced speeds.

An important question, then, would be whether the older driver in the Wisconsin crash was going the speed limit. And try this on for size - from Loyola University, quoting the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration:

[T]here's cause for concern when elderly people do drive because they have higher rates of fatal crashes per mile driven, per 100,000 people, and per licensed driver than any other group except young drivers. A problem is that elderly drivers don't deal as well as younger ones with complex traffic situations...

* People age 70 and older have more motor vehicle deaths per 100,000 people than other groups except people younger than 25.
* Per mile driven, drivers 75 years and older have higher rates of fatal motor vehicle crashes than drivers in other age groups except teenagers.
*Per licensed driver, fatal crash rates rise sharply at age 70 and older...

Food for thought.

And here are mine...

I think that drivers past a certain age should have to undergo testing that measures not just how well you see or hear, but actual reaction time. And I think that there needs to be provision for not selecting an older driver when there will be additional factors of concern - for example, driving a 20 mile loop in the daytime at speeds not exceeding 40 or so mph, in regular traffic that frequently slows you further, is very different from driving at 2 a.m., in the dark, after a day that may be in its 16th or 20th hour, at interstate speeds. The most important thing is the safety of the people involved, not the feelings of the driver. And accusations of "ageism" or "discrimination" need to be shouted down. No one who is 78 years old drives as well as someone who is 48. No one who is 78 drives as well as he himself did at 48. That should matter.

We'll see what happens in Wisconsin. And my prayers go out to the families of those who lost loved ones. I hope that, in this instance, the investigation proves that the bus driver's age was immaterial to the outcome.

[I've worn both of us out. I'll address long-haul truck driver safety later.]

Posted by susanna at 04:46 PM
October 15, 2005
Isn't this intriguing...

Read these two excerpts:

First this:

A crowd protesting...Saturday turned violent, throwing baseball-sized rocks at police, vandalizing vehicles and stores, and setting fire to a neighborhood bar, authorities said...

...a large group of men destroyed the exterior of a gas station ...

"A whole big gang started to come in here. Next thing you know, they're jumping on the car. Then they overturned it. Then they started on the building, breaking windows, ripping the bars off," he said.

Then this:

Behold the might of al Qaeda and its fearsome Ramadan Offensive:

- Gunmen fired on two polling stations in Baghdad. No injuries.
- Office of the Iraqi Islamic Party is torched in Fallujah. No injuries.
- Office of the Iraqi Islamic Party is struck by a roadside bomb in Baghdad. No injuries.
- Office of the Iraqi Islamic Party is destroyed in an attack in Baiji. No injuries.
- Terrorists blow up the home of the local Iraqi Islamic Party chief in Ramadi. No injuries.
- Five security guards wounded in a car bombing near a mosque in Kirkuk
- Four civilians wounded in a roadside bombing targeting a U.S. patrol in Baghdad.
- Fifteen insurgents arrested as they prepared to attack polling centers in Mosul. No injuries.
- Power cut in 70% of Baghdad after power lines are sabotaged north of the city.
- Two police wounded in roadside bombing while patrolling near a polling station in Baghdad.
- Civilian killed by sniper fire near polling station in Baghdad.
- Three insurgents attacked an empty polling station South of Basra, and are captured. No Injuries.
- One policeman is wounded after a roadside bomb exploded near a polling station in western Baghdad.
- Fighting reported between a small band of insurgents and U.S. troops on patrol in Ramadi. No casualties reported.

Compare and contrast.

Incidentally, the first one was from a story about a Nazi party march in Toledo and the "counter-protest". For "counter-protest", read "thug activity". Yes, Nazi views and white supremicist views are abhorent. But race does not give you free license to thuggery, just as religion doesn't give you free license to murder.

Interesting that the first excerpt could easily have been in the Iraq of the media, isn't it?

Posted by susanna at 09:36 PM
October 14, 2005
If you read nothing else today...

You must read the NYTimes magazine article on New Orleans, written by a man whose family goes back over 150 years in the city. It's wonderful, both in its content and style. An excerpt that had me laughing out loud but a little sad too:

On St. Claude Avenue, just below the French Quarter, there was a scene of indigents, old people and gay men employed in the arts fleeing what they took to be bombs being dropped on them by Army helicopters. What were being dropped were, in fact, ready-to-eat meals and water in plastic jugs. But falling from the sky, these missiles looked unfriendly, and when the jugs hit concrete, they exploded and threw up shrapnel. The people in the area had heard from the police that George W. Bush intended to visit the city that day, and they could not imagine he meant them any good - but this attack, as they took it, came as a shock. "Run! Run!" screamed a man among the hordes trying to outrun the chopper. "It's the president!"

Laughing because it's, well, hysterically funny. Sad because it was real for those people.

Posted by susanna at 10:15 AM
October 13, 2005
Iraq establishes picture-perfect democracy

Okay, maybe not. But something amazing must be going on, because the NY Times editorial today says that Iraq might possibly if all the stars align right and Madelyn Albright gets a facelift just might in the vague imaginings of a teenybopper's dream of Justin Timberlake and with the substance of a morning fog facing down the rising sun could by some extremely remote and bizarre chance (like the possibility that Maureen Dowd would find reason) actually succeed in establishing a tenuous and no-doubt doomed democracy.

Really! See for yourself:

Clearly, it will take a great deal of political maturity on all sides to negotiate the hurdles ahead successfully, beginning with Saturday's referendum. And it will all have to be done in the midst of a brutal and relentless insurgency, pitifully inadequate Iraqi security forces and an overstretched and increasingly unpopular American military presence. But if the tentative political trends that produced this week's deal can be sustained and extended, those who have sacrificed so much to give Iraq the opportunity for freedom will have some reason to believe their efforts may not be in vain.

If they placed any more conditions on it, the whole editorial would have come crashing down. But for the NY Times to even obliquely and with great portentous warnings of imminent failure suggest the ephemeral chance that democracy could take root in Iraq... well, the mind boggles at the richness of what the reality must actually be.


Posted by susanna at 08:32 AM
October 12, 2005
Can it be that a man is better than me?

"Yes," says Charles Murray. "No," says Charles Murray.

Murray, a co-author of the controversial book, The Bell Curve, has a long and fairly complicated essay in the WSJ about the innate differences between groups of people - men and women, blacks and whites, and others. It's fascinating reading, and I highly recommend it. Stick to it to the end, and read with an open mind.

One of the points I think he needs to make more clearly - maybe in bold, 16-point type - is this: No matter what differences show up between groups, there is nothing that shows that all people in one group are better at something than all people in another group. That means, for example, that while women may not be as good as men generally at science, there will always be some women who can rival the best men. They should be encouraged to follow their talent and dream.

Men... blinding me with science

The thing that touches me most closely is that in some raw abilities that are foundations of scientific endeavors, men as a group are inherently better at them than women as a group. The primary one is visuospatial, or the ability to visualize dimensional space in the abstract. In the higher maths and sciences, that difference isn't just interesting, it's predictive - that is, men will do better generally than women just because men generally exhibit a higher natural ability in the characteristics necessary for that task.

On the other hand, women exhibit greater understanding of interpersonal relationships. In the social sciences, this is foundational - that's what social science is, understanding how individuals and groups function in a society. However, a major mechanism for finding and explaining those differences in detail is the use of statistics, which are becoming ever more complex. It seems to me that this would indicate that men and women working together collaboratively are going to succeed at finding answers more effectively than men and women working without input from the other.

Fun to think about, and consider what the implications are. I don't feel threatened by what Murray has to say, I think we would all be better off if we could emphasize our strengths and combine our efforts with those who have different but complementary strengths. In that way, we all move forward faster and more effectively.

Let's just sit here and value each other a bit

And in my judgment, the problem isn't with the fact of differences between groups - the problem is with valuing abilities. I think it's self-evidently true that the abilities men have at an inherently higher rate are valued more by society than the abilities women have at an inherently higher rate. Therefore, women who exhibit "manly" traits - scientific ability, aggressiveness, single-minded career focus - are valued more by society than women who exhibit "womanly" traits. And that reality has, in a fascinating way, been heavily reinforced by ideological feminism - it values playing as an equal on traditional male fields above excelling in traditionally "female" contexts. In instances where "femaleness" is acknowledged as different and encouraged (generally by emphasizing relationships, but rarely by encouraging the most traditional of female roles, wife and mother), the tone is generally that "woman traits" are inherently better than "man traits".

It seems to me that the thing to do is encourage everyone to excel where their talent and tastes lie, valuing dedication and excellence over specific fields. By "valuing" here, I mean, appreciating as good and commendable. Some accomplishments will always bring more money and power than others, but we can practice evaluating people based the extent to which they've maximized their ability and preferences. It's like the Parable of the Talents - one man received five, one received two and one received one. The man who received five and made them 10, and the one who received two and made them four, were both commended by their master equally. The one with one talent was condemned for not doing his best with it.

The evolution of political correctness

It is, incidentally, very curious to me that the group of people who are first to hammer home that macroevolution, survival of the fittest and the whole Darwinism pantheon of beliefs are among those who decry Murray and his fellow scientists when they talk about their science. Their findings actually are a support for micro-evolution, for the development of differing group characteristics over time. We know that we are all descended from the same ancestor - that's probably the only thing all evolutionists and creationists agree on, although they envision a different common ancester (a man-like creature that branched into man and apes for evolutionists, Noah for creationists). So if there are differences, then those are the result of evolution.

God didn't make mistakes. God loves every one who has ever lived or ever will live with the same deep desire for their best interests. So I believe that the more we learn about His universe, and use that knowledge to advance the good of all of His creatures, including man, the more we're doing His Will. Science is an integral part of that. And no matter how the politically correct crowd wants to play it, understanding differences between groups more deeply and encouraging every individual to his personal best can only make the world a better place for everyone.

There's a symmetry to Emmy

The case of Emmy Noether is instructive. She is identified in Murray's article as a "great female mathematician", possibly the only one (so far) who could stand as an equal with the greatest male mathematicians. I looked her up, because I had not heard her name and I was intrigued. Here is what one bio sketch of her says:

In 1935, the year of Emmy Noether's death, Albert Einstein wrote in a letter to the New York Times, "In the judgement of the most competent living mathematicians, Fraulein Noether was the most significant creative mathematical genius thus far produced since the higher education of women began."

...Known primarily for her profound and beautiful theorems in ring theory, Emmy Noether's most significant achievement runs deeper: she changed the way mathematicians think about their subject. "She taught us to think in simple, and thus general, terms... homomorphic image, the group or ring with operators, the ideal... and not in complicated algebraic calculations," said her colleague P.S. Alexandroff during a memorial service after her death. In this way, she cleared a path toward the discovery of new algebraic patterns that had previously been obscured.

Another bio says this:

Emmy Noether made many contributions to the field of mathematics. She spent her time studying abstract algebra, with special attention to rings, groups, and fields. Because of her unique look on topics, she was able to see relationships that traditional algebra experts could not...

And there is this praise from not inconsiderable luminaries in their own right:

...the greatest female mathematician and theoretical physicist who ever lived, Emmy Noether

That from Christopher Hill, Head of the Theoretical Physics Department at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, IL, and Leon M. Lederman, a Nobel Laureate in Physics and former Director of the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory.

There is more here and here and here. This is particularly interesting, from the last link:

The axiomatic approach was for Hilbert a means of logical clarification, but in the hands of Emmy Noether it became a powerful method of mathematical research. As Herman Weyl said: "This method was applied by Emmy Noether with mastery skill, it suited her nature and she made algebra ` the Eldorado of axiomatics','' and from algebra it spread to the rest of mathematics.

Based on the description of her work, it appears to me (to the extent I can understand it, given my math phobia) that what she did was move from the narrow to the broad, seeing larger patterns and relationships in categories of phenomena that then gave new direction to the pursuit of detail. I'm also intrigued by the phrase "it suited her nature". One of my theories is that the very way women perceive the world could bring a different approach to all disciplines that men would struggle more to achieve. The difference itself will give science a more robust ability to understand the world, whether it be physics or sociology. I think it probable that one source of Noether's genius was her ability to bring her womanly perception of relationships to her scientific research. Obviously she had to have an unusual level of visuospatial ability and other characteristics conducive to scientific activity. But it's very possible that her unique contribution came about at least in part precisely because she was a woman, not in spite of it.

Also, on a different tangent - not only was Noether a woman, she was a German Jew. She was suppressed and then virtually expelled by the Nazis. Although they didn't cause her tragically young death at 52, their treatment of her is another black mark among the millions they'll face on judgment day. One wonders what she could have accomplished had she been embraced and nurtured as a thinker.

UPDATE II: Just wanted to reiterate something... I'm all about equality of opportunity, but I abhor the trend toward equality of outcome. I can do math and its evil cousin statistics, if I work hard and have help, but writing is like breathing to me: both necessary and easy. Okay, I have to work at it to be really good, but the interest and ability are there. My wish for every person: To find that place where interest and ability intersect, and have the help necessary to take it to its highest possible expression. That's all. And it doesn't matter to me if that intersection is in quantum physics or basketball or mothering or poetry. In the end, we'll have what the world needs.

Posted by susanna at 10:28 AM